Jabra PanaCast 20 webcam review: Hey Jabra, my eyes are up here
Quick verdict: The Jabra PanaCast 20 is a cracker of a webcam that literally follows you wherever you go, but with a price tag that’s hard to get past.
- Fantastic image quality
- Intelligent zoom is great and fun
- Easy to set up and use
- You can’t sit it flat
- Runs hot
I used to be someone who ignored webcams. I used them under duress even in laptop reviews, stating boldly that they were entirely unrelated to my life or work. And then COVID happened.
A couple of years later and we still find ourselves going in and out of mandatory and self-imposed Locky Ds here in Australia. Many of us now use our webcams on the daily, whether we want to or not. So I finally acquiesced and felt it was time to try something other than what was baked into my various devices and review units.
And it wasn't until I met the Jabra PanaCast 20 that I realised just how much I was sleeping on quality video output.
Jabra PanaCast 20 webcam review: Design
The design of the PanaCast 20 is sleek from the get-go. It comes nestled in a plush carry case somewhat reminiscent of high-end headphone cases.
Here you'll find a USB-A to USB-C cable (all hail) as well as the rounded rectangle webcam itself.
It has a hinged stand that allows you to place it on your monitor without a clipping mechanism. However, because the USB port lives directly behind it, the Jabra PanaCast 20 can't sit on a flat surface. This is a real bummer if you want to opt for a non-monitor angle.
On the plus side, it has a privacy shutter if you're paranoid like I am. But this is also somewhat impacted by the fact that the webcam runs quite hot. If I had it on for a while and went to close the shutter, it was uncomfortably warm to the touch.
All in all, it's a solid design besides that 1 flaw. Its simplicity also translates to easy installation. You just plug it into the USB-A port on your computer and you're good to go. I found it automatically came up as an option on Zoom, Facebook Messenger and Microsoft Teams.
Jabra PanaCast 20 webcam review: Video quality
The PanaCast 20 has a 13-megapixel 4K Ultra-HD camera, which means a pretty damn clear picture. It also has up to a 90-degree field of view (FoV) and 3X digital zoom. This is good news for anyone working from home that needs that extra quality.
In my case, I am regularly on panels for work as well as appearing on filmed podcasts and streams, so quality is important. And I found that the Jabra Panacast 20 was a huge step-up from the in-built Mac webcam I was using previously.
I truly felt up until this point that I was doing just fine with whatever was available to me along with Zoom touch-ups. As it turns out, I was wrong.
In addition to crystal clear image quality, there was no noticeable lag while broadcasting.
Of course, the downside to 4K Ultra-HD is that it shows every blemish. I'm pretty sure it was detecting pimples on my skin that won't even appear for another 2 months. But hey, if that's something you're bothered about, I recommend going ham on the appearance touch-up options on Zoom. Your self-esteem may thank you.
It's worth noting that the overall video quality can be impacted by your internet connection. If you have a dodgy Wi-Fi situation, even a camera this good will cop some quality loss and lag.
Jabra PanaCast 20 webcam review: Performance
The stand-out feature of the Jabra Panacast 20 is Intelligent Zoom. We have also seen this feature in recent iPad generations that allow the camera to follow you.
The Panacast 20 utilises AI to scan and adjust the picture in real time to focus on the primary subject – you.
This was extremely fun to play around with and certainly kept my work colleagues amused during Zoom meetings.
Whenever it zoomed in it was like I was in starring in the opening credits of a 90s sitcom:
Now the camera did a really good job of tracking my face… except the first time I tried it. In that particular instance, I moved my chair backwards and the cam promptly zoomed right in on my chest. No pic.
And while I can't blame the PanaCast 20 for giving the people what they want, I'm quite glad it hasn't done that in live panels.
Still, while I appreciate that the Intelligent Zoom focuses on me rather than the mess in the corner on my study, it wasn't always smooth.
I found there was a slight delay – about a second – when it did more than pivot in 1 direction or another. If I moved my chair back or went to the door, there was a noticeable gap before it targeted me like The Terminator.
Fortunately, the zoom was almost instantaneous for smaller movements, which are far more likely in my line of work.
Generally, I don't need to get up and walk around for panels and meetings. But if you're an IRL Twitch streamer who moves around a lot, the AI lag might not be ideal.
It's also worth mentioning that because 3X digital zoom is used for the tracking, the more it has to focus in, the more pixelated your melon becomes:
Alternatively, you can turn this feature off altogether with the Jabra Direct app. It also lets you set the FoV (considering the camera is ultra-wide by default, you might want to zoom it in a bit) and play with set several camera presets.
The app also lets you do things such as set a picture-in-picture mode and mess with the image quality.
Some of the things you can change include the contrast, bright, sharpness and saturation. You can also toggle the automatic white balance on and off. This is all especially helpful if you don't have a ring light or enough natural light in the space. Otherwise, you can simply let the AI automatically adjust the lighting to your space.
In general the app is super streamlined and easy to use, which I'm a fan of. The only real annoyance was when changing the FoV in the settings. It doesn't provide a preview while doing this and you have to reboot the cam every time you change it. Of course, this means you can't see if the new view is what you want until the cam starts up again. While not the biggest deal in the world, it was annoying and time-consuming. I recommend taking the time to set some presets in the app so you can avoid doing this after your initial set-up.
Should you buy it?
- Buy it if you're after a high-quality cam that will make you look great and has some fancy bells and whistles.
- Don't buy it if you don't want to spend this much on a webcam.
I found it difficult to find things I didn't like about the Jabra PanaCast 20. It has upped my online conference game without needing a bunch of extra equipment, has great image quality and is simple to set up and use.
My main concern is that it's prohibitively expensive for many people. $429 is more than what regular folk should be paying for their home office webcam set-up. There are plenty of cheaper options out there that do just fine.
But for someone like me, it's kinda perfect. In addition to daily work meetings, I do public-facing stuff where having a high-quality webcam is to my benefit, so it makes sense. If this sounds like you, it is perhaps worth the investment.
Jabra PanaCast 20 webcam review: Pricing and availability
How we tested
The Jabra PanaCast 20 was used extensively for a 1-week period for Zoom calls, presentations and podcast recording. It was used with Zoom, Facebook Messenger and Microsoft Teams.
The author has been reviewing tech full time for over 5 years and was named best reviewer at the 2021 Australian IT Journalism Awards.
Images: Tegan Jones