I used the ‘smallest webcam ever built’ and it’s surprisingly versatile

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Kyle Kucharski/ZDNET

ZDNET’s key takeaways

  • For $129, the Opal Tadpole replaces your laptop’s built-in webcam with one that delivers near-DSLR-quality video anywhere you can take your laptop. 
  • Its combination of 4K video, extreme portability, and first-in-market directional microphone technology coalesce into a unique product.
  • It’s designed solely for laptops and won’t clip onto anything more than a few centimeters thick.

Let’s face it, videoconferencing is now an intrinsic part of the workday for many people, and since there’s no escape from the request to “hop on a quick call,” you might as well look and sound your best on Zoom, Teams, you name it. Unfortunately, many laptops’ built-in webcams leave quite a bit to be desired, and poor image quality and choppy audio just don’t cut it when you’re taking multiple video calls a day, especially if job interviews are involved.

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Enter: The Opal Tadpole, a tiny external webcam (supposedly the smallest ever built) designed to clip onto your laptop screen and blast your built-in webcam’s capabilities out of the water. It comes with 4K video resolution, a mirrorless Sony 48-megapixel  IMX582 Exmor RS sensor, and a directional microphone that only picks up sound from the camera’s field of vision. The result is professional-level video quality that looks like it’s coming from a “real” camera but in a portable, ultra-light package. 

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The Tadpole itself is a minimalistic, lightweight square device weighing just 1.2 ounces and measuring less than two inches across. The clip-on design is meant to be positioned on the top of your laptop screen (right over your built-in webcam) and plugged into your USB-C port with a fully adjustable, sturdy woven cord.

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Kyle Kucharski/ZDNET

This is a webcam that is designed explicitly for laptops, as it doesn’t stand up on its own, so there really isn’t an easy way to use this with a desktop or freestanding monitor as the clip doesn’t fit anything more than a few centimeters thick. Additionally, the cord isn’t long enough to connect to anything more than a foot away, so may just be the best webcam for laptops and only laptops.

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The webcam’s external features are minimal but in a good way, featuring no visible buttons or switches, and a touch sensor on the USB-C port connector that allows you to quickly mute the microphone with a single tap. There’s a little red light indicating that the microphone is muted, which saves you from second-guessing yourself. This simple hardware feature lets you bypass messing with the controls in the software you’re using, and quickly toggle between muted and unmuted on the device itself.

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Kyle Kucharski/ZDNET

In terms of setup, the Tadpole couldn’t be easier to install, as I just plugged it into my laptop’s USB-C port and went. The device should then be automatically recognized by video chat platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

When I recently hooked the Tadpole up to my laptop, it became immediately apparent just how inferior my built-in webcam actually is. The Tadpole, which shoots in 4K but down-samples it to 1080p in order to be compatible with video conferencing software, is strikingly crisp and bright, with an image that looks warm and evenly lit. It has an aperture setting of F1.8 and a 70-degree field of view, which aligns with Opal’s goal to create a portable webcam that rivals DSLR-level quality.

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The audio quality is similarly impressive, with its unique VisiMic microphone technology that only picks up sound waves coming from directly in front of the device, eliminating the need for noise reduction to be handled by the software. 

In my testing of this capability, I found that sounds that were very close to the camera were still getting picked up, although they were significantly muffled. Anything more than a few feet away, however, was rendered to inconsequential levels. This makes it a perfect webcam for people taking calls in a close-quarters co-working environment, noisy office, or rowdy neighborhood coffee shop.

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Kyle Kucharski/ZDNET

The Tadpole certainly isn’t the only webcam on the market that shoots in 4K, but it is definitely the smallest, and perhaps the most portable. This combination of features, along with its VisiMic technology and one-touch mute makes it one of the best options for digital nomads or remote workers who need to look and sound exceptionally well on video calls.

ZDNET’s buying advice

If you use a laptop and need to present a professional, high-quality presence on video calls, or if your laptop’s on-board webcam just doesn’t cut it, the Opal Tadpole is an affordable option to level up your video call game. Its VisiMic tech is particularly good for folks who find themselves working in noisy environments or journalists out in the field. It’s not the best webcam on the market hands down, but it’s the smallest and most portable to have all these features in one place.





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