The camera on your MacBook Air can be an essential tool, especially if you do a lot of video chatting. If your camera is grainy, it’s not only annoying but may look unprofessional and will be less effective as a communication tool.
In the majority of cases, a grainy camera is the result of poor lighting. Still, other things exist, such as a dirty lens, too close to the camera, software issues, and even a bad-quality camera.
My name is Eric, and I use built-in cameras such as the one on the MacBook Air all the time. While they are not always the greatest quality, they are usually good enough to produce clear videos and photographs, so it can be very frustrating when the results are grainy.
There are several different reasons that this can happen. If you keep reading below, I will explain most of them and give you some tips on fixing this problem so that your camera will produce clear video and photos.
Troubleshooting your Grainy Camera
Figuring out the problem and fixing your camera may take a bit of troubleshooting, but in most cases, it turns out to be a common problem with a simple solution.
Basic troubleshooting methods usually start by looking at the most common problems and simplest solutions, which we will do below. Let’s jump right into it.
1. Poor Lighting
If you’re seeing grainy video or photos from the camera of your MacBook Air, the chances are it is due to poor lighting. This is a common issue, and because of that, it is the one you should explore first. The good news is that if it is a poor lighting issue, it is straightforward to fix.
When we talk about poor lighting, we often assume that we are referring to a low-light situation. While this is the case more often than not, this condition can also happen from too much lighting or light coming from the wrong direction. Let’s look at each of these issues and their solutions.
Not enough light is the most common cause of grainy videos and pictures. If the image sensor in the digital camera cannot get enough light, it increases its sensitivity to pick up the image and display it as pixels. With the sensitivity increased, it also picks up noise or unwanted light.
As the sensor tries to increase the visibility of the image by magnifying the data it has, it also magnifies the noise, which produces pixels that are not quite accurate. The pixels that are not as accurate make the image appear to be grainy.
Too Much Light
Too much light has the opposite effect. The bright light overdrives the image sensor causing it to decrease its sensitivity to where it has trouble picking up parts of the image, and you may see spotty areas where it looks white or washed out.
This may also be grainy but looks slightly different than the low light situation described above.
Direction of Light
The location or placement of your light source and/or your camera will determine the direction that the light hits your subject, drastically affecting your video and picture quality. If the light is too close, too far away, or in the wrong position, it can create shadows and a low-light situation.
If the light is in front of the camera or shines towards it directly, it will create too much light and overdrive the camera.
Solving Lighting Issues
The great thing about lighting problems is that they are usually easy to solve. If you don’t have enough lighting, add more using another lamp, opening curtains, or moving to a brighter location. If you have too much light, it is a similar solution. Adjust the lighting or move to a darker location.
The direction of the light can also be solved easily by moving your subject or the computer. Sometimes just tilting the camera so that it is at a slightly different angle can make a huge difference. Adjust the height of the camera or subject by putting your laptop on top of something to prop it up or moving it to a lower-level desk or table.
Different types of lighting can also solve these issues. Natural lighting is usually the best, but softer, brighter lights typically work well in most situations. One tool that can be of great help is a ring light. You may have seen them. The circle-shaped soft lights that many use.
These lights are relatively cheap and easy to find. They can be plugged into a USB port and are very mobile, so you can move them around and place them in a spot that provides the best possible lighting for your situation.
2. Too Close
Are you sitting too close to your MacBook’s camera? Sometimes when we use our computer to video chat, we get close to it, thinking that the person we are talking to can hear and see us better. This is not the case.
The MacBook Air has a pretty good quality mic and camera, and it can pick up your voice and see you well, even from a little distance. Try moving back a bit from your computer or tilting the screen back just a bit. Sometimes a minor adjustment like this can clear up a grainy picture.
3. Dirty Camera Lens
A dirty camera lens usually produces a blurry picture, but it’s not always the case. Dirt on the lens can block light from coming in and create a low-light situation. Also, dust build-up can sometimes give the video a grainy appearance.
Make sure your camera lens is clean. You can use a damp cloth to gently wipe it. Follow Apple’s recommendation for cleaning Apple products.
4. Needs a Reboot
While lighting issues cause most grainy situations, it may be your computer’s having issues processing the video or photos coming from the camera, which could cause some grainy results. In this situation, the first thing to try is rebooting your system.
A quick reboot can often clear up issues like this, and your camera may go back to normal and have a perfectly clear picture. Just click on the Apple symbol in the upper left corner of the screen and then select Shut Down.
I suggest doing a Shut Down rather than a restart because shutting all the way down will also clear SMC and NVRAM/PRAM on Apple Silicon-based machines (we’ll discuss this further in the next section).
Once the system has shut down, let it sit for 15 to 20 seconds. Then press the power button to start it back up. Check your camera and see if it is still grainy.
5. Reset SMC and NVRAM/PRAM
Your computer keeps configuration and other data types in both SMC and NVRAM/PRAM. These are basically storage areas that can hold data even when your computer is shut down.
After a while, this data can build up and get corrupted, causing issues with numerous things on your system, such as your camera. While I won’t get into details about how SMC and NVRAM work, it is possible to clear or reset this data, which can fix many issues.
If you have a newer MacBook Air with Apple silicon, you won’t need to worry about this since they automatically reset whenever you reboot your system. So if you have rebooted your system as described above, you have already done this.
If you have an older system with an Intel-based processor, you must manually reset the SMC and NVRAM. To reset SMC, shut your computer down, then start it back up while holding the Control, Shift, and Options keys until you hear the chime. Your SMC will then be reset.
To reset NVRAM/PRAM, shut the computer down. When starting it back up, hold down the Command, Option, P, and R keys for at least 20 seconds or until you hear the chime. When the startup completes, your NVRAM/PRAM will now be reset.
6. Try Different Software
If the reboot described above has not worked, it could be that the actual application you are using with the camera is the problem. Try another application that uses your camera to see if you get the same result.
If it is clear with other apps, you will know it is an application problem. In this case, you may need to research that application. Try to Google search for information about that application, and if it has problems with the video being grainy.
You can also check the developer’s website or even try to contact them to see if they know of any issues. They may have a fix or an update for the application; if not, you may need to look at finding other software for your specific application.
7. Update macOS
Another software problem that could affect your camera could be your macOS. If your macOS is not up to date with the latest version, it can cause all kinds of issues. OS updates are released to fix bugs and glitches found in the operating system, and an update can often fix issues like this.
You can check for macOS updates by clicking on the Apple menu and looking for notifications beside System Settings.
Click on System Settings to perform the update by clicking on Software Update Available and then Update Now.
Once the update has been completed, restart your system and see if the issue has been resolved.
8. Camera Quality
Newer M2 MacBook Air models are equipped with a 1080p FaceTime HD camera, which is a pretty good camera and should produce good-quality video and photos. The camera on older MacBook Airs is not quite as good and could be the source of your problem.
An external camera can be a good solution for some. They are easy to find, and you can get them for a relatively reasonable price if you shop around. They are easy to plug in and set up on your system and can be moved around and set in a location perfect for your system setup and lighting situation.
If you have an external camera available or have a friend or colleague who has one you can borrow, you can always use it for a quick test. Plug an external camera into your system and see if it has the same grainy issue.
If it does, it is a good sign it is one of the other issues described above. If the external camera does not show up grainy, it is a good indicator that it is your camera, and you may be best using an external camera with your system.
A grainy camera is frustrating and can keep you from using your MacBook Air how you need to. Lighting issues cause most grainy issues; low light conditions are usually the problem.
Keeping your camera clean, rebooting your system often, and keeping your macOS up to date are other important steps to ensure your camera works correctly. Still, if all else fails, try a high-quality external camera for your system.
I hope the information above has helped you to fix your grainy camera. As usual, let me know if you have any questions or comments. I would love to hear from you.