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 portable.

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 personal use.

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.

How the 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.

Finally, and 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.

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