Sport & Auto
- About Future
- Digital Future
- Cookies Policy
- Terms & Conditions
- Investor Relations
- Contact Future
Don’t think you’ve got it good with that dinky cam built into your laptop. Whether you’re exploiting that five-second window of opportunity on ChatRoulette, posting your latest Polka performance to YouTube, or catching up with your folks over Skype, a good webcam can make all the difference. An external cam doesn’t just offer vastly superior video and audio quality. The flexibility of being able to freely maneuver and position the device opens up lots of possibilities, letting you take photos and video of more than what happens to be right in front of your laptop screen.
For this roundup, we’ve gathered together a collection of the best mid-to-high-end webcams. Each of them delivers at least 720p resolution and none cost more than $100. Though they all look similar on paper, each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Our goal in this roundup is to help you pick the best cam based on how you intend to use it.
Webcams aren’t usually used in a brightly lit lab, so we didn’t test them there. First, we recorded a video in good natural light at the highest resolution supported by the camera. Then, we did a Skype session in an office in both good and poor lighting conditions. Finally we recorded some audio in a noisy room. We based our final verdicts on each camera’s performance in these tests, as well as the flexibility of its hardware design, quality of its bundled soft-ware, and overall ease of use.
If you’re more interested in recording what goes on when you’re not around, a stand-alone Internet-enabled camera might suit your needs best. We also review two of these cams, which make it surprisingly easy to monitor your home or office.
All these webcams videoconference at 720p (1280×720), and some are capable of recording video at 1080p (1920×1080). We don’t recommend, though, filming your next major motion picture with a cam attached to your laptop. For high-quality 1080p recording, a stand-alone HD camcorder is a better bet. Although each manufacturer gives a megapixel figure for photos, we don’t recommend any of these cams for more than quick snapshots.
We found the biggest optical issue came with autofocus. Though all but one of the cameras include this feature, each manufacturer tweaks its autofocus to do best in certain lighting conditions and scenes. This makes some cameras more suitable for some purposes than others. We’ve tried to highlight these differences in the reviews.
In our view, audio quality matters as much as video, so we paid close attention to it in our tests. All the cams work as a USB microphone, whether you’re capturing video or not, so a good microphone does double duty. Some cameras include audio features like stereo recording, an omnidirectional mic, or noise cancellation.
Color Settings and Face-Tracking
All the cams let you tweak the color, contrast, etc. Some include optional modes to improve the appearance of skin tones. We found this made us look like pink trouts, but some users may appreciate a rosy glow. Face-tracking is another optional feature that’s more likely to induce vertigo in your audience than appreciation for your ever-centered grin.
All the cameras use USB 2.0. Though we tested the cameras using Windows 7 and Windows Vista, the Logitech and Creative cams also work in Macintosh and Linux environments.
You need just the right angle to look your best, and our favorite webcams allowed us to pivot the camera up and down and right and left to find that sweet spot. It’s also important for a camera to attach easily to a laptop or monitor and to stand freely on a variety of surfaces.
Each manufacturer bundles a suite of utilities along with the webcam. These let you tweak the camera settings, capture video and still images, and perform tricks with your camera that range from the productive (display a JPG or PowerPoint presentation) to the slapstick (make yourself look like a talking Walrus).
Creative’s Live! Cam was one of the smallest and lightest of the cams we tested. That’s a plus for portability, though its inflexible clip for mounting to a monitor and its inability to swivel right and left made it a little inconvenient to position. Image quality was in line with the other cams in its class, both in good and poor lighting conditions.
Two features, though, really caught our attention. First, the noise-cancelling microphone did a good job of reducing background noise. This could be important if you cam or use VoIP in a noisy environment. Second, a clever feature in the bundled software will display an image file or PowerPoint slides in your video stream; this works with whatever videoconferencing software you’re using.
Creative’s light little cam offers some useful features and solid performance.
Noise-cancelling mic; clever whiteboard feature in bundled software.
Hard to position; a bit pricey for its class.
The C510 is designed for portability; it folds up into a tight little package and even comes with a carrying case. It mounts easily on a monitor and can rotate all the way around, as well as move up and down. Logitech touts its RightSound technology, and the C510 did the best in our tests at reducing ambient noise. Video performance, too, was in the top tier for this class, delivering crisp, detailed video in all light conditions. It was the only cam in this roundup not to include autofocus, but frankly, we found autofocus to be as much of an annoyance as a help in many of the cams we tested.
The bundled software offers a clean, easy-to-use interface, making it an ideal choice for your less tech-savvy relatives, and even includes motion detection for simple monitoring of the area around your PC.
This light, well-designed cam is an ideal choice for one-to-one desktop video conferencing.
Delivers clear audio and video; small compact design.