Elgato Facecam Review: An Elegant Streaming Expense
The recent WFH (work from home) surge has surely been good to the webcam market, as even tech newbies have reluctantly needed to hunt down decent video conferencing hardware for Zoom meetings and the like.
Streamers, on the other hand, are used to the webcam game. Though, if you’re a serious streamer or content creator, you’re probably already using something like Razer’s Kiyo Pro or Dell’s recently released Ultrasharp 4K webcam (or DSLR if you’ve leveled up).
Enter Elgato’s $200 Facecam, which boasts 1080p 60fps recording, flash memory for easy settings recovery, excellent image quality, solid companion software and both Windows and Mac compatibility.
These features are commendable, but the lack of an on-board microphone, conspicuously missing HDR and 4K capabilities, some strange intermittent visual glitches under certain lighting conditions, as well as a rather hefty price tag could deter potential adopters.
Released from its brand-typical blue packaging, the Elgato Facecam is a solid, if somewhat endearingly chunky, webcam. Weighing in at just 99 grams, it’s deceptively light and never felt like it was putting any excessive force down on my computer monitor. The included detachable cable connects via USB-C on the back of the main unit and USB-A to your computer’s I/O.
The Facecam requires USB 3.0 to operate — the Camera Hub software wouldn’t even recognize the device when connected to my rig’s peasant-status USB 2.0. So rest assured, the interface is snappy, and it’s sending uncompressed video with low latency.
While it’s probably sufficient for a good number of streaming setups, I found the USB cable length to be rather lacking. Of course, it all depends on how far your computer is from your monitor, so if you have things spread out quite a bit like I do, I’d recommend investing in a separate, longer, good quality USB-C to USB-A cable so you’re not accidentally yanking the Facecam off your display when adjusting things on your desktop hardware.
At least, and unlike other webcams I’ve tried, the included cable is indeed detachable, allowing for length customization.
A decent monitor mount is included, which is outfitted with soft padding to keep your screen from getting scratched when using the Facecam. I had to open up the mount almost to its maximum capacity to fit it on my display, and even then, there was probably a quarter of an inch plastic overhang where the mount grasped the front of my monitor.
This is a drawback to using the Facecam with the monitor mount, because depending on your monitor’s shape and size, you might be dealing with some degree of view obstruction. Obviously, your mileage may vary.
Also, the mount allows for several degrees of tilt and swivel, but you won’t get any side to side pivot adjustments. It would have been nice if Elgato had instead opted for some sort of ball bearing design that allowed for more varied movement. Not that you’ll be needing that kind of freedom if you’re simply using it to stream on Twitch, but still.
In other words, if you want more directional flexibility with the Facecam, you’ll need to provide your own mounting solution via the threaded connection on the bottom of the device.
Then there’s the lens privacy cover. While I absolutely appreciate Elgato even including a lens cover in the first place (Razer’s original Kiyo didn’t), it’s rather finicky to remove for capture and then reinstall when you want that extra layer of privacy protection. Because of the odd shape of my PC monitor, I found myself fumbling with the Facecam during this covering process and sometimes outright accidentally pushing it off my display.
I’d much rather have an integrated solution that easily slides over the lens with the simple push of a lever or button. Having the lens cover be detachable, at least in my review experience, resulted in some minor annoyances that slowed down the Facecam’s general usability. I get that lens covers for webcams border on paranoid for the average user, but I do like having them, and I do like them being easier to use.
Speaking of the original Razer Kiyo, I do miss its built-in ring light. It wasn’t the most advanced lighting solution, but for what it was, it added some decent production value to a darker room. The Facecam looks surprisingly great in low light, but unless you own a separate ring light, you’re out of luck for on-board lighting.
Lastly, there’s a blue LED that lights up on the face of the webcam to indicate whenever it’s in use. That way you’ll know when that pesky World Wide Web hacker has tapped into your PC and is recording you eating Pizza Hut while playing the latest PS1 demo disc.
The Facecam sports an 8-element all glass prime lens (read: fixed lens, no autofocus), an f/2.4 aperture, 24 mm focal length, a non-adjustable 82° field of view (besides the awful digital zoom) and the same Sony Starvis CMOS sensor found in Dell’s Ultrasharp 4K webcam. According to Elgato, the lens has eighteen layers of anti-reflective coating, and taking a bright flashlight to it, I can say it kept lens flare down to a manageable minimum.
One internal feature I found rather convenient was the on-board flash memory, which allows you to save all of your Camera Hub settings directly to the Facecam. This doesn’t sound like a huge deal, but it allows you to unplug the Facecam and move it over to another computer on the fly, where you’ll find all of your carefully tweaked settings in-tact.
It’s an excellent quality-of-life detail that is very useful if you have multiple laptops or desktops and need to quickly change hardware for a quick Zoom meeting or gaming stream in another part of the house.
I do have to note that this feature wasn’t working well for me until I updated the Facecam’s firmware to version 2.52. Now it works like a charm.
An obvious omission from Elgato’s Facecam is any kind of on-board microphone. Yes, it’s usually ill-advised to use any webcam’s built-in mic, on the grounds that they’re usually some degree of ‘inside-a-trash-can-terrible’, but it immediately makes the Facecam less all-in-one versatile than other similarly priced offerings like Razer’s Kiyo Pro. Dell’s Ultrasharp also doesn’t have a microphone, by the way.
I suppose that if you have the cash to invest in Elgato’s expensive streaming ecosystem then you probably already have a nice standalone microphone (like the Wave 3, for example), but it’d be nice if the Facecam could be used for streaming, recording or meetings all on its own, even with the expected lower audio quality of an on-board mic.
It would surely save users the inconvenience of lugging a dedicated mic over to the next Facecam destination.
Camera Hub is the dedicated companion app for Elgato’s Facecam where you can adjust settings like digital zoom, picture, exposure and processing. What’s great is that any settings you tweak in Camera Hub get saved directly to the Facecam, and no matter where you move the webcam to next, all those settings follow without having to download and utilize the software again on another PC or laptop.
For the most part, all the default auto settings looked pretty good in my opinion, and most required minimal tinkering. While I kept the white balance on auto, I did slightly tweak things like contrast, sharpness and saturation. Not much, and only by a few points each.
Additionally, there’s no background blur option in Camera Hub, so if you want that faux Hollywood effect, you might want to add it via something like NVIDIA Broadcast, which also has auto frame and its own noise reduction effect to boot.
Speaking of which, I found Camera Hub’s noise reduction setting to be good for several low light situations but it tended to make everything too fuzzy and soft for my taste, so I usually kept it off.
Lastly, Elgato has already released an update to Camera Hub since the Facecam’s launch that includes various bug fixes and the ability to mirror the software’s video preview. I’m sure it’s the first of many updates and I look forward to seeing what gets added over time.
Unlike the Kiyo Pro or Dell Ultrasharp, Elgato’s Facecam lacks proper HDR support, and there’s no 4K support either. Whether or not you require these perks for streaming is up to you. Without HDR or 4K, the Facecam still records more than acceptable footage, even in low light, though things would be even better with those previously mentioned (and lacking) extras.
But let’s be honest: If you’re streaming on Twitch or YouTube, you’re probably not looking to, or needing to, broadcast in 4K. The majority of streamers that I watch, at the very least, are locked into 1080p and that’s how I view them in source mode. In other words, 1080p is more than sufficient for the average streaming setup.
So Elgato’s Facecam is, at its best, a 1080p 60fps webcam, which puts it in direct competition with similar higher-end webcam offerings like Razer’s Kiyo Pro. I tended to prefer using the Facecam at 1080p 30fps, only because I felt the image quality was more to my taste. You can also do 720p60, 720p30, 540p60 and 540p30, though at the low end you might as well be streaming to Twitch on a potato.
So how does the Facecam’s footage look? Really, really good, especially for a webcam. The lens captures plenty of detail, and even though the device’s FOV is limited to that fixed 82° (unlike Razer’s Kiyo Pro), I think it’s a decent sweet spot for most use cases. I would recommend operating the Facecam with some good external lighting for the best results, though.
Now onto that aforementioned fixed focus lens. The good news is that without autofocus, the Facecam isn’t doing that distracting chasing-you-around routine that other webcams are wont to do, trying in vain to lock into the clearest shot with every move you make.
To me, this changeup is great. The downside here, though, is that if what you’re recording or streaming falls outside of the Facecam’s set 11.8 - 47.2 inch focus range, things start to get a little messy. I don’t think the average user is going to travel outside of that range, as streamers tend to stay at their desks and, you know, play video games. So, in that sense, it’s mostly a moot issue, unlike certain random glitches I encountered.
Strangely, there’s a bizarre flickering present on the Facecam’s visual feed in all the software I tried, most notably during any footage that’s set to 60fps. It’s intermittent and appears to ramp up in lower light filming, as I noticed it much less during the day and with extraneous lights on.
There are two anti-flicker settings in Camera Hub, 50 Hz and 60 Hz, neither of which ever managed to correct the issue. I thought that maybe the problem would go away with the latest firmware and software updates, but no such luck. I even tried reducing the shutter speed to no avail. I also attempted to try a different cable to see if that would remedy the problem but none of the random USB-C to USB-A cables I had laying around would even produce a signal on the Facecam.
It’s not a deal-breaker by any means, as it doesn’t happen all the time. And like I said earlier, from what I managed to deduce, it seems to be affected by light levels. Hopefully it can get patched out at some point.
Beyond flickering, I have heard rumblings about the Facecam randomly freezing for various customers, but I can honestly say I’ve never experienced this issue. Also, there is some minimal image distortion when you get out to the far edges of the Facecam’s field of view, but it’s nothing too extreme, and not nearly as bad as other webcams I’ve tried.
Something else to note is that even after many hours of continuous use, the Facecam barely got warm to the touch, and I’d attribute that to the custom heatsink Elgato touts in its marketing.
It’s also important to mention that the Facecam does interface with Elgato’s popular Stream Deck, so if you’re already invested in the company’s extensive line of streaming peripherals, adding this webcam could be rather seamless. Unfortunately, I don’t have a Stream Deck to test this compatibility.
It’s unlikely that Elgato’s Facecam is going to replace any sort of expensive 4K DSLR Cam Link setup (what webcam would), but with the way Elgato has designed its new device and software, it feels like the penultimate step in quality before you’d go the more serious pro camera route.
Despite its small missteps, I think the Facecam is a solid choice for streamers looking to quickly and simply improve their broadcasts without totally breaking the bank. More casual users, on the other hand, shouldn’t expect the Facecam to double as an audio input device for basic conferencing, and do expect to pay more for Elgato’s device than similar, and definitely lesser, webcams on the market.
The big question is: Are people still buying webcams? Elgato seems to think so. While the Facecam can’t compete with those elite mirrorless camera rigs you may have seen online, its plug-and-play ease of use, accessible software and solid video quality, definitely make for a compelling webcam argument.
Disclosure: Elgato provided review product for coverage purposes.