- Continuity Camera lets you automatically use your iPhone as a webcam, wirelessly.
- You must be running macOS 13 Ventura and iOS 16 for it to work.
- The quality difference is incredible.
Apple's Mac webcams are pretty bad, but the primary camera in your iPhone is amazing. Why not combine them?
That's the idea behind Continuity Camera, which automatically grabs a wireless feed from your iPhone's camera when it's sitting near your Mac, and you make FaceTime, Zoom, or other video calls. The result is incredible. In fact, it's so good, it's worth keeping an old iPhone around just to use as a webcam.
“Apple’s Mac lineup […] is often criticized because of its webcam, which has considerably poor quality despite Apple having far better quality camera modules in their other devices, especially iPhones,” Rajesh Namase, technology writer and co-founder of TechRT, told Lifewire via email.
Back to the 90s
Separate webcams used to be a thing, and Apple even sold one of its own, the iSight. Then the camera hardware became small enough to fit into the lid of a laptop, and that was it; pretty much every computer has a camera built-in now.
But then a few things happened. We got used to the excellent cameras on our phones and iPads. MacBook lids got thinner and thinner, so you can't really fit a decent camera in there (even the iPhone, which is a lot thicker than a laptop lid, has a huge camera bump on the back). And we had a pandemic, which meant we were all doing a lot more video calling.
Apple's Mac lineup […] is often criticized because of its webcam, which has considerably poor quality…
Apple's built-in Mac webcams are pedestrian at best. The current 14-inch MacBook Pro has a 1080p camera, which is 1920×1080 pixels, or just 2 megapixels. It's also bad in low light (aka all office light). Apple's current answer to its poor-quality cams is to use computational power to clean up the image. The Studio Display even has an iPhone chip inside, which must help to improve the image.
But the results are still poor, with smeared skin, poor color, and generally bad looking video. Continuity Camera fixes all that.
Continuity Camera is Apple’s catch-all term for using an iPhone or iPad’s camera remotely on your Mac. For a while, you’ve been able to scan documents and snap photos directly into a Mac app using the camera on your phone, and it’s surprisingly useful.
Now, when you launch FaceTime or another video calling app, the iPhone will show up as a source for video. To be automatically selected as the FaceTime camera, the iPhone has to be near your computer, upright in landscape orientation, and not moving. If it meets these requirements, then when you launch the FaceTime app, your iPhone will turn on, and that’s that. It’s the camera now.
The difference is pretty noticeable, especially in lower-light situations. The iPhone’s camera also has autofocus, which means you’ll always be nice and sharp.
But that’s not all. You can also opt to use several video effects (available in the Control Center menu on your Mac). Portrait mode blurs the background, Studio Lighting brightens you up (but looks a bit weird), and Center Stage uses the wide camera to cover a larger area, then crops it close in on you or you and any other participants, following you around as you move.
Like Center Stage with the regular built-in camera, the quality suffers, but it’s still better.
You can also opt to use the iPhone’s mic, the Mac’s mic, or any other mic you have connected to the Mac, and you can also move the camera around independent of the screen to get better framing or to show other stuff to call participants.
If you use an iMac or an external monitor for your laptop, you can easily leave a permanent mount on the top of the screen. There are also clips, like this one from Belkin, that make it easy to attach the phone in seconds. For many people, this is a tiny effort for a lot of payoff.
But there are downsides.
“It requires the purchase of additional accessories to attach the phone to the laptop. It is impossible for people to check messages and important notifications on the phone while using the continuity camera. Even so, the desk view is refreshing, and it is easy to set up, as well as use,” Paul Walsh, phone and tablet refurbishment specialist and video call aficionado, told Lifewire via email.
If you regularly use your phone to goof off while on a call, you'll need to work on that. But otherwise, this is a total win. After all, why bother with a fancy camera in your laptop when you already have an even better one in your pocket?