Poor FaceTime video quality on MacBook Pro with Retina Display

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Last Updated: May 20, 2019

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If you have a first-generation MacBook Pro with Retina Display, you may have noticed the poor FaceTime video quality when making calls. As it turned out, Apple put a low-resolution sensor into the first-generation MacBook Pro with Retina Display. The second generation got an improved sensor and fixed the poor FaceTime video quality issue. Continue reading to learn how Apple replaced my MacBook Pro after I complained.

FaceTime on the MacBook Pro with Retina Display

I love FaceTime and use it a lot, especially on my iOS devices. When I’m in front of my MacBook Pro, however, I don’t switch to my iPhone or iPad to make or answer FaceTime calls. Why would I? I guess I never paid too much attention to the video quality, but a couple of weeks ago I noticed that the picture (or video I should say) of the FaceTime camera built into my MacBook Pro with Retina Display sucks, to be blunt.

So I started googling to see if this is an issue other people are having as well and I came across a thread on the Apple Support Forum, basically confirming that Apple equipped its MacBook Pros with low-quality camera sensors.

Poor FaceTime video quality

I compared the video with that of my wife’s regular MacBook Pro and noticed that the video quality was better. So I called AppleCare, but they just referred me to the Genius Bar at my local Apple Store. So I made an appointment, and the grey-haired Genius at the Apple Store at Northpoint Mall, Alpharetta, GA (not to mention any names) grabbed his 13″ MacBook Pro and asked me to compare the video quality. The video on his machine looked much better than on mine, and that’s what I told him. He acknowledged the difference in quality and took me over to one of the 15″ MacBook Pros with Retina Display they had in store. He asked me to compare again. I did and pointed out, that the video looked just as bad on the store model. He acknowledged again and looked at me as if he didn’t understand what my concern was.

So I asked him how it could be that my $3.5k machine produces significantly worse video than an iPhone, iPad or any other (non-Retina) MacBook Pro.

His response, in a tone that led me to believe he couldn’t care less about my concern: “Well, this (the one Apple puts into MacBook Pro’s with Retina Display) is a low-quality camera.” So I asked if he thought it was OK for a $50 Logitech webcam to produce sharper images than the camera in the most expensive MacBook Pro Apple has ever built. He confirmed.

Advertising vs. Reality

The problem is, that Apple promotes HD video quality for FaceTime on its web page. At the same time, the MacBook Pro with Retina Display offers anything but High Definition.

Say “hi” in high definition.
Your FaceTime calls are getting the HD treatment. Now FaceTime for Mac supports video calls up to 720p. All you need is an iMac, MacBook Pro, or MacBook Air with a built-in FaceTime HD camera, and your calls display with next-best-thing-to-real-life clarity. The FaceTime HD camera also supports a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio, so Mom, Dad, Grandma, your best friend, and even the dog can gather around for a video call.

I logged a complaint with AppleCare, and they urged me to go back to an Apple Store. So I went back to the Apple Store today to sign up for Joint Venture, Apple’s business program. I took the opportunity to bring up the poor FaceTime video issue again since I figured I had some leverage now. The Join Venture lead, store manager, and a genius looked at my sample pictures and a live demo on my rMBP and then concluded that swapping the whole system against a brand new model was the best course of action. The new model was a second-generation MacBook Pro with Retina Display that came with a new camera sensor. As a result, FaceTime video quality was finally High Definition, similar to my new iMac Pro.

Poor FaceTime video quality on MacBook Pro with Retina Display

Looking back at the issue, it seems like Apple just couldn’t get thin enough camera sensor for the new (and thinner) MacBook Pro with Retina Display. So they had to wait for the second generation to fix that gap. That was a bold move that, I am sure, upset many customers. Fortunately, Apple rectified the issue in my case by giving me new hardware. Other users may not have been as lucky. A few years later, Apple shall repeat that mistake when they release the new 12″ MacBook. That too Apple shipped with a low-resolution camera sensor.

28 thoughts on “Poor FaceTime video quality on MacBook Pro with Retina Display”

  1. Hi Michael. I’ve just purchased a Macbook Pro 13″ 2017 and how can I tell which generation it is please ? Also how can I tell if mine has the new upgraded camera sensor ? The camera is definitely poor when viewed with retina display & my Macbook Air 2012’s camera lighting is far nicer than that of the Macbook Pro.
    Thank you and your knowledge would be appreciated.

    Reply
  2. I’m having the same problem with my rMBP 13inch 2017 non touch bar. Brought it to AASP a week after I bought it!
    They confirmed to me today (a week after) that the camera has boot problem and they will change the display.
    I lost trust to their product quality, as I also find the keyboard locked / not responsive but the issue couldn’t be replicated during the checking.
    Not sure if I could get refund since I bought from local authorized reseller (Indonesia).

    Reply
  3. Hi,

    I’m building custom laptop ad searching for best builting camera I could get. Easiest solution would be USB based, but while Facetime HD are PCIe based, their are probably superior to most USB ones(internal, not external webcams)

    Could somebody provide me camera models and PCI IDs for crappy and good FaceTime cameras? (so I could buy the better ones) TIA!

    Reply
  4. I have been using Apple devices for a long time. These display problems are no longer to be found on the new Mac versions. If I face any errors while working on my MAc regarding it then I take help from Apple Support USA .

    Reply
  5. Same boat with “Albert” mine is Macbook Pro 2017 13inch non touch bar model. The camera is 10x worseeee than a cheap xiaomi phone front camera. My macbook pro camera is SUPER DUPER GRAINY. WTH!!! How come 720p camera produce garbage quality pictures.
    Took it to apple store once my camera seems fine because of the light on the store is hella bright. When use normal light at home, it’s terrible horrible grainy camera.

    Dissapointed for a machine this expensive.

    Reply
  6. Hi Mike- I recently purchased a MacBook in rose gold and I’m having exactly the same problem the webcam quality is really poor, I contacted apple support & the agent said I should update my iOS saying that it may help. But there seems to be no difference, my brothers MacBook Air even has better webcam quality. I honestly don’t know what to do & this is really pissing me off considering how pricy the MacBooks are. Please what do you suggest I do about my situation.

    Reply
  7. I am on my 3rd screen/lid due to image retention issues and I can tell you all of the screen/lid assemblies replaced had terrible quality cameras. Low contrast, desaturated just awful. Certainly not what you would expect of a fairly highly priced laptop from a company that I thought prided itself on quality imagery.

    I had asked the genius’s about it, but answers were ‘we can only replace it’ and since the previous 2 had been crap I saw no point. I shall have to give it another try, except I dare say It’s so long that I’ll be out of luck.

    My solution was an app called ‘Webcam Settings’ where I could increase the contrast and vibrance, as well as colour balance because it was usually on the cool side. It works ok, but nothing compared to a decent camera.

    Reply
  8. Hi Micheal, i have same problem with my MBP 13 inch 2017 key function, the camera so bad, make a picture grainy :( when i compare with iMac 27 inch late 2017, the result are very different, iMac make a picture so cleary. What should I do now? do you have suggestion for me?

    thank you,

    Reply
  9. Hi Micheal, i have same problem with my MBP 13 inch 2017 key function, the camera so bad, make a picture grainy :( when i compare with iMac 27 inch late 2017, the result are very different, iMac make a picture so cleary. What should I do now? do you have suggestion for me?

    thank you,

    Reply
  10. I have the new camera (I got mine in mid-June ’17) and the camera for photobooth is still really, really crappy. Like terrible, my Google Pixel camera phone is better. Apply is on their way out, slowly, but surely. And, I’m a Mac user ever since I was a child.

    Reply
    • Hi Danny!

      You cannot possibly compare a laptop camera meant for video chatting with the camera of a phone. Current MacBook Pros sport a 720p FaceTime camera, which is less than a megapixel. I agree that Apple should bump that up to at least 1080p (2 Megapixels), but it will never be near the 8MP of a Google Pixel or iPhone.

      I would start worrying about Apple being on their way out as soon as their earnings start reflecting it, not sooner ;)

      Reply
  11. Hi Mike,

    just read you post after having been googling this specific issue. I can inform you, if you care, that this is stil lan issue with new apple products. I just purchased an iMac 27″ Retina, and the Photo/video quality is extremely bad compared to my +3year old MB Air … I wnt to the local retailer [live n Denmark, and we do not have an Apple Store where I live], and showed them my findings – which was the issue when examining the iMacs and MP Pro/Air they had in the shop.
    They fully agreed that there is an issue, but had never heard of it before and suggested that I made contact with Apple, which I did – however, the yguy I spoke with had the attititude that as long as the issue didn’t seem to be isolated to my iMAC but more of a general nature, then so be it.

    I’m still left with the iMac with a poor quality cam and am not sure what to do NeXT – if there is anything I can do. If it is a general problem with the other Retina devices, then the issue is mostlikly [for me at least] not possible to get have resolved …….
    Any ideas of how to move forward here?

    Lasse

    Reply
    • Hi Lasse,

      I don’t own a Retina iMac but I have read initial reviews pointing out that certain things (like standard definition videos) or even 720p FaceTime may not look as good due to the high resolution of the display. Now the same “excuse” was given for the Retina MacBook Pro’s, so it may not mean anything.

      But ultimately, how does the video/picture quality look on the other end of the FaceTime call? I’d test it on a LAN (to make sure Internet speed is not an issue) and see what the difference is. All Apple devices (except for the new MacBook) have a 720p FaceTime camera, so quality should be similar between those devices.

      If you can confirm that your iMac Retina produces worse results and assuming you are within warranty of have AppleCare, I’d call Apple and ask for a refund, if that’s what you want.

      Cheers
      Michael
      Cheers
      Michael

      Reply
  12. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for posting all that, it took me some time to do a research on the issue. Only got my MBPR 2 months ago but surprisingly enough haven’t used the camera until like yesterday. I am pissed at Apple for a clearly false advertisement and am going to sign in for a Genius appointment here in London.

    When did you write that update? Have they replaced your MBPR? Was that a warranty case? Can you tell more about how exactly it went? That would help me a lot in that fight at Apple that I am now planning. :)

    P.S. Great blog!

    Reply
    • I wrote the update just a few days ago. They did replace my rMBP. But it took me two visits to the Apple Store and two calls to AppleCare. I think it helped that I spoke to the Joint Venture (Business) lead at my 2nd visit. I opened FaceTime (without making a call) and then took screenshots on both my rMBP as well as my old Cinema Display and showed them the comparison. They then looked at a model in the store (a new one that is) and confirmed the difference.

      Good luck!

      Reply
      • They replaced the whole display with a camera on my MBA and it solved this issue. It is as it soppose to be now.
        The other problem that Im facing right now is on other Apple device :| After upating iphone 4S to iOS 7.0.4 the battery needs to be charged 2x a day! Damn Apple!!!

        Reply
        • Hi Nam,

          if you bought a brand-new MacBook Pro today, you have the latest generation (2019) and it’s a 720p camera. That’s as good as it gets, I’m afraid. So far, only the iMac Pro have a 1080p sensor.

          Reply
  13. Same problem with me. However, in the first month of use of the macbook pro the camera was perfect. Somehow a few days ago the images started to look very bad! I don’t know how can that be possible! Furious with apple. Had several problems with this ridiculous computer and if it wasn’t so freaking expensive I’d certainly throw it out the window!

    Reply
    • Hehe, I know the feeling but fortunately after having the display replaced and the fan issues fixed by a firmware update everything is running smoothly…except the FaceTime camera of course. I could swear it was better in the beginning as well (maybe the new display they out in has a crappier camera) but more likely I just can’t remember how (bad) it was in the beginning :)

      Reply
  14. I bought a MBA (new version) a year ago and that camera sucks! I realized it is out of focus and if the camera has a fixed focus than there is no way to fix it without opening MBA and try to screw the lens in and out. Camera is focused at about 15cm distance and everything beyond that distance is simply blurry. Stupid me that I did not return this aluminium crap when I could…

    Reply
  15. I too would like to see something happen….. I am angry that I paid so much money for a computer that is made by Apple that has a bad quality camera!!! Dissipointed I don’t think I am going to buy another MacBook again unless I get some closure.

    Reply
    • I completely agree, I bought the 12 inch gold macbook about a year ago and I love everything about it except for the camera. I do not use the camera too often probably because of the fact that it is poor quality. Because the macbooks are so expensive, you would expect a good camera, so hopefully that is something they look into fixing.

      Reply

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