Why do MacBook Webcams Suck? (Reacting to Linus Tech Tips)

Linus Tech Tips (née Sebastien) just posted a really great video on why PC laptop webcams still suck oh so very much. But that’s by no means limited to PC Laptops. I’ve been complaining about MacBook webcams being sucktastic for years now as well. Which is really hard to take, especially from Apple, who makes some of the best mobile cameras, and most expensive laptops, in the business. So, why?

Linus goes over cost, which is never not an issue but isn’t as big an issue with Apple’s margins. And sensor size, which is an increasing issue on near-zero bezel PC laptops but again isn’t as big an issue with Apple’s still somewhat beefy bezels on even the already screen stretched 16-inch MacBook Pro. Also, Windows Hello facial biometrics, which requires extra or combined IR cameras, but since we still don’t have Face ID on the Mac, that’s just a non-factor for us.

So, again, why? What leaves MacBooks stuck with 720p as in potato webcams so always?

Well, in addition to the sensor, you need a lens system on top of it. And lenses… they crave depth. It’s why actual camera lenses are so… depthy. Like cannon depthy. Both kinds of canons! It’s why the iPhone cameras demand a bump and still project a good bump and a half beyond them, and even the selfie-cam, the closest analog to the Mac’s webcam, demands a notch to clear most everything else out from behind it. Depth tasks them… it tasks them and they will have it!

But the current iPhone is 7.4mm thin, the current 12.9-inch iPad Pro is 6.4mm thin, 5.9mm for the 11-inch. But even that is just way, way, thicker than the current MacBook lids.

The camera craves depth and the lid, it offers none.

Now, more recent iMacs have gotten more better 1080p webcams, including the new, iPad-thin M1 iMac. But the new M1 iMac only looks iPad-thin at a distance. Close up, it’s actually thicker than an iPad, thicker even than an iPhone 12. By half.

The other problem was, up until recently, very few people seemed to really, truly care about webcams on a laptop the way they do on a phone. I mean, mess with our selfies, we’ll cut you. But on a laptop, we’ll either just make do, or make like a streamer and buy external camera do. If we really have to. Then 2020 happened, and we all suddenly really had to. We all really, truly had to care. Desperately. And they were all out of stock or price gouged, everywhere, always. So, we turned our lidless ire, wreathed in pain, at the laptop makers. And they kinda had to start caring too.

One of the last things Linus touches on is computational photography, or rather the lack of it on PC laptop webcams when compared to phone cameras like Apple’s or Google’s. But that’s one area that Apple has begun to focus on. Computationally. The M1 is basically a Hulked out version of the A14, the chipset in the iPhone 12. They share the same image signal processor, or ISP, and 16-core Apple Neural Engine, or ANE. Which means M1 Macs can do the same kind of computational enhancements, including frame fusion for extended dynamic range, noise reduction, even portrait mode. And they work… pretty damn well for webcams, especially with the much bigger, better M1 iMac optics.

So, Apple’s basically already proven all they really need to do to give us MacBook webcams that don’t suck is to give us MacBook camera sensors that don’t suck by figuring out how to engineer them into lids that are so thin they’re pretty much forcing them to still suck.

Or, you know, give us a camera bump already.

For a deeper look at what’s coming next for all the MacBooks, see my previews right here, or check out this other video YouTube thinks you may just like better. It’s me vs. the algorithm, so let me know which one you choose and I’ll see you in that next video!