January 11, 2022
The Opal C1 Camera is here to disrupt the webcam market, offering 4k “near DSLR” quality targeted to professional users for 10% of the price of a DSLR setup. It's a unique package featuring a beautiful design, backed by impressive software that gets better through machine learning.
I was offered 1 of the 50 cameras for review, and since I’ve been using a DSLR set up for my calls during the last year, I was curious to see if it lives up to the hype.
The team behind Opal is no joke. The cofounders Veeraj Chugh and Stefan Sohlstrom come from big tech backgrounds, including Uber and Google, and Kenny Sweet leads the design, whose work includes Beats Pro, Google Pixel Buds, and Dell laptops.
When my Opal arrived this week, I was pleasantly surprised to see the same care and detail that went into the hardware went into the packaging as well.
The Opal comes in a sleek black box, with a simple white print of an illustration of the camera, indicating what size the device is before you open it.
The camera is the first thing you see when you pop off the lid (similar to an Apple product), followed by the coiled USB3 cable and a splash of yellow on the pull-tab.
Pull the tab, and a secondary compartment of the box is revealed, showing off the camera mount and a custom screwdriver.
Inside, you get simple instructions showing how to attach the camera to the mount with the single supplied screw and some additional details.
It’s always a nice touch to learn that 100% of the packaging here is recyclable.
The attention to detail was evident as soon as I pulled the mount of the box. The quality and precision of the build puts the squeaky $60 Logitech camera I've been using to shame.
You can tell this mount had the same amount of design consideration as the camera itself. You can adjust the simple integrated mount to a pretty significant degree, where it can easily fit on top of a small MacBook laptop or a big external display with no problems.
Notice that soft grey color that’s different than the white on the main body? It perfectly matches the grey on the mount, making for a seamless transition when attached. I adore these kind of details.
Mounting this thing is straight-forward. You line up the screw on the mount to the camera’s base, then screw it in with the supplied tool.
The simplicity of the design is evident as soon as you take it out of the box. Tech hardware is often strange in its identity—on one side, you get shiny plastic illuminated by multi-colored LEDs, and on the other, you usually get a faux-Apple aesthetic without the attention to detail which makes an Apple product special.
While this simple geometric design is not only timeless, it also fades into the background. That isn’t a small task considering it’s in your vision for the entirety of the time you’re sitting at your desk. Notice the complete lack of branding minus some small type around the lens? Bonus points.
The black lens cap is also a nice touch that offers an extra bit of privacy and protection. It attaches to the camera with a tiny magnet, which gives a satisfying little muffled snap when it’s connected.
Take a look at this texture as well. I’m so used to the hyper-precise machining of most tech peripherals, which makes this textured finish with slight irregularities kind of satisfying.
Another benefit of this minimalist aesthetic is solving a functional problem. In the middle of 2021, shipping parts and products from overseas ground down to a standstill, severely limiting most tech hardware production.
The Opal team designed the camera with all of these limitations in mind by using as many off-the-shelf products as possible, kept the production in the US, and even designed the packaging to be most effective for shipping through air.
The Opal comes in two simple colors—black and white. I’ve always preferred white hardware, but the black version is a safe option if you want something that’ll provide less contrast against your monitor.
The back of the camera is just as clean as the front. I love how the heat sync is built into the back of the enclosure, further illustrating that sense of functionality with aesthetics.
The cable is coiled at one end, giving it a more natural resting place coming out of the camera instead of sticking straight out from the back.
The mount had no problems attaching to whatever I threw at it, from a 34” ultrawide display to the Macbook Pro you see here.
The cable length is great if you’re running a simple setup like this or have a laptop on your desk while using an external monitor. I typically keep my laptop closed in a stand on my floor, and unfortunately, the 4 ft cable wasn’t long enough to connect to my external display.
While I could have swapped the cable out with something I had on hand, theirs was specifically designed to work with the camera, and without it certains features on their Mac app won't work.
I brought this up with the team, and they mentioned a longer cable was in the works for the future. I’m not sure if I’m an edge case in this scenario, but it’s something to keep in mind depending on your setup.
I appreciate how adjustable the mount is, allowing you to get it set up at just the right angle if you’re working remotely or have it permanently set up on another display.
The goodies inside this thing make it stand out from the competition. It contains a 7.88mm 4k Sony Sensor with a 78-degree field of view, and an f/1.8 aperture lens, outputting 4k pixel resolution at 60 frames per second.
That equals the fastest lens available on a webcam, which shines in environments with less than ideal light (they say it gets 2.4 times more light than other webcams).
Those 12 holes on the front of the camera aren’t just for decoration either. They are a collection of 3 microphones Opal calls “MicMesh,” which are supposed to offer noise cancellation and some of the best audio you can capture from a webcam microphone.
I think calling the Opal a webcam is a bit of a disservice. The tight hardware and software integration utilizing machine learning to get better over time makes it more of a computer with a camera attached than anything else.
The sharpness on this thing is pretty wild. It supports up to 4k, but since most video conferencing software doesn’t support it, you’ll be limited to 1080. That said, this thing still looks sharper than my current 1080p Logitech webcam and gives my full DSLR set up a run for its money. Here are some Opal comparisons with both cameras, as well as a 2021 Macbook Pro camera for good measure.
My current webcam is an old version of the very popular Logitech c920. It’s not great by any means, but at $60, you kind of get what you pay for.
There is no depth of field, and it does not look anything close to what I would expect out of a 1080 camera.
It’s a great lens that provides extremely sharp photos (I took all the pictures in this article with it), and I usually have people asking me what kind of setup I have.
The depth of field on this lens is unmatched from both the Logitech and the Opal, but setting it up was a giant pain in the ass, and I’ve run into some problems with the Fuji webcam software on the M1 Max chip. It straight-up refuses to work in Microsoft teams, so if I happen to have someone else schedule a meeting there, I’ll typically just jump to the camera on my MacBook.
Since the lens is so large, I have to set this camera up in the corner of my office, as far away as possible. This angle has a subtle byproduct of removing “digital eye contact” since you no longer look directly below the camera. Some people have mentioned it felt a bit weird.
Here is a screenshot of Zoom using my new 2021 Macbook Pro M1 Max camera.
This thing looks sharp. The difference between the Logitech camera and this is much bigger than I thought, and the field of view on the Opal seems much more fitting to this environment.
Even against the Macbook pro it looks sharper, and I prefer the more natural looking lighting.
The collection of microphones on the device is supposed to offer a great result, comparable to an external microphone. I just so happen to have a great-sounding AT4040 microphone running through a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, and was curious to create some samples to test the differences.
Unfortunately, the audio section of the software is still in beta, but I’ll update this section once it’s available. It contains a noise cancellation setting and a switch for studio sound, which uses a neural net to layer over the raw audio, emulating a professional microphone.
Ah bokeh, that beautiful, soft, blurry background that can make even a cheap lens look expensive. After getting experience with fixed lenses on my DSLR camera body, digital bokeh has always felt a bit sub-par. Even Apple, with their unlimited budget, haven’t been able to nail this after years of improving portrait mode.
It sounds like bokeh is one of the main areas of focus (no pun intended) on this camera based on the effort they are putting into it:
“For our Bokeh effect, we start with a neural network guessing the segmentation between the foreground and background, which kicks off a proprietary set of filters that tune the segment, and a graphic rendering pipeline that actually models the physics of how light enters a lens through a hexagonal lens – all to make a Bokeh effect that is far more convincing than anything else out there. Each of these steps, we’re doing 30 times a second.”
To compare the settings, I put the Opal through a quick test, adding amounts of 0%, 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100%.
As I crank up the settings, the background starts to look great, but there are two problem areas where the edge detection is struggling—on the side of my head and my shoulder. I’m keeping in mind this software is still in beta, so I expect to see improvements over time.
Opal also has a setting called “Facelock,” which automatically tracks your face as you move it around the frame. Increasing the slider will Zoom the camera in on your face until it fits within the frame.
While most of the settings are great out of the box, I appreciate the ability to tweak the camera settings based on your preferences.
I imagine most people won’t be using the Opal for extreme closeups, but I was curious to see what results I could get. I disabled the Focus Lock, cranked it up to 11, and low and behold; it was able to pull some nice detail out of an object I was holding up to the camera.
Now that’s some great depth of field.
When I compared the image I was getting out of my Fuji and Logitech camera, I noticed the color temperature was more on the warmer spectrum.
This is an example of the default settings where you can probably see what I mean.
After manually turning on the color temperature control, I was able to bring it into the cooler spectrum, which was a bit closer to reality.
Like most camera software, a touch-up feature is built-in. It’s very similar to Zoom smoothing out your skin, but I found this way more subtle. Maxing out this setting on other software turns you into a creepy porcelain doll, but this was wasn’t the case on the C1.
Here is a comparison of its various settings.
There was a pixelation feature in the settings that took me a bit by surprise. It has simple slider controls like everything else, allowing you to either pixelate a tiny bit:
Or by a whole lot.
I’m not sure how useful this feature is since the camera already has a lens cap. If I needed some quick privacy during a call, I’d probably just put the cap on rather than find the Opal app, go to settings, then adjust this slider.
But hey, that's just me.
The last screen of settings shows the usual webcam features you’re familiar with, plus a few disabled ones that’ll be available when the software leaves beta.
There are controls to start up the camera when the camera is plugged in or started at login, and options to mirror the video or adjust quality settings.
While the camera does support 4k, most streaming apps do not. If you try to enable this right now, it’ll toss up a little warning saying it’s probably not the best idea.
This feature will be great once apps support it or you’re doing any local recording.
Another unique feature will be the arrival of gestures to control your camera. It’ll have your bread and butter like pinch to zoom, but also a peace gesture will stop the video. I love this since it’s how I end most of my calls (it just happens, ok?).
One of the most exciting features I was reading out was the future addition of voice and engagement coaching.
The C1 will eventually be able to determine what kind of filler words you tend to use, call them out to you after the call, then show you performance metrics if it detects you’re using less of them over time. No more “umms”!
Their engagement coaching feature will also show you post-call data based on how it thought you performed on the call. It includes body language detection, smile detection, and mumble detection.
As a final test, I wanted to run through my Logitech webcam, Fuji XT3, and Opal C1 to see what sort of low-light performance I could get out of each. These screenshots were taken one after another, right as the sun was setting out of my office window.
Yikes. I wasn’t expecting much here, but the worst out of the bunch by a significant margin.
Not as noisy as the Logitech, but it looks like the low light struggles with the autofocus on this lens, giving it a pretty soft appearance overall.
I could probably get better results switching to manual focus, but auto-focus during the day is just way too convenient.
The C1 still shows a bit of noise, but artifacts are much less noticeable than on the Logitech. It’s the brightest out of the bunch, has the most realistic colors, doesn’t struggle with focus, and the bokeh setting actually works well in low light.
I think this is my favorite out of the group.
The waitlist for the Opal C1 is currently sitting at 16,000 people. On December 14, 2021, those on the waitlist can purchase the camera through an invite code sent to their email.
It sounds like they are planning on a slow rollout to ensure their customers’ expectations are met while improving the software.
At $300, I think the C1 fits into a nice spot in the middle of the current market. It's a great pickup for someone that doesn’t want to invest thousands into a tricky DSLR setup, but also wants something a bit better than a high-end webcam or integrated laptop camera.
Since Opal is a small team, they’ve decided to stick with Mac for the time being until they can get the performance and feature set where they want.
Once that’s complete, they’ll roll it over to Windows sometime later in 2022.
The Opal webcam costs $300. The software is free for "early customers", but then jumps to $4 per month with some extra features:
I feel like there are many open questions here that need to be addressed. What is an early customer exactly? Are all features of the software going to be locked down, or just a select few?
My favorite thing about the C1 has to be its stark, minimalist design. It’s just a refreshing take on hardware peripherals that I wish more companies would start to take the same approach. I’ve never been a fan of glossy black products, and it feels like the entire market is full of them.
Bokeh will be always better when generated naturally through a DSLR lens rather than manufactured digitally (at least so far). Still, I would never recommend someone pick up an entire DSLR set up for video calls because of the cost and complexity alone.
For me, the audio experience is where the true value comes out of an integrated package like this one. A $300 webcam is priced high when you compare the visuals to some existing products, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to anyone if they can nail their goal of sounding like a studio mic.
I'm definitely looking forward to the future of this product.