The FaceCam from Elgato is a powerful webcam for streamers who have a fixed lighting setup and aren’t afraid to tweak settings.
The FaceCam is a $200 webcam from Elgato aimed at the gaming/streaming crowd—and it’s a unique first foray into the crowded camera business.
Why would anyone spend so much on a webcam? The streaming business is booming. You could easily drop thousands of dollars on a mirrorless camera setup for professional-looking stream, but this webcam aims to offer a (relatively) affordable alternative. Even a Zoom call could gain from the FaceCam’s capabilities.
Elgato made its name by creating consumer-grade streaming devices with pro-level chops, aimed squarely at the gaming/streaming market, steadily expanding from capture devices to microphones and even green screens. The FaceCam is its first-ever standalone webcam, and on paper it features fantastic hardware and software chops. Some limitations arose in the course of our review, and the lack of HDR could be an automatic turnoff for some; however, overall this is a worthy addition to the midrange webcam market.
There are no two ways around it—the FaceCam is huge. It would look downright silly teetering above a laptop screen. Streaming from a desktop with a large monitor, it doesn’t look that crazy, and it’s actually much smaller than a mirrorless camera. It has a more boxy, security-camera look compared to other webcams I have on hand. Because of an all-plastic construction it’s shockingly light at 96g, or 0.21 pounds, which gives it a cheap feeling in the hand despite the high-end hardware that’s packed inside.
At the heart of the FaceCam is a Sony Starvis CMOS sensor, the same one that seems to be featured in the Razer Kiyo Pro and the Dell UltraSharp 4K. The FaceCam—like the Kiyo Pro—tops out at a 1080p, 60Hz signal, which is well below the 4K resolution in other cams in this price range. However, 1080p is actually preferred in many scenarios.
We’ll get into image performance soon, but one area where the FaceCam differs from other webcams is in its lens setup. It features a fixed-focus lens in order to combat focusing problems (like the Kiyo Pro continues to have) that appear as a distracting ‘breathing’ pattern when a camera’s trying to auto-focus. I’m completely fine with the lack of auto-focus in a webcam, especially because the FaceCam is designed for a distance of 12 to 47 inches from the camera—standard for a desktop setup.
The FaceCam defaults to a 82-degree field of view (FOV), which roughly translates to 24mm on a full-frame camera, and is a nice focal length to aim for. Unfortunately (and unlike the Kiyo Pro) there is no option to get a wider FOV in situations where you might need it; Elgato chose to tune the camera for this length. Other 4K webcams have a wider FOV out of the box and let you crop in on the signal—which gives nice flexibility but can impact image quality.
The FaceCam connects to a PC via an included USB 3.0 Type-C (camera) to Type-A (PC) cable. A bundled plastic privacy cover clicks into place. A monitor mount attaches via the industry-standard 1/4-inch thread, so it can be mounted on a variety of options—including Elgato’s Multi Mount System and basic tripods found on Amazon.
The last notable hardware choice was to not include a microphone. While this might seem like a downside, most streamers are already using either a headset or stand-alone microphone. Both of those options offer much better quality than anything a webcam can offer, so I don’t think it’s a bad choice.
Camera Hub software
Great hardware can be held back by inferior software, and this is one spot where Elgato put in a lot of effort. The Camera Hub software available via Elgato’s website is a very simple tool for modifying basic settings like contrast, exposure, and white balance. It forgoes some of the fancy features available in the AverMedia CamEngine software, but it does what it does in a simple way that mimics DSLR/mirrorless camera controls.
Of course the FaceCam can also be controlled by other program like OBS or Zoom, thanks to its use of universal connection protocols. Using a USB 3.0 connection, programs can get a direct, uncompressed signal using the 8-bit 4:2:2 UYVY encoder. For those who aren’t video nerds like me, it means the signal the FaceCam feeds over USB 3.0 uses a lot of information to feed the best quality possible out of the camera into software. A USB 2.0 connection uses a compressed signal and is not recommended.
Even when the camera feed is being used by another program, launching the Camera Hub software to control camera settings presents no problems. That’s one major flaw of the Razer Kiyo Pro: The Razer Synapse software requires the attention of the camera in order to access the settings—which is a problem if you try to adjust the image mid-livestream. Being a video professional myself, I found the Camera Hub to be the easiest-to-use software I’ve encountered for a webcam; it makes sense to my camera-minded brain.
Camera performance – auto/daylight
For my formal webcam tests I captured four 1080p, 60Hz signals fed into a 4K OBS project—each taking up a corner of the frame—and ran through some lighting/setting tests. The webcams I used against the Elgato FaceCam were the Razer Kiyo Pro, AverMedia PW513, and Logitech Brio—all within the $200 price range of the FaceCam, and most focusing on game streaming. I’ve organized them in the included YouTube videos from top left to bottom right: first the FaceCam, then the Kiyo Pro, PW513, and the Brio.
The first scenario is using each camera in its default configuration (with everything updated to the latest firmware). In the default configurations, things like auto-white-balance and exposure are used to capture what the camera thinks is the correct image. All cameras also default to their widest FOV, which results in more things seen around the edges. I tried to put all the cameras as close together as possible to approximate the same angle. Also, the Kiyo Pro and Brio default to HDR-on.
In this example the first thing to notice is the white balance each camera presents, as it’s the most dramatic change. Which colors you like are definitely a matter of personal taste, but I prefer the Kiyo Pro’s representation of my skin tones and the reproduction of the color in the plants and on the cream walls. The FaceCam is rather reddish in comparison when it comes to my skin tone, and it affects the wall color as well.
When it comes to exposure and dynamic range, each camera handles things rather well. The FaceCam has a bit more grain in the image than I would expect in this light, and is pushing a higher exposure, but it has plenty of dynamic range to work with. The Kiyo Pro is a tad underexposed due to HDR (high-dynamic range) being enabled. The Brio has the flattest image overall, which isn’t the best out-of-box experience but should prove useful when tuning later.
When I bring up the shiny graphics card, the Brio is the quickest to adjust exposure, which can be rather jarring. The FaceCam adjusts its exposure a bit, but maintains a pretty even look throughout. The Kiyo Pro kicks its HDR into higher gear and is the only camera to preserve the highlights, even though the overall image is underexposed as a result.
Keep reading for more camera performance!
Camera performance: Manual/daylight
In this second scenario I went into the settings of each camera to see how well I could tune the image, and how much flexibility there was to the software.
For the FaceCam I was able to dial in almost every setting nicely except for the white balance. I struggled with getting the right colors out of the camera, as I didn’t have control over tone or color temperature. Auto does seem to take into account both tone and temperature, so that result is much better, but this would be frustrating for those who want more fine control. I hope Elgato can add this setting in the future.
While the Logitech Camera Settings app is pretty bare-bones, it presented the biggest jump in quality out of all four, but it still wasn’t where I hoped it would be in terms of color and sharpness. The AverMedia CamEngine definitely has plenty of control over the image, but I found the sensor just didn’t have enough dynamic range to play with for my taste. The zoomed-in image was also very soft.
I wish the tools for the Kiyo Pro were easier to use inside Razer Synapse (and accessible when another application has control over the camera), but I was able to dial in almost exactly what I wanted with the settings that are there.
Camera performance: Auto/backlighting
In this third scenario I once again reverted all the cameras to their default settings to see how well they handled an intensely backlit situation. Not that I would ever recommend anyone use a webcam this way, but by doing this stress test we can get a glimpse into how the cameras deal with high-contrast situations. Boy, does each one handle it differently!
The FaceCam pushes the exposure up to keep my face bright, but in doing so reveals more noise and obviously blows out the window. The Kiyo Pro and its strong HDR is made for this kind of scenario: It does a fantastic job at keeping dynamic range in the highlights and the lowlights, but it leaves my face a bit dark. The PW513 did the opposite of the FaceCam, protecting the highlights (the window) at the expense of everything else. The Brio’s HDR does what it can to hold onto both ends of the exposure, but it doesn’t quite get there compared to the Kiyo Pro.
Now to get a bit nerdy, part of how each camera performed has to do with something called ‘metering’—which is a fancy way of saying how and where the camera looks to expose. The FaceCam defaults to what is called ‘center-weighted’ metering, meaning it is basing its exposure on a small area in the center of the frame. I don’t know just how big this area is, but based on this test I know it’s small enough not to be influenced by the window. This means the auto-exposure was just looking at that small area—probably close to where my lower face is—and pushing up the signal to get a proper exposure. Inside the Camera Hub software you can switch it to the other popular metering mode, called ‘average’—this is what I’d guess the PW513 is using. This mode takes in the whole frame when it’s trying to decide how to expose, and because a large part of the frame is taken up by a very bright window, the PW513 decided to push the signal down and underexpose the rest of the image.
Both the Kiyo Pro and the Brio use HDR (high-dynamic range), which takes multiple images at different exposures and then stitches them together—a practice now very common on smartphone cameras. This retains the most information, but it’s not always perfect and should only be used in scenes with a lot of contrast. HDR is not available on the FaceCam, unfortunately.
Camera performance: Auto/lowlight
In this fourth scenario I closed the blackout curtains and turned off all the lights to capture a very low lighting scene. I was lit only by my two 32-inch monitors, and you can see a hint of RGB from my PC down by my feet. This is a very stressful test for any camera, and reveals plenty about how they handle themselves.
The FaceCam and PW513 both exhibit a good amount of noise in their images, as they push the camera sensors hard in order to get a proper exposure. The Brio chooses to drop the frame rate in order to get more light into the sensor—more than necessary in my opinion—resulting in choppy/blurry movement.
None of them are accurate per-se, as it was very dark in the room, but each camera has a major flaw presented in how they are capturing this scene. The FaceCam’s grain is very distracting, The Kiyo Pro’s white balance keeps shifting, the PW513 is very dark and soft, and the Brio is very bright and movement is blurry.
Camera performance – manual/lowlight
In this last scenario I turned on two LED lights I have and set the camera settings manually. Along with the glow from the monitors, I am lit by one Elgato Ring Light mounted to the left of the cameras, and one Elgato Key Light Air mounted behind my left shoulder. Both are at a very low brightness and set to 3200K, which is close to tungsten color, and warmer than the blue light coming off my monitors.
The first notable difference lies in the color temperature reading of each camera. I manually set each camera to 3200K, which means it should match the color coming from the LED lights. But each camera struggled to portraying both temperatures mixed together, which is why each one’s image looks different. The FaceCam gets close to looking natural, but it has a slight greenish hue. The Kiyo Pro’s image is very blue overall, and the Brio adopts a more reddish look.
Interestingly, when I raise my arms to adjust my glasses, each camera except for the FaceCam is still doing some auto-exposure even though I manually dialed in the settings. This means most of the brightness controls for the rest of the cameras aren’t actually adjusting the exposure directly, but rather compensating for the auto-exposure.
This is a great win for the FaceCam in my book, as I like to have as much direct control as possible. Despite the large amount of grain with auto-exposure on, I was able to turn down the signal manually to get a clean image without using the noise reduction toggle.
Using the Camera Hub software to dial in these settings worked fantastically—and it’s probably where Elgato put most of its efforts. This makes sense because most streaming setups use dedicated LED rather than natural lighting. With a bit more tuning and lighting work I could happily use this camera in a controlled lighting scenario.
Elgato’s FaceCam has left me equal parts excited and let down. They have set a high bar by releasing high-quality products for all parts of a streaming setup. I usually have no problem recommending their gear.
The FaceCam offers a fantastic software experience that is easy to use and displays settings in a way someone who is familiar with camera tech can understand. The look of the image is very nice in controlled lighting, and there is plenty of room to work with for tweaking. Elgato also made smart decisions when it came to the design of the hardware. But the lack of a wider angle, manual control over color tone, and HDR; and hue problems throughout; were all specific problems I couldn’t overlook. It’s so close to being a truly fantastic webcam.
At $200 it’s still a great choice compared to others in that price range, especially if you plan on using it in controlled lighting scenarios and are comfortable adjusting the image manually. I’m hoping Elgato can improve upon this solid base with more software features and deeper integration with its other (mostly) fantastic products.
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