Opal splashed onto the tech scene a few years ago with the C1 Webcam — a beautiful product that looked like it came out straight of Dieter Rams' sketchbook.
The C1 quickly made the rounds on twitter, amassing over 60,000k+ waitlist sign-ups in no time. It seemed like everyone in the tech space was talking about it, which made sense considering work from home was a regular thing for millions of people, and most laptop cameras just weren't cutting it.
Fast forward to 2023, Opal has since raised a $17M Series A, grown their team significantly, and are ready to launch their next big product.
Introducing the Opal Tadpole
The Tadpole is the next offering from Opal, combining extra horsepower in a more compact form, with a clip designed specifically for laptops. As of today, this camera has one of the largest sensors available (48MP) boasting the best image quality of anything on the market, and is available for $175USD.
Opal was kind enough to send one over my way, and I've been testing it for the last week or so. Let's take a closer look.
Unboxing the Opal Tadpole
I remember being impressed with the C1 packaging, and the Tadpole is no different.
It ships in a small white box, surrounded by a bright yellow paper insert showcasing the playful brand, and illustration of the product inside.
On the back of the box, you can read some of the camera specs, weight, cable, audio and connection details. You'll also notice another illustration showing off one of the characteristic features of the Tadpole—an invisible mute button designed directly into the cable itself. Nice!
The Opal Tadpole comes in black and white depending on your preferences. Since my C1 came in white, I felt obligated to stick to a white version of the tadpole as well.
As soon as you slide off the yellow cover and open the box, you're immediately greeted by the tiny camera with the USB cord neatly tucked away through the back of the insert.
On the inside of the cover, the white Tadpole branding is proudly displayed on a punchy yellow background.
A familiar design
The C1 is one of my favorite tech designs of the last few years, and I'm happy to see that the design team at Opal as leaned into that previous language with the Tadpole as well.
Those characteristics include a simple geometric design, very subtle branding (the name is only noticeable when you view it from the bottom), and a touch of grey on the bottom of the device to add a bit of contrast to its otherwise stark white design.
Another thing I like about this sort of product is that it takes a clear stance on its purpose. This is a tiny webcam designed for laptops, and this clip makes sure of that by only opening enough to fit on a laptop screen.
Don't expect to fit this on your desktop monitor, it won't work.
The functionality is as simple as it gets. The camera has a small hinge at the top of the unit, and squeezing it will open up the clip to attach on your laptop.
I was surprised by how much pressure is required to open it fully. Maybe it'll loosen up over time, but I do wish it was a little bit easier.
Turning it around, you'll see a dark back plate and a rectangular piece where the braided cable sits nicely inside.
The back panel of the original C1 camera looks a bit familiar, but on a larger scale—I'm not sure if it's for aesthetics, or if its function is to help dissipate heat as well.
At the center of the cable, you'll also notice a little ball used to eliminate slack at certain parts of the cable once it's plugged into your laptop.
Like the back of the box says, tapping on the USB plug will quickly mute your microphone. Once tapped, a small red LED appears on the plug, and the small LED on the camera itself turns red to match.
When I'm on Zoom for work calls, I typically just click the mute icon, but this would come in handy if the Zoom window isn't in the foreground and I need to mute ASAP.
I was also thrown off when I used it the first time since muting the Tadpole didn't show that it was muted in Zoom. This makes sense considering the Tadpole can't control the UI in a completely different app, but it did make me double check that I was in fact, muted.
The Tadpole comes with a little silicone cap that can used as a privacy filter when the camera isn't in use. It's a small detail, but I wish it was magnetic to make it a bit easier to use.
Mounting the Tadpole
I have a 16" 2022 Macbook Pro I use as my daily machine, typically plugged into my ultrawide monitor, but always used at coffee shops and co-working spaces when I need to get out of the house.
Now I have the option to for better video quality in those environments without having to bring any bulky gear with me.
I was actually a bit nervous when clipping the Tadpole onto my laptop screen for the first time. It wasn't super clear that the camera wasn't making direct contact with the screen until I got in close to make sure.
Their marketing image shows the Tadpole mounted as low as it can go where it looks like it's directly touching the screen. I found in a real world scenario, the camera is angled a bit further up, where the only pressure the camera puts on the laptop is directly on the metal bezel at the top.
That said, I opted to mount it a bit higher where it rests on the aluminium bezel of the monitor instead, giving it a bit more of an upwards angle. The grooved back plate of the camera makes it grip surprisingly well.
How's the image quality?
The million dollar question. This product is specifically designed to work on laptops, so I'm going to directly compare it to the camera on my 2022 Macbook Pro.
Just a heads up—the webcam doesn't need the Opal Composer software running for the camera to work, but turning it on gives you a ton of access to features that will improve your image.
Here are some comparison shots of both, to try to paint a clear picture.
Macbook Pro Camera vs Opal Tadpole
This setup is typical of my day to day. I've got my laptop on my desk in front of me, the ceiling light on, and a small Elgato keylight facing me (the light in this room sucks otherwise).
Two things jump out at me the most—the detail on the Tadpole is far sharper than the soft Macbook image, and the color profile tends to lean quite a bit more into the blue spectrum by default. To my eye, the middle point between the two images would be closer to how I perceive things.
How's the audio quality?
Since the Tadpole is a mic designed for laptop use, that might mean you end up in places like a coffee shop or office, where things can get a bit loud.
Knowing that, they took an interesting approach with their microphone by using a cardioid pickup pattern, which should help only pick up audio in front of the camera, and not so much to the back and sides.
Here's an audio test using the microphone on the camera to give you an idea of what to expect.
Composer is the Mac webcam app (also available on PC!) that runs alongside the camera, and is where most of the magic happens when it comes to elevating the image quality with additional settings and effects.
Before jumping into the composer UI, I just wanted to touch on the MacOS install process, since I could tell quite a bit of love when into the details.
Installing the app
Install screens on MacOS are typically boring, but hey, they don't have to be. When I see this sort of thing, you can immediately tell that the designer cares about the details, giving me confidence in all other parts of the product.
Shoot this sort of thing directly into my veins, I love it.
With most hardware, the user has to opt into some specific settings to make sure the hardware can access all the system info it needs. Again, this sort of permission priming is very vanilla, but Opal did something here I've never seen before.
Once you install the software, you're greeted with an image of the C1 camera, and a list of all the permissions needed. I love the addition of the illustration of the camera, but I would have loved to see a matching Tadpole camera as well. Nonetheless.
But check this out. As you start to enable permissions for each part of the camera (lens, mic, etc), the corresponding part of the camera illustration is highlighted with a bright white stroke. I love how this ties the hardware directly to the permissions you're allowing.
You can ignore that error as well, this was an early version of Composer that I've seen updated.
Once you've got all your permissions set, the camera is fully lit up, and you're ready to set your preferences and start the app for the first time.
Gorgeous visual assets greet us here once again, showing the love for this entire process. I imagine they'll be updating this shortly to include Tadpole copy into that messaging.
What settings are available in Composer?
I haven't used Opal Composer since my original C1 review, so was pretty shocked to see how much it's changed since then. Instead of a tiny little Mac window with a few settings, it's a fully featured application with a ton of bells and whistles.
On the left, you get a huge preview window of the active camera, and on the right sits a panel with all of your various options.
In the top right you'll find a few video presets with some text overlays you can edit, but you can also create and store your own.
Below that are sections for each category, and clicking on each will expand all the available options. If you want to enable that category, just flip the switch.
The settings above are something I would typically use. Crank up the bokeh for that sweet, sweet blurry background, bump the highlights, then drop some of the shadows for some added contrast.
Scroll down, and you can find a few more features including a section for color, effects, stickers and backgrounds. I was a bit surprised not to see an exposure control, and I'm not quite sure what "tone-sync" is doing just yet.
You're able to record directly from the Composer app as well, with options to record the screen, camera, or both. The resolution is locked to 1080, which is the same as the Macbook camera, and is the max quality for apps like Zoom and Hangouts. If you're looking to record local 4k video from the camera, you won't find that option.
My normal set up when I'm working at my desk consists of a Fuji XT5, with a 23mm lens, and an AT4040 condenser microphone. It's expensive and overkill, but no webcam on the market can compete to the image quality. That's why the Opal C1 didn't really fit that well into my day to day use, and was eventually why I stopped using it.
I feel like my standards for video and audio quality are high enough where every time I use my Macbook Pro camera, I'm always left a disappointed. At least now with the Tadpole, I can get a little bit closer to my home set up on the go, without the burden of carrying around anything bulky.
If you're like me and are doing video calls consistently throughout the day, this feels like a perfect companion to those who already have a C1, or any other camera that they don't want to have to bring with them where ever they go.
Plus, the design is beautiful, it has a small footprint, and the software leaves tons of feature doors open for the future.
This feels like a natural progression in the product line from Opal, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they do next.