An external lens won’t completely fix your webcam woes, but it has its benefits

Recently, some of the most popular webcams have already been difficult to get at major online retailers as people bought them to greatly help stay in contact while social distancing or working from home throughout the pandemic. For example, around this writing, Logitech’s popular C920 HD Pro webcam comes out on Logitech’s US online shop, and its listed price on Amazon US is well above Logitech’s own $79.99 asking price. Other models can be found, but the problem means you do not get the exact webcam you need.

That means individuals have had to obtain creative by utilizing standalone cameras or even old iOS or Android devices as replacement webcams. But today, I’ve been testing out a different approach: using an aftermarket lens from Moment to boost my laptop’s existing webcam, rather than replacing it entirely. The lens mount was originally created for smartphones (where most of Moment’s focus has typically been), but Moment tells me it started targeting laptops in response to customer demand.

The Moment Webcam Set, which I’ve been testing, is a $77.98 bundle (currently discounted to $61.98) which includes an O-Series mount and an 18mm wide-angle lens. Alternatively, if you’ve already got a Moment lens, you can buy a mount separately for $29.99. (There are versions for both its O-Series and newer M-Series lenses.) It also works together phones and tablets. Importantly, all of these kits are currently listed as on Moment’s online shop; there are no stock shortages here.

When attached, the mount covered element of my screen.

You secure the mount to a laptop with a screw on its right back.

Installation is simple. The mount has a screw with a rubber cap on it, which you turn to hold it steady from the back of your laptop screen, and you will shift the leading part of the mechanism up and down so your lens hole lines up with your webcam. (I found it helped to possess my camera app open while I was achieving this so I could easily get the alignment right.) Moment says the lens mount supports laptops as thick as 10.75mm, and there’s a thicker rubber screw cap included for slimmer laptop lids. Then, you are able to attach the lens it self into put on the mount.

The effect of the wide-angle 18mm lens was obvious, as you care able to see from the photos below; it gave my webcam a much wider field of view. Whereas previously, my Surface Laptop’s webcam typically only included my face and the tops of my shoulders, with the lens installed, its field of view stretched down to my chest and included far more of my surroundings (but also, unfortuitously, the mount itself). It’s even a much wider field of view than the Logitech C920 HD Pro I included as a comparison. Naturally, this effect will vary based on which lens you use, which laptop you’re mounting it to, and whether going for the O-Series or the M-Series mount (the latter of which is made for larger lenses).

There are some limitations for this approach. The biggest, clearly, is that it depends on your computer having a preexisting webcam to work. So if you’re working on a laptop just like the webcam-less Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 or perhaps a desktop computer by having an external monitor, then an external lens won’t be much help.

Even if it does, it won’t do much to fundamentally change the quality of your webcam. Putting a lens over it doesn’t change the fact that my first-generation Surface Laptop remains taking photos using a 720p webcam. Compared to a good standalone 1080p webcam just like the C920, the difference is stark. And yes, I tried to see easily could mount Moment’s lens to the leading of the C920, but Logitech’s webcam was, unfortuitously, too thick.

It’s also a little bulky. Once installed, the arms on the Moment mount covered area of the top middle of my screen, and it goes without saying that you won’t have the ability to close your laptop with the lens mount installed. Oh, and on my machine, the mount also seemed to break Windows Hello’s face unlock. The limitations mean that you’d probably desire to detach the lens whenever you’re perhaps not using it, but thankfully, that’s a simple process.

The mount doesn’t entirely cover the screen, but its arms can get in how.

You can just forget about closing your laptop with the lens attached.

That doesn’t mean the lens mount is without its uses. Being in a position to change your webcam’s focal length might be really helpful. The 18mm lens that comes in the bundle, for example, makes the field of view much wider, ideal for getting your whole family in frame for a Zoom call. Better still, if you’ve already got one of Moment’s lenses lying around, obtaining a mount for your laptop is a fairly cheap investment and something you need to use across multiple devices.

I don’t think Moment’s webcam kit is for all. The cost of the bundle resembles a decent standalone webcam (in the event that you can find one in stock). And if you choose right, an external webcam should give you a good boost in image quality. But if you’re some body who’s already invested in Moment’s lenses, then its webcam mount is really a neat solution to get more out of your existing hardware.

Photography by Jon Porter / The Verge