How and Why to Use Your Smartphone as a Webcam
These simple, free solutions can improve video quality in chat apps
Video calling spiked at the onset of the pandemic, allowing family and friends to have more meaningful chats while staying safe.
Now, nearly two years in, this modern form of communication is only getting bigger. It has also proved to be an invaluable tool for businesses, letting colleagues effectively collaborate on plans no matter where they’re working from, significantly cutting travel costs and carbon footprints.
But did you know you can use your smartphone as a web camera, instead of your computer, when engaged in video chats via apps including Facebook Messenger, FaceTime, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Skype, WhatsApp and Zoom? It requires a third-party app, but it’s easy to get going.
Why use your phone as a webcam?
Why bother when your laptop or desktop already has a built-in webcam or you’ve got an external camera plugged into a USB port? A couple of reasons.
First, your smartphone’s camera is likely better than your webcam. Surely you want to look your best when chatting online. Plus, webcams can still be difficult to find because of the pandemic and related supply chain challenges, and you may have a new-ish iPhone or Android that could do the job very well.
Second, you can position your smartphone for a more flattering angle than your computer’s integrated webcam. Yet you can still use your big monitor to see everyone else or the files you may be working on with coworkers.
In other words, using your smartphone for video and audio may be better than your computer’s webcam because you can move it around and avoid “up-your-nose” shots. And you can still use your computer screen for seeing everyone and sharing your screen with others.
Third, why not use only your smartphone for video calling? You can walk around and bring it to places that wouldn’t be conducive to a laptop or desktop computer.
How you go about using your phone as a webcam depends on whether your computer is a Windows or Mac and whether you have an iPhone or Android smartphone. But the solutions all involve downloading and using a third-party app.
Using only your phone
This is the easiest solution. To use just your smartphone for video calling — that is, no touching your computer at all — be aware that most of the popular services have iPhone and Android apps. Simply download them and then log in with your credentials, which are usually your email address and a password.
Pro tip: Doing so may log you out of the same service on your PC or Mac.
Now you can use your phone’s front-facing selfie camera and microphone during these video chats. You could opt for a tripod or an extra light to enhance your image a little more, but you don't need to decide right away.
How to use your phone as a webcam
There are a few ways to use your smartphone’s camera and microphone while leveraging your PC or Mac to see the other faces and access files. This involves downloading an app to your smartphone, which then broadcasts a signal via Wi-Fi to a similar app on your computer.
So your smartphone will need to be on the same Wi-Fi network as your computer. Sometimes you can connect via USB cable instead.
The computer application then tells your preferred video chatting platform that your smartphone is a webcam. Your combination of computer and smartphone can determine the app that's best for you.
If you use a Windows PC
If you’re on a Windows PC, consider downloading an app called DroidCam to your iPhone or Android device. You’ll see the Windows and Linux download options on this website, too.
The core functionality is free, but those who use the app a lot should consider paying the $5.50 to unlock advanced features, including high-definition (HD) mode, camera controls and no advertisements. After you download the Windows version of the app to your computer, install the software and follow the setup wizard’s installation instructions.
When you open the app on your iPhone or Android, you will see numbers after the words Device IP and DroidCam Port. When you double-click the Windows icon to launch DroidCamApp on your PC, you will be prompted to type in those numbers. This ensures that the two devices are linked. Make sure both Video and Audio are checked.
To use DroidCam with your favorite video chatting software, you’ll need to launch the DroidCam PC client and app first. Open Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Zoom or another favorite video chat app.
Then pull down the menu that lets you change the camera and microphone input. Select DroidCam for camera and DroidCam Virtual Audio for microphone. It should immediately start using your phone's hardware.
Note: DroidCam allows you to use a USB cable to connect the smartphone to the computer. But choosing Wi-Fi, because it's wireless, gives you more freedom to move the phone around.
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If you use a Mac computer
If you’re on a Mac and have an iPhone, NeuralCam Live is recommended. This app requires an iPhone or iPad, a device that 89 percent of Mac buyers from October 2020 to September 2021 already owned, according to Michael R. Levin, cofounder of Chicago-based Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, which studies Apple product owners' purchasing habits as part of its investment research. For Mac buyers 45 and older in the same period, 82 percent also owned an iPhone.
As with DroidCam, the basic functionality of NeuralCam Live is free, but you can pay $5 a month ($30 a year) to remove ads and unlock additional features, such as low-light mode and access to certain filters. To set it up, download and install the Mac software to your computer.
Now download the NeuralCam Live app from the Apple App Store to your iPhone and open it. Tap to allow access to the camera and microphone. Connect your iPhone to your Mac with its Lightning to Thunderbolt 3 cable.
Finally, open your favorite video chatting app and you should see NeuralCam Live as a camera option, often in a pull-down menu. If you don’t see it, close your video chat app, restart your computer and open it again to select NeuralCam Live.
Pro tip: NeuralCam Live doesn’t work in the Safari browser. If you use a chatting platform like Google Meet, be sure to launch it via another browser, such as Chrome or Firefox.
If you have an Android phone and a Mac computer, Reincubate's Camo app offers a solution. Download from the Google Play Store the free app for smartphones running Android 7 or newer. The company recommends that you download and open the app for your mobile device first, which will give you instructions to download and run Camo Studio on your Mac.
Then connect your smartphone to your Mac computer with a USB-C cable or, if you have an older phone, a micro-USB-to-USB-C cable. After you follow the instructions for opening Camo Studio, your Android phone will connect automatically to your Mac, and using it with your favorite chat app will be similar to NeuralCam Live.
Camo is compatible with Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Zoom and many other video chat apps, but not with Apple's FaceTime. Like NeuralCam Live, it doesn't work in the Safari browser. Camo also has a pro version with additional features for $5 a month ($40 a year).
Linda Dono contributed to this story.
Marc Saltzman is a contributing writer who covers personal technology. His work also appears in USA Today and other national publications. He hosts the podcast series and is the author of several books, including Apple Watch for Dummies and Siri for Dummies.