Some initial impressions of the Opal C1

· 1055 words · 5 minute read

After some issues with delivery, my Opal C1 finally arrived. It is a pretty good product, but it exists in an odd nether-region between other fairly well executed webcams that cost less and just repurposing a mirrorless camera. I wouldn’t recommend it to people who don’t think of webcams as something fun to play with.

Once I got a tracking number for it, I reinstalled my Fujifilm X-T4 using the new 23mm/f1.4 lens just to have something to index with. My daily driver for a while now has been an Elgato Facecam, which costs $100 less and provides a sharp, consistent picture that requires only a little fiddling during the day as the light coming through the window I face changes.

On initial test: Sharp video, nice controls. To disinterested observers who’re just looking at your face on their screen and not really trying to understand what gear you might be using, it’s pretty good. It is not at all better than $2,400 worth of mirrorless gear, but if you are reading this I imagine you guessed that would be so.

The product is touted as “DSLR-like,” which I believe simply means “nice quality image with a lot of subject/background separation and bokeh effects.” It may also mean “provides a lot of manual control,” which the Opal does, but in this case it means “there’s a simulated aperture control and an exposure control knob, along with other image control options that are less a product of the “single lens reflex” part of dSLRs, but more a product of the “digital” part: saturation, vibrance, contrast, shadow/highlight tone.

Opal’s engineers seem to get one thing others have not: Bokeh effects – that background blur that suggests a higher-end camera with a fast lens shot wide open– are better when they’re a little greedier. A wide-open, fast lens will leave your ears out of focus. Opal’s approach is better at managing that than, say, Zoom’s. (But Mike, Zoom isn’t a camera. That’s right, but both approaches are done with software.) Opal’s approach leaves a slightly stronger sense of the depth of field fading back, not just “you’re either blurred to some specific degree, or you’re in focus.” It even seems to understand how that blur would change as the subject turns their head from side to side. I also sort of like that the depth of field control is expressed as f-stop equivalents even if it’s not actual aperture control and is actually just a scale of how blurred the background is.

It’s still not perfect. If you hold your hand up to your ear, suddenly your ear shifts into focus, too, even though it was tastefully blurred a half-second earlier. If you shift around a little, the parts in the far background are briefly in sharp focus before the effect can catch up. It’s subtle, but once you see it there is no unseeing it. I mean, of course that happens. It’s an algorithm processing an image and responding to conditions, making a best guess at which part is the face and which part is a poster on the wall, not a piece of glass interacting with light. Still, good effort. Most people paying about as much attention as they should will think it looks “dSLR-like.”

The management software comes with a collection of Instagram-like effects/filters. Most of them are a little garish and overdone. One is very close to Fujifilm’s Eterna, and I like that one. I never use “touchup” effects, but tried Opal’s out. It isn’t bad. You have to really crank it up to get the bad glamour-shot effect. But you can just use that Eterna-like preset for pleasing contrast, neutral colors, and a dampening of reds/pinks to help with complexion issues while still looking natural.

You can choose between setting a preset amount of zoom for purposes of cropping, or turning on a face-follow feature. I part ways with the Opal software team on this: The face following feature wants to leave an uncomfortable amount of space over the subject’s face, so you end up sort of rising up from the bottom of the screen instead of following the more contemporary headshot practice of cropping out just a bit of the top of the head.

Besides all the image handling stuff, Opal touts its mic, which I don’t think transcends “okay:” The sound is clear and bright, but it still has a level of reverb that isn’t too pleasing and will still contribute to the exhaustion people feel with Zoom. Opal focuses more on noise cancellation than cleaning up that “bouncing off the walls and ceiling” sound. My Jabra 75 boom mic runs rings around it even if I look like an air traffic controller wearing it. If you hoped this would save you purchasing a dedicated headset or mic, it will not. (Seriously, even ear buds are better than the default laptop or monitor mic most of the time, provided you don’t forget and let the mic slide down into a fold of clothing or bump against a zipper/buttons.)

Oh, finally, it does have some cute features, like cutting video if you make a peace sign or toggling face lock if you make a pinching gesture. If you cut the video, the only way to get it to come back on is to open the camera control software and find the active video toggle, so if you’re one of those “dip in and out of view” people who pops back in when talking, be ready for that.

So, you know, tl;dr:

  • Not as nice as a mirrorless camera, even with a kit lens
  • Nicer than most built-in laptop cameras.
  • About as nice as my Elgato Facecam, which does less fancy stuff but looks about as good.
  • The mic is better than the default laptop mic, but you probably shouldn’t use either.
  • Not so much better than some other 4k webcams out there that I’d recommend the added expense at this point. I bought it because I love cameras. I won’t return it because I’m curious to see how Opal iterates and improves. I don’t think most people should buy it. The Elgato Facecam is about as good and the Logitech Brio is right up there minus some driver issues on the Mac (IME – others haven’t had the same issues I have.)