Updated: May 23, 2015
Best Web CamPersonal computers have been one of the most important technological advancements of the last century. While the introduction of the motorized vehicle helped us travel across the country, the internet has helped us travel across the world. Communication has no bounds: it is just as easy to chat with someone 5,000 miles away as it is to talk to someone next door. With the addition of webcams, communication became much more personal. Colleagues from all over the world could discuss business; teachers in New York could reach students in Indiana or India; grandparents could see their grandchildren even if they couldn't physically be with them. The opportunities afforded to everyone with an internet connection by these cameras are astounding. Many of today's instant messaging technologies have functions which allow web cams; Microsoft Messenger, Yahoo chat, and MSN are a few. In fact, webcam technology has advanced so much that they are an integral part of not just personal communication over the Internet, but business communications as well. There are a large number of great quality webcams being offered on the market today, but what are the best webcams for your purposes? Choosing the best web camera for your needs and your budget allows you not only to communicate, but to do so more intimately and meaningfully -- in this guide, we will look into the most popular web cams on the market.
What To Look for In Web Cams
When looking for a good webcam for your needs, it is important to know what the descriptions mean. You may say, "Oh, that has 1600 by 1200 pixel resolution! Wow." But if you don't know exactly what that means, you may not know if that's a good thing, if you need it, or how much it tacks on to the price. In general, Logitech Web Cams and Microsoft Webcams are pretty safe choices. Here are some features to look for:
- Resolution: the standard resolution for video on webcams is 640 by 480 pixels. When you have a higher resolution, the image appears sharper. We have all seen "pixelated" pictures that either look blurry or in which the pixels are visible to the naked eye. The downside to higher resolution is that it is a burden to your computer.
- Frame rates per second. This will determine how smooth your transmission is. Lower frame rates will provide choppier transmission.
- Microphones: most webcams come with an integrated mic, but be sure before you buy. Also look for pan, tilt, and zoom if that is important to you. Toshiba, Microsoft, Logitech, and even HP all offer webcams with a built in microphone, so you don't have to worry about hooking up a bunch of different hardware to your computer.
- Webcam Software: besides installation, software may include video editing, stop motion, conferencing, and surveillance.
- Compatibility: If you have a Mac, look before you buy. Most webcams are compatible with Windows only, but you can find high quality ones, like the Quickcam Pro for laptops.
- The best webcams in both the low and higher price ranges (the $45 and $85 categories) should include automatic, face tracking focus. The reason the Lifecam and the Quickcam come so highly recommended from so many different angles is precisely because they are virtually foolproof, incorporating both imaging technologies.
How Much Does a Web Camera Cost?Over the past few years, a host of webcams have come onto the market. The only thing more dizzying than the selection is the wide range of prices: you can find high-end cameras, such as the Sony EVI-D100 that retails for just under $800, or models that sell for less than $20. If the $20 one worked as well as the $800 web camera, we'd be all set. But there are a lot of factors that play into the price tag. It is similar to buying chocolate. You could buy a Hershey's candy bar for less than $1, or you could choose an Amedei Porcelana Bar for $15 a bar (the Hershey's bar is three times bigger, by the way). What you buy will depend on what type of budget you have and what your needs are. Web cameras are the same: the more expensive models obviously feature more and better features. However, sometimes a Hershey bar will do just fine. There are two important questions to ask yourself: What can I afford? and What do I need the camera for?"
Popular High-End and Budget Webcams
If the answer is for communicating with business partners, students, teachers, or clients, then you will need a higher-end camera. The good news is that you can find these without paying an absurd amount. One of the leading webcams for businesses and individuals is the Logitech Webcam Pro 9000 / QuickCam Pro 9000. The QuickCam has outstanding image quality courtesy of the Carl Zeiss glass Tessar system and features a host of filters and effects, including noise reduction and echo-cancelling capabilities. One problem that webcams have had in the past is choppy transmission. There would be a noticeable delay, which could result in miscommunications, cutting people off, or frustration. This camera can capture video at 1600 pixels by 1200 pixels and 30 frames per second. This makes each video conference or meeting smooth and crisp. It really is a viable alternative to traveling thousands of miles and wasting money in gas or airplane tickets. This Logictech model costs about $80 (about $120 for the Mac version). While this is steeper than other models, it is not a high price to pay for sharp business communication, or even for people who use web cams with great regularity. Web User Magazine said that the Pro 9000 delivers "what's effectively better-than-TV image quality to your Internet communications." Other high-end models include the QuickCam Pro laptop webcam and the HP Elite Autofocus. The former offers the same exceptional usability as the Pro 9000, while HP's camera can capture still pictures up to 12-megapixels, has a 3-megapixel sensor with autofocus, good image clarity and sharpness, and an instant chat button. One complaint many users have is that the mounting clip is somewhat flimsy; this may or may not be the make or break for you. The price, however, may be. It is $71 when purchased directly from HP's site; you can find it for $65 or even less on sites like Amazon.If you would rather sacrifice some extras for a lower price, the Microsoft LifeCam VX-5000 (which has the best value of any webcam in this price range -- you get 640 x 480 pixels, offering a significantly clearer image than webcams offered by companies such as Creative, whose low priced webcams come with only a 352 x 288 resolution) or Logitech's QuickCam Communicate STX are good choices.
For $35, the LifeCam offers 640 pixels by 480 pixels video resolution and a 1.3-megapixel sensor. It has an integrated microphone and a flexible base, though like the HP Elite Autofocus, it may be better left on a tabletop and not perched on the back of your laptop. Experts have said this is the best inexpensive webcam available. Logitech's budget camera has the same video resolution and sensor speed and allows you to add video to instant messages and quickly attach videos and photos to emails. Either is a fine choice if you are using the web camera to speak with family or friends now and then. It costs between $40 and $50.