An open MacBook sitting on a desk next to a mouse and smartphone.
Krisda/Shutterstock

Apple MacBooks and desktop Macs often include a built-in webcam. You can also connect an external webcam to your Mac via USB. If your webcam isn’t working, or appears to be disconnected or unavailable in macOS, there are several steps you can take to (hopefully) get it going again.

See If Anything Is Covering the Lens

It’s always best to check the basics first. It might sound obvious, but if your webcam isn’t working properly, the lens might just be blocked or covered with something. Many people cover their webcam when it’s not in use to protect their privacy.

If you’re not getting any errors, and all you see is a black screen, make sure there isn’t anything covering your webcam. It’s easy to apply a cover and forget about it, especially if you don’t use your webcam frequently.

Check the Webcam’s Permissions

When you open an app that wants to access the webcam for the first time, macOS will prompt you to allow it to do so. It’s easy (and often sensible) to deny access at first, but this can pose a problem when it comes to making video calls or recordings.

You can give any app permission to access your webcam by heading to System Preferences > Security and Privacy > Camera. Any apps that have requested access will be listed here. If there’s a checkmark in the box next to them, they’re approved. If the box is empty, permission was denied.

You can change any of these settings by clicking the lock at the bottom of the screen, and then authenticating with your administrator password (or Touch ID, or Apple Watch). You can then approve (checkmark) or revoke (uncheck) apps and try again.

The "Privacy" tab in the "Camera" settings on macOS.

Kill the VDCAssistant and AppleCameraAssistant Processes

Two processes perform webcam duties that run in the background on your Mac: VCDAssistant and AppleCameraAssistant. Like any process on your Mac, these can stop working correctly at any time. Usually, when a process crashes, it’s restarted by the system automatically.

Sometimes, though, this doesn’t work. Fortunately, you can manually kill the processes with a Terminal command. To do this, launch Terminal by either searching for it in Spotlight or going to Applications > Utilities.

Type the following command, and then press Enter:

sudo killall VDCAssistant;sudo killall AppleCameraAssistant

Type your admin password to authenticate, and then try to use your webcam again. macOS should relaunch any processes your webcam relies on to function.

If you don’t feel comfortable using Terminal, just restart your Mac instead of running the above command.

Restart Your Mac

If killing the above processes didn’t work, try killing the whole operating system, instead. Some webcam problems are caused when multiple apps try to use it at once. You can solve this by restarting your computer, and not opening all the same apps when it boots.

Disable Reopen Windows When Logging in for a Faster Startup Time

To do this, click the Apple menu, and then click “Restart.” In the window that appears, uncheck the box next to the “Reopen Windows When Logging Back in” option.

Click “Restart,” wait for your Mac to power cycle, and then log in again when prompted. Relaunch the app that was trying to use your webcam and see if the problem is resolved.

Reinstall the App You’re Trying to Use

If you have a webcam issue with a specific app that wasn’t fixed by updating your permissions under the “Check Your Webcam Permissions” section above, the problem might be the app itself.

Sometimes, apps just stop working. Older ones don’t always play nicely with the permissions system Apple includes in newer versions of macOS. Try deleting the app from your “Applications” folder by dragging it to the Trash icon in the dock or highlighting it, and then pressing Command+Delete.

Next, download and reinstall the app. Note how old the app in question is, as this could explain why you’re having a problem. If you reinstall the app and it doesn’t prompt you to access the camera, it could be incompatible with the latest version of macOS.

See if there’s an updated version of the app. Maybe someone has forked the app and continued the work of the developer? Alternatively, you can see if there’s a similar app you can use instead.

Check Your Screen Time Permissions

Screen Time is a core macOS feature that helps you monitor how you use your Mac. It’s also how macOS handles parental controls, which can include limiting access to the webcam and any apps that use it.

To check if Screen Time restrictions are the problem, head to System Preferences > Screen Time > Content and Privacy, and then click “Camera.” Make sure “Camera” is enabled under the Apps tab, as well. If it isn’t, you can either authenticate and change the setting, or ask the person who set the limitation to remove it.

Check the box next to "Camera" under the "Apps" tab.

See If Your Internal Webcam Is Detected

If you’re using a MacBook or iMac, it has a built-in webcam. You can check if your computer is detecting the webcam properly. To do so, click the Apple menu at the top left, and then click “About.”

Click “System Report,” and then select “Camera” in the sidebar. You should see something like “FaceTime HD Camera (Built-in)” listed, along with a bunch of numbers and model IDs. You can also check under the “USB” section and see if your webcam appears there.

Click "Camera" in the sidebar.

If your internal webcam isn’t listed, a hardware fault or physical damage might have caused it to stop working. In that case, there’s not a lot you can do except have a technician take a look at it. However, parts and labor will likely cost you more than just buying an external webcam.

Before abandoning all hope, though, you can try resetting the System Management Controller

Reset the System Management Controller

If you’ve tried everything else (or your webcam wasn’t listed in the System Report), you might want to try resetting your Mac’s System Management Controller (SMC). The SMC is responsible for low-level settings, like fans and LEDs, but it might also impact your internal webcam.

How you reset the SMC depends entirely on which Mac you have. You can find your particular model and instructions for resetting the SMC here.

RELATED: How (and When) to Reset the SMC on Your Mac

Problems with an External Webcam

MacBooks, iMacs, and the iMac Pro all have internal cameras. However, you might need to buy an external webcam for some Mac models, like the Mac mini or Mac Pro. It’s also possible to use superior external cameras as webcams if you want to boost the video quality.

If you’re using a USB webcam, make sure it’s plugged in. If it is, unplug it, and then plug it back in. Try using a different USB port and cord, just to make sure neither of these are causing the problem.

If your webcam is connected via a hub, make sure it’s getting enough power. Try removing the hub from the equation altogether and plug the webcam directly into your Mac. Does the webcam have any LEDs that indicate it’s in use?

A Logitech clip-on HD webcam.
Logitech

You can also check to see if your Mac is detecting the webcam. Click the Apple logo at the top left, and then click “About.” Click “System Report” in the window that opens and navigate to the “USB” section in the sidebar. Expand any of the options there and look for your webcam.

If there’s no visible LED on your webcam or it’s not listed under “System Report,” it might be dead. Try connecting it to another computer and see if you can isolate the problem.

Most webcams don’t require additional drivers to work on macOS, but some might. Head to the manufacturer’s website and download any software that might be required to get your webcam working on macOS.

Final Attempts

If you can’t get your internal webcam working, you might want to consider reinstalling macOS from scratch just to make sure it’s a hardware issue. However, be sure to back up your Mac with Time Machine before you reinstall, so you’ll be able to restore all your personal data.

In a pinch, you can use your iPhone as a webcam, or use capture devices to turn your mirrorless or digital SLR camera into a high-quality webcam.

Failing that, you can always just buy a new external webcam.

RELATED: How to Use Your iPhone as a Webcam

Tim Brookes Tim Brookes
Tim Brookes is a technology writer with more than a decade of experience. He's invested in the Apple ecosystem, with experience covering Macs, iPhones, and iPads for publications like Zapier and MakeUseOf.
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