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Your Old iPhone Makes an Amazing—and Free—Webcam

It is much better than any “real” webcam

  • Even after an update, Apple’s Studio Display still looks terrible.
  • Your old iPhone or Android phone has a much better camera than any webcam.
  • Reincubate’s Camo app turns old phones into amazing webcams.

Reincubate Camouflage

Apple Studio Display’s webcam is annoying, so why not use an old iPhone as a webcam?

As promised, Apple updated the software behind the $1,600 Apple Studio Display’s faded, smooth webcam video, and the results are here: It’s not much better. The main problem is that the camera itself is not up to the task, as we will see. But if you have an old iPhone lying around doing nothing, it’s easy to use it, or an old digital camera, as a permanent webcam.

“iPhone cameras far outperform any webcam on the market. Unlike webcams, iPhones can really achieve broadcast quality, which is why people watch music videos and movies shot on them.” Aidan Fitzpatrickcreator of Camo, an app that turns phones and cameras into webcams, told Lifewire via direct message.

rotten apple

The Apple Studio Display is a beautiful monitor, with decent speakers and a terrible webcam. After early reviews pointed to poor image quality, Apple promised a software update to fix it. This update is now available in beta and while it helps, it can’t fix the root problem: too few pixels.

Like recent iPad models, Studio Display features Center Stage, a trick that makes the camera appear to follow you as you move and zooms in and out as more people join and leave the conversation. It does this by using an ultra-wide camera to capture the entire scene, then cropping out a section and enlarging it to fill the screen. The problem is that the camera is only 12 megapixels, and when the frame is cropped, it doesn’t have enough pixels to take a good picture, even in excellent light.

To fix this problem, Apple would have to swap out a new camera. The good news is that you can do it yourself.

money shot

Mac and iOS app developer Simon B. Støvring doesn’t use a Studio display, but when he needed to add a webcam to his cameraless monitor, he turned to Fitzpatrick’s Camo. This app connects to your iPhone or Android device and uses its camera as the source for video calls. It doesn’t work with FaceTime, but it does with Zoom and most other apps that let you choose the camera input. Camo is free and you can pay for advanced features.

Støvring had an old iPhone 6 that he put to use. The iPhone 6 has a rear camera that supports 1080p HD video, and that’s the first advantage. You can use the proper camera on the back of the phone, not the front camera. It also means you get autofocus, which none of Apple’s built-in webcams can do. Another cool feature is that you can disable the iPhone camera simply by letting it sleep or unplugging it.

Camo Studio in dark mode

Reincubate Camouflage

“Once the Camo app is launched on the iPhone, it will keep the iPhone awake, even if the camera is not in use or the video stream has stopped from the Mac app,” Støvring writes on his personal blog. “I like to manually lock the iPhone when I’m not using the webcam. This will prevent the Camo Mac app from having a connection to the iPhone app and using the camera. It’s the equivalent of using one of these webcam covers.

Recycling

Old phones are especially well-suited for reuse as webcams. Although you can use Camo with a mirrorless camera, it’s a bummer.

“Using a mirrorless device as a webcam has issues with cabling, dummy batteries, mounting, lens selection, HDMI converters, and in some cases overheating. When it works, it’s a great, albeit complex, solution.” but it’s not worth doing with a low-finish without a mirror,” says Fitzpatrick.

An iPhone, however, is self-contained, constantly powered through its single USB connection, and staying cool. Støvring even configured his settings to launch directly into the camera app every time he wakes it from sleep mode and disables the passcode. And finding permanent support is easy.

In short, if you’re disappointed with the quality of your webcam, or if you don’t have one, try using an older phone. It’s free and guaranteed better than anything you’re currently using.

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