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A clever camera for video calls

Most of us have been resigned to using our computer camera for our video calls. It’s simple, automatic and requires no effort. But I’ve been aware of the mediocre image from my 2-year old Macbook Pro M1, a camera that’s a slight improvement over previous models. I’ve not only encountered blurry images, but lots of flare and other imaging artifacts in rooms with overhead lights and in backlighted situations.

On occasion I’ve considered adding an external notebook camera from Logitech or others, but they came with too much effort to set up and looked unwieldy. I even experiemented using an iPhone that be used as a camera for your calls, but it was cumbersome and required purchasing a special holder.

But recently I stumbled upon a tiny computer camera called The Tadpole from a company called Opal. I was attracted by its modern look, simple design, and that it utilized a 48MP Sony sensor. It was also priced at an affordable $129, reduced from it’s original price of $179. I decided to order it from Amazon, knowing it would be easy to return if I didn’t like it.

I’ve been using it now for about a week and like it alot. I use it mostly on Zoom calls and simply use 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 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 square block with a built-in clip that fits onto the top edge of your computer’s screen. I center it over the built-in camera. The cable fits into the USB port and the camera is ready to be used. The USB-C plug has small plastic end that has a built in sensor to turn on and off the audio. It truly is plug and play. 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.

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. After several days of use, as I read other comments and reviews, I discovered they make a free app for MacOS called Opal Composer. Once I installed it, it updated the software in the camera and provided a number of optional settings for the camera. Why they don’t make mention of this with the product is also a bit odd.

If you make a lot of video calls and want to improve your image – literally- I can recommend this product. On a few of my calls other participants asked if I was using the computer’s camera.