By Chris Baraniuk Technology reporter

Video conferencing on laptop
Image caption
When people could not see each other in real life, they turned to virtual meetings requiring a webcam

As Covid-19 lockdowns took effect around the world, millions turned to remote working and organising virtual hangouts with friends.

Overnight, webcams went from mundane computer accessories to gold dust.

Even now, the initial surge in demand, in March, has barely abated, with manufacturers struggling to satisfy the many consumers trying to buy.

And while some consumers have been successful, there is plenty of evidence many more are still searching in vain.

‘Chasing demand’

Smartphones, tablets and laptops generally come with built-in cameras.

But many users prefer dedicated devices that may offer higher video resolution or be easier to position using, for example, a tripod.

A Logitech webcam
Image captionLogitech is working hard to meet demand

Logitech has started shipping its webcams by air freight instead of sea, to reach retailers as fast as possible.

“We are still chasing demand at this point,” a spokesman says.

“Production is at full throttle.

“Going forward, supply could remain tight but we expect it to improve.”

Popular products

Chief executive Bracken Darrell told CNBC the company was “working like crazy” to meet demand.

And he expected another surge in sales from students returning to university virtually in the autumn.

In the UK, Amazon, Currys and Argos all have certain webcam models available for sale.

But many – including the most popular products made by companies such as Logitech, Microsoft and Razer – are regularly listed as out of stock.

‘Inflated prices’

“I tried for months to find one for my mum,” says Matt Obee, a software designer in the UK.

“She wanted to join in with her normal activities from home.”

Specifically, virtual church and Pilates.

“I could only find a few with stupidly inflated prices, or unrecognisable brands,” he says.

Months searching

And when a friend bought Mr Obee’s mother a webcam with a brand name he did not know, it seemed to cause software problems on her computer and Zoom kept crashing.

Eventually, he managed to buy her one from Curry’s – a bit more expensive than the model he had intended to purchase but it did work as expected.

“I didn’t expect that we’d have to spend months searching,” he adds.

Monika Lee
Image captionInternet-streamer Monika Lee has not found a suitable webcam

In California, cosplayer and streamer Monika Lee already has two webcams but would like a third for cooking demonstrations from her kitchen.

‘Pretty frivolous’

“It’s more important than ever to connect with people,” she says.

Her need for the camera is “pretty frivolous”, she says.

But she is unhappy with the quality of the inbuilt laptop camera she has been using.

And while the specific model of webcam she wants is back in stock, on Amazon, its price has gone up.

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