A clever camera for video calls

Want to improve your image – literally – on your Zoom calls? This may just be the perfect solution.

Most of us are resigned to using our computer’s built-in camera for video calls. It’s simple, automatic and requires no effort. But I’ve noticed the mediocre image quality on my 2-year old Macbook Pro, much like most notebook computer cameras. My image is not very sharp, there’s often flare and other image artifacts, especially in rooms with overhead lighting and backlit windows. It’s actually quite surprising that notebook cameras have not improved with the increased use of video calls in business these past few years. It may be related to the need to make the computer lids really thin.

A number of times I’ve considered adding an external camera from Logitech or another company, but they come with too much effort to set up and can be large and unwieldy. I even tried using an iPhone that can now be configured as a camera for your computer, but it was cumbersome and required purchasing a special holder to hang it off your screen.

Recently I stumbled upon a really tiny camera called “The Tadpole” from a company called Opal. I was attracted to it by its small size, modern design, and its 48MP Sony sensor, similar to what’s used in some of the best phone cameras. The Tadpole was also priced at an affordable $129, reduced from its original price of $179.

I’ve been using it now for almost two weeks and like it a lot. I use it mostly on Zoom calls, using Zoom’s setting to choose the camera option appearing under Settings/Video. The image is noticably sharper and clearer. Now that could be both good and bad, depending on your taste and how you feel about showing your wrinkles. Another feature is its directional microphone that only transmits sound within the field of view of the camera. So noise from elsewhere in the room is surpressed.

Left: MacBook; RIght: Tadpole

The camera is a small aluminum 1.5 inch square block with a built-in clip that fits onto the top edge of your computer screen, directly over the built-in camera. Its cable plugs into a USB-C port. Its USB-C plug has a small plastic end with a built-in touch sensor as another way to turn on and off the audio. It comes with a soft lens cap to protect the lens when not in use. It’s about as simple a solution as there is, short of using the built-in camera.

Clips onto your notebook lid

In fact, it’s so simple, there are no directions included. I thought it might have been an oversight, but it turned out to be intentional. I found that odd, but perhaps they were trying to make a point about its simplicity. After several days of use, as I read other comments and reviews, I discovered the company also makes a free app for MacOS called Opal Composer. Once installed, it updated the software in the camera and provided a number of optional settings. Why they don’t make mention of this with the product is also strange.

The Tadpole is a good solution if you make Zoom calls in noisy environments and if you want a tiny portable camera that’s easy carry with you when you travel. It’s the best solution I’ve found. taking into account its cost, performance, and portability.

by Phil Baker

2 thoughts on “A clever camera for video calls

  1. Carl says:

    Hi Phil –

    Love reading your posts. DO you have any thoughts on the Tadpole vs the C1? Or put another way, what do I get for $299 that I don’t get for $129?

    • Phil Baker says:

      Thanks, Carl. That didn’t get my attention because it was more expensive, larger, and came out about two years earlier.

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