Opal Tadpole is a high-end webcam designed specifically for laptops

Two years ago, Opal launched a camera with a tweet. (They were still called tweets at the time.) It was in the middle of a global pandemic, a work-from-home revolution, and a really tough time to start a hardware company — and suddenly Opal had tens of thousands of people recording into the webcam used by Alexis Ohanian, Reddit co-founder and Opal investor, a promise It was amazing”. Opal had four employees at the time, CEO Viraj Chugh told me, and it took all the company’s time and attention just to ship the cameras as quickly as possible.

The development process for the second camera, called Tadpole which will be launched today, appears to have been smoother. Opal has a real hardware team and supply chain now; I was able to go back to suppliers and develop custom parts and tools instead of buying whatever parts I could find in China. (It can also actually He goes To China, in contrast to the heat of the epidemic.)

As a result, the $175 Tadpole is not a successor to Opal’s first camera, the C1. It’s something different: a webcam designed specifically to be mounted on your laptop, not stuck above your desktop screen. But it’s also everything the C1 isn’t: it’s small, compatible with everything (including Windows devices, finally!), and really easy to use. I spent some time using the Tadpole during a recent cross-country trip, and I’m really impressed.

The device itself is a small square, measuring 1.25 inches in both dimensions, and about as thick as a pack of gum. Opal says it weighs about the same as an AA battery – I don’t have a scale, but holding both in my hand, that’s about right. The point is, it’s really small. I get real iPod Shuffle vibes from this thing, and I mean that in a good way. It comes in black and white and has a clip on the back that attaches to the laptop’s lid and a built-in USB-C cable that plugs into the computer.

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The cable, clip, and camera are all connected and easy to set up.
Photo: Opal

Chugh says Opal built this device because the company kept listening to users who wanted to take their cameras on the road. As people started returning to their offices and on business trips, they kept wanting to upgrade their webcam. One of the most popular requests Opal received was for a travel case for the C1. “Then we started thinking, ‘Well, why would people want a case?’ says Chugh. They’ve discovered that people still want to look good, but they need to be able to do so from an airport lounge, co-working space, or meeting room.

The camera itself is a half-inch 48MP Sony IMX582 sensor (which you may have seen in the OnePlus 7 Pro or some Samsung A-series phones circa 2019 and 2020), with an f/1.8 lens and the ability to take portraits. Video up to 4K. It’s a bigger and even better sensor than the C1, which is a huge improvement over your laptop’s built-in webcam and roughly on par with what you’ll get from a more expensive device like the Insta360 Link.

The tadpole quality is enough of an improvement that I commented on how sharp I looked on calls and it’s particularly useful in poor lighting. You know that setup where you sit right in front of the window, and your webcam turns you into a silhouette in front of a blown-up background? This is the hardest setup any webcam can solve, says Stefan Sohlström, Opal’s other co-founder, and while Tadpole doesn’t exactly fix the problem, it’s noticeably better than the MacBook Air’s built-in webcam.

The Tadpole also has a built-in microphone that Opal calls the “VisiMic.” The idea behind VisiMic was that tadpole microphones should only be able to hear what the microphone can see, which is a pretty good way of guessing what is “I’m participating in the meeting” and what is “stranger at the next table on a loud phone.” It connects.” It’s a clever idea, but it didn’t really hold up in my tests. The Tadpole microphone is good, and it tries to cut down some sounds outside the frame, but it’s not noticeably better to my ears than any other noise-canceling system. You can mute the mic by touching a capacitive pad on the plug USB, which is neat, but it doesn’t integrate with any chat apps — it’s just a hardware toggle — so you run the risk of occasional “where did you mute yourself” confusion.

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Serious iPod Shuffle vibes from this thing.
Photo: Opal

Overall, I like Tadpole a lot and find it useful for people who travel a lot and need an easy way to upgrade their meetings. And that last part is the real story here: the Tadpole is remarkably easy to use, which couldn’t be more different from the C1.

I’ve had the C1 since almost the beginning of the Opal’s life, and while it actually offers a significant image quality upgrade over most webcams, it’s been a huge pain to use. Opal was a hot mess for a very long time, my computer often wouldn’t recognize the camera at all, and a lot of video services didn’t know what to do with Opal. I stopped using the C1 in favor of a series of worse-looking webcams because I got tired of troubleshooting.

On the other hand, the tadpole acts the way it should. You plug the thing in, and there’s no second step. You can still download Opal’s Composer app if you want some manual control over the image, but you don’t have to. Every app I tried saw the Tadpole like any other webcam, working a second after I plugged it in. It works on Windows and Mac, and the only problem I’ve had so far is that the clip just opens Just Wide enough to fit on the cover of my Surface Laptop Studio.

Tadpole is a throwback – it doesn’t rely on custom software and apps; It’s just a much better camera

It’s actually kind of a throwback to the webcam, which doesn’t rely on a lot of custom software and apps but instead gives you better hardware that you can then customize in your video chat app or whatever else you want. Tadpole doesn’t do any auto-framing (since Opal suggests you’re probably sitting in front of your laptop, rather than awkwardly off to the side) and doesn’t offer background blur or silly filters. There are apps, including Opal’s, to do this. The tadpole’s job is just to be a good camera. This seems to be the right approach: the C1 wasn’t worth the hassle after a while, but so far, the Tadpole is no hassle at all.

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A $175 webcam is still a big ask, especially for a device you can’t primarily use on a desktop monitor. (No tripod attachment, no clip, nothing — this thing is for laptop cases and laptop sleeves only.) Moreover, the WFH gadget revolution we thought might happen a few years ago has largely faded as people come back To work and return to their old routine. Opal is betting that there’s at least a group of people who are used to looking and sounding better and may not want to give that up now that they’re in a hotel room instead of their bedroom. And it looks like the company has finally made a camera good enough and easy enough to be worth the (small) extra space in your bag.

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