Opal C1 webcam promises DSLR-like video quality in super tiny design

By Alejandro Medellin

The past year made us all realize how bad most webcams are. They’re so bad that many people scrambled to improve their Zoom calls by using their DSLRs or mirrorless cameras instead.

Replacing your crappy webcam with a bulky camera on a tripod is gonna be a thing of the past if the Opal C1 webcam really works as advertised. Opal Camera says its compact C1 webcam can deliver 4K, DSLR-level quality to your video calls in a GoPro-sized package. Personally, I think it’s one of the best-looking webcams I’ve ever seen.

In a lot of ways, the Opal C1 looks like something that the famous Swedish design firm, Teenage Engineering, would make. Everything from the sharp edges, asymmetrical form factor, and the simple shapes and colors (just look at that yellow cable!) borrow from the minimalist design language of Teenage Engineering. But they’re not involved. No, the Opal Cameras is a new venture created by former Apple, Beats, and Uber employees.

The Opal C1 is backed by Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of Reddit, who tweeted an image of the device yesterday. Ohanian’s tweet mentions the Opal C1’s “mind-blowing” quality. While only in beta at the moment, the full specs for the $300 Opal C1 are out, and it’s packing some serious heat.

Zoom, now in 4K —

The Opal C1 webcam uses a Sony image sensor that can output video at either 1080p or 4K at a framerate of 60 fps. To get the most out of the image sensor, Opal included what it claims is the “fastest lens ever on a webcam” with an aperture of f/1.8. According to Opal, the larger aperture lets in 2.4 times more light than competing webcams. The lens has a diagonal field of view of 78 degrees, and it’s not clear if that can be changed via the software as in other webcams such as Razer’s Kiyo Pro or Logitech’s Brio webcam.

Unlike another 4K webcam announced earlier this year, Dell’s 4K UltraSharp webcam, this webcam has a microphone. Three omnidirectional microphones, to be exact. Opal named the microphone array MicMesh. The beamforming microphones use intelligent noise cancellation to block out the everyday noises that happen in your home, locking on to your voice so you can be heard clearly.

Computational photography —

The hardware is on the cutting edge of webcam tech, but, similar to Google’s Pixel phones, it’s the software that pushes the camera beyond what it’s capable of. Through the Opal Computer Vision app, the camera’s computational photography features can be accessed. Unfortunately, the app is only for Macs at the moment, but it’s not stated if that the platform exclusivity is permanent. Either way, the app is where the magic happens.

So far, we know that the app can be used to activate a bokeh effect that blurs the background, and if you’re not looking your best, the “Touch up” feature uses a facial-recognition frequency filter that “let[s] you look your best, anytime.” You can also enhance the lighting and overall image with smart brightness, contrast, and white balance features. Computational photography is made possible by Opal’s own silicon. The Opal Trillium microchip is paired with a 14nm Intel VPU that handles features such as the auto-focus and the bokeh effect.

Sign me up —

When things went to hell last year, those of us lucky enough to work from home had to build makeshift offices. The necessity for webcams shot through the roof, but it was quickly made clear that webcam makers had stopped improving. Even now, new webcams that cost $200 have a max resolution of 1080p. I’m looking at you Elgato Facecam!

It’s good to finally see a webcam that not only looks modern but has the specs to back it up. The Opal C1 is still in the early stages, but the startup is already showing that webcams can be good. Pricey as it may be, there’s just nothing comparable at the moment.

Opal is positioning its webcam as an alternative to expensive DSLR webcam setups, which many resorted to when they couldn’t find a decent webcam. Obviously, pricier digital cameras deliver crystal-clear image quality, but it’s not ideal. They’re expensive, bulky, difficult to set up, and just overkill for chatting with your boss. It’s not worth it. However, $300 for a compact webcam is a more palatable price tag.

The Opal C1 is not available for purchase yet. You can, however, head over to the site and reserve a unit. Included in the box are a camera mount, USB-C cable, and a lens cover. Since the device is in beta and currently invite-only, there’s no guarantee you’ll get one, but it’s worth a shot if you need to look your best on video calls and don’t want the hassle of a DSLR setup.


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