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Continuity Camera – is it worth the wait?

Last week, my stand arrived that now enables me to fully try out Continuity Camera…here are my first thoughts…

Continuity Camera & Belkin stand
image courtesy of author

Summer Breeze

Continuity Camera – a blast from the summer.

So, hands-up, who recalls Craig on-set at this summer’s WWDC event, announcing the latest macOS Ventura? That was back in those, long, warm, hazy days of June. WWDC is the event where Apple inevitably announces the latest OS for Mac, but, as we all know that it will be months before we actually get our hands on the os – and also the associated gadgets too.

That was sure the case this year. Ventura was finally released to the public, a little under one month ago. There have been many features about it that I like – some in Mail, Messages, and even the new System Settings pain too. There have been other features, such as Stage Manager, where the jury is still out, as far as I am concerned.

Through all that though, there was one feature that Federighi told us about, that I have been super keen to thoroughly try, and that was Continuity Camera. The seeds for this, unwittingly, were born in the March Peek Performance event.

That Studio Display

I have one, and spend hours in-front of it every day. In virtually every way, it ticks the boxes for me – brightness, clarity, durability, & design. Of course, it could be argued, that for the money, it should be a good display. In the guise I have sitting here, on my desk, it’s a £1500 bit-of-kit.

But, the one area that Apple sorely missed the mark with, was the camera. Popped inside this high-end display, was a 12MP ultra-wide, ƒ/2.4 aperture camera. It has a 122° field of view, and is Centre Stage equipped.

As the panels started to be delivered, and reviewed, it soon became clear, that there was a problem. The camera unit itself was of poor quality. In a £1500 panel, there was still no sign of a 4K camera, and it got worse.

The framing was awful, in part due to the height of the panel. The fact they shipped Centre Stage with this unit, only exasperated things yet still further. The basics were not right, let alone adding on further features to it. And then there was the colour, which was shocking. As a result of all those factors, I have never used the built-in camera on my display.

The answers

I use a webcam of some sort, pretty frequently. I have carried out many interviews online. Being a tech-based channel, it would be pretty embarrassing if my camera quality was poor. I upgraded to a Brio 4K camera from Logitech, which has served me pretty well.

But, when Continuity Camera was mentioned, it clearly piqued my interest. I have an iPhone 14 Pro, with the best camera set-up I have ever witnessed on an iPhone. The fact, I could now integrate it effortlessly with my Mac, for all online calls, it made sense to start using the iPhone as a webcam as soon as possible.

I was waiting to get my hands on the official Belkin stand to give Continuity Camera a full road-test. It arrived last week, and I have now had a few days to set it up and have a proper look at what it has to offer.

What you get

This £30 unit, is pretty-much as basic as it could get.

All you get inside the hinged box is a basic user guide, and the stand itself. The principal of the stand is simple. It has two functions. There is a small kick-stand which you can use if your iPhone is on the desk. Then, of course, there is the small hinge that flips out that makes it suitable for using on both the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air I have here. It has a kind of velvet, smooth finish to it, and, given its size, it is actually pretty weighty and substantial. It attaches to your phone via MagSafe. The ‘snap’ and fit feels pretty secure and solid.

During the WWDC event, it seemed that a version of the stand was also going to be made that would fit the Studio Display. But, here in the UK, having scoured Apple’s website, I cannot find any such beast. I’ve played around with the one I have, but cannot find any way to make it work, on the thicker framed, desktop display.

Obviously, if you have a Studio Display, you will have some kind of MacBook driving it. So, whilst you can argue that you only need to attach it to the MacBook to get your webcam up, and running. That’s not quite the case, though. Mounting the Belkin stand on top of the larger Studio Display would create a far more natural angle & height for the camera.

It would also feel safer putting a hefty £1700 iPhone Pro on the Studio Display. There is something that feels highly counterintuitive, dangling the phone off the back of a laptop – the MacBook Air in particular. It doesn’t tip backwards, but you kind of feel it might.

And on either MacBook, whilst using this Continuity Camera mount, you have to have implicit trust in that MagSafe magnet. As mentioned, it does feel strong, but, it still requires that leap of faith…

Using Continuity Camera

It’s simple, and very, very Apple.

I have tried Continuity Camera with Zoom, Teams, Ecamm, QuickTime, and FaceTime. All apps seem to recognise the phone as a camera input. If you wanted to be certain of holding charge on your iPhone, through a long call, though, I’d suggest plugging it in with a lightning cable to your Mac.

All the controls for the Continuity Camera itself, are found in the Control Centre. The quality of the camera goes without saying. It is everything you’d expect from the iPhone 14 Pro set-up.

In Control Centre, is where you have access to the various options and settings for Continuity Camera. Under Video Effects, you’ll find;

  • Centre Stage
  • Portrait
  • Studio Light
  • Desk View

All these can be toggled on or off, to run individually, or simultaneously. I’ll go through how I have found these options so far.

Centre Stage actually works ever so well, and it tracks and traces you quite fluidly, and naturally. Studio Light is the best of the features in Continuity Camera, in my opinion. It does a fantastic job of highlighting you, and pulling you from the background. The portrait setting is over baked for my liking. I have not found an option to dial it in better, and give less of a bokeh, background effect. You know they way you can alter a Cinematic video or Portrait image, I’d love to see a similar setting here, in real time. That, or just wind it back a bit. It is too much right now. And the fact it is so intense, means that with any movements you make, the video become quite artefact’y.

Desk View

Hmm – well, technically, it works. You get to see your desk, or stomach, or lap! You get to choose what angle it is set at, and the angle you have the display of your laptop set to, will make a huge difference.

But, if you are expecting a YouTube, camera-down quality of image, forget it. At a push, it will show your desk. It will let you physically show a colleague what is in front of you…but that is about it.

Continuity Camera Desk View works, by using the ultra-wide camera, and a ton of computational, heavy-lifting. Hands, and fingers tend to look like they belong to ET, and that weird view, sort of steals the show.

So, yes, Desk View will show your desk…but, don’t expect wonders!

Wrapping up

I will be using Continuity Camera, undoubtedly. The Studio Light effect and Centre Stage are both useable. Hopefully, the Portrait mode can be worked on in some software updates.

The clamp will also help, even if it’s only to help you take selfies, more quickly. Using the timer app on your Apple Watch or iPhone, you’ll have a perfectly framed shot in no time. The Belkin stand will act almost like a mini tripod.

Overall, and for £30, the Belkin stand, and Continuity Camera work well together. And hey, Apple gets to charge us another £30, just because they can’t yet put a decent camera in their devices!

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