Webcam Buying Guide
Also known as multimedia video cameras, webcams are
essentially small camcorders that can capture live video to your PC.
Quality is much poorer than even the worst camcorders although
webcam technology over the past ten years has advanced so much
that itís now possible to hold worldwide video conferences with a
reasonably priced webcam.
Webcams are also capable
of taking still pictures although, again, donít expect much in terms
of quality unless youíre willing to pay a small fortune. They can be
used for a variety of things from internet calls to friends in Australia
to home security for your house. Whilst most arenít going to
require a high spec. webcam, models range in price from as little as
£10 to £120 and beyond.
The first thing
youíre likely to think about is the image quality. The higher your
webcamís resolution, the better quality your images will be. Typical
webcam resolutions are 320x240 or 640x480, which refers to the
amount of pixels that fit on the image. Most webcams can actually
capture still images at up 1.3 megapixels although this is usually
done through image manipulation. The frame rate is often the
governing factor in image quality. Expressed in frames per second,
the frame rate is simply how many still images your camera will
capture in a second. Donít settle for less than 30FPS or youíll get a
flickered, poor quality picture. As youíd expect, higher prices buy a
better quality picture.
Next, consider how the webcam
actually stands up. Most will clip onto an LCD screen or laptop
computer but arenít always ideal for standing on flat surfaces or
the top of a larger monitor. If youíre only going to be using the
webcam with your laptop it might be worth investing in a specific
laptop design which will be lighter and more
Many webcams also support audio but donít
assume yours will have a microphone. For conference calling or
talking to friends/family over the internet this is essential and
microphones can come either built in or attached to a headset.
Whilst microphone quality is often poor, theyíre often sufficed for
Look at the software the webcam comes
with as well. Many cameras come with a bundle including video and
image editing software, time-lapse video capture and video email
software. Shop around to find software for your need as thereís
often no need to pay over the odds for it.
webcam focuses is another point to consider; manually or
automatically. Try these out in store as some manual focus rings
are much easier to adjust than others. Glass lenses are better for
image quality than plastic lenses as well.
probably most importantly, ensure your computer meets the
minimum requirements for memory and hardware that the webcam
youíre buying needs. This is essential if you have an older computer
but check regardless or you could end up with a completely useless
piece of kit.