Apple Studio Display firmware update improves camera quality — here's how

Apple Studio Display on desk hooked up to Apple Mac Studio
(Image credit: Future)

Update: Dell's latest monitor has a 4K HDR webcam that could give the Apple Studio Display a run for its money, which is notable given the fact that Apple Studio Display speaker issues confirmed — here's Apple's suggested fix.

When the Apple Studio Display launched in March 2022 alongside the Mac Studio, we went hands-on with a review unit. Despite a few complaints, we deemed it one of the best monitors you can buy for your Mac.

Many other people who spent time with the Apple Studio Display had similarly positive things to say about the 27-inch 5K display, but one of the most common complaints we heard was about the low image quality delivered by the 12MP ultrawide camera built into the display.

I personally tested the camera on the display and didn't find much worth complaining about, perhaps because I was expecting performance on par or better than the integrated cameras I usually use on laptops and tablets, including Apple's own iPads. 

Indeed, the camera in the Studio Display appears to effectively be the same front-facing camera that's built into the iPad Air (2022) that Apple released around the same time as the monitor. I think if you go in knowing that, you won't feel as disappointed by the Studio Display's camera quality. In fact, when our intrepid Head of Testing Matthew Murray kindly posed for some follow-up selfie tests comparing the Studio Display camera to the iPad Air (2022) camera in different lighting conditions, we saw very little difference between image quality in our side-by-side comparisons.

Apple Studio Display with MacBook Pro (2019) connected and playing music via Spotify

The Studio Display is a great external monitor for your MacBook, but the webcam leaves something to be desired. (Image credit: Future)

It's disappointing that Apple's new $1,599 display can't capture better images than a tablet that costs nearly a third as much. However, Apple quickly responded to widespread complaints about the Studio Display's camera quality by promising improvements would come in a future firmware update. And that update has finally arrived — at least, for those running the latest macOS Monterey beta.

If you, like us, are brave enough to run the public beta of macOS Monterey 12.4 or later, you should be able to download a firmware update for the Studio Display. Once everything's updated, you should see a minor but noticeable difference in the quality of images captured by the camera. Specifically, we noticed slight improvements in image quality, especially in well-lit environments, as well as a slight narrowing of the frame.

To help show you what's changed, we once again enlisted Hero of the Hour Matthew Murray to take some quick selfies in different lighting conditions (and in two different apps) before and after applying the update. Here's a look at how well the camera works in direct sunlight, before and after the update. 

As you can see when clicking the arrows on the above picture to toggle between shots, there's some small improvements in the clarity of details captured by the Apple Studio Display sensor. There are more accurate and defined lines in the face, and to my eyes, it appears the color reproduction is more accurate too, as you can see more varied and realistic hues.

Matthew also noticed a slight narrowing of the frame after we applied the firmware update to the Apple Studio Display. You can see it in these photos -- notice how the frame is now more tightly cropped on the subject, even though Matthew used the exact same positioning in both before and after shots.

Now let's look at how the image quality of photos taken without natural lighting is affected, if at all. Here's some before/after shots of Matthew taking the same selfies in Google Meet and Photo Booth with the lights off and the blinds closed.

Without the aid of bright natural light, the upgrade in camera quality is even harder to discern. Do you see any significant improvement in these photos? Personally, I think our subject looks a little better on-camera after the update, with slightly sharper features and more realistic reproduction of color. 

Notice, for example, that you can clearly see the hues of the light from the Display reflected in his face after the update was applied, whereas in the before shot his face appears paler and more washed-out.

Apple Studio Display firmware update verdict

So what do you think? Me, I think it's remarkable how little this update appears to have affected the performance of the Apple Studio Display's camera. While it certainly appears to be sharper and more accurate now than it was at launch, it's such a minor improvement that I doubt many people will notice.

However, remember that this is a beta firmware update, so Apple could presumably make it more effective by the time it's finalized as a proper Monterey update. And of course, with so much of the Apple Studio Display's camera performance relying on help from the image processing powers of the onboard A13 Bionic chip, there's probably even more the company can do to improve image quality with updates down the road.

But as it stands, this update does little to meaningfully improve the performance of the Studio Display camera. 

Alex Wawro
Senior Editor Computing

Alex Wawro is a lifelong tech and games enthusiast with more than a decade of experience covering both for outlets like Game Developer, Black Hat, and PC World magazine. A lifelong PC builder, he currently serves as a senior editor at Tom's Guide covering all things computing, from laptops and desktops to keyboards and mice.