A webcam is connected to your computer via a USB and can be used for a number of things such as video conferencing, chatting to friends or taking videos and photos.
You can buy webcams which are specifically designed to be attached to your laptop/PC or portable camera and you can also use some digital cameras as webcams.
When deciding which webcam to buy it is a good idea to look out for the following key features:
Digital zoom – digital zoom increases the size of the area being captured rather than changing the angle of the lens which is not the same as ‘optical zoom’ which is often found on digital cameras. Digital zoom helps to produce a clear image in close range.
Frame rate – the frame rate refers to the number of frames which are generated per second. Cameras with a low number of frames per second have a tendency to freeze on screen. If you want to stream video, the camera you choose needs to be 15 ’fps’ (frames per second) or above. In order to avoid freezing problems it is a good idea to choose a camera with 30 fps or more.
Lens – some cheaper webcams come with plastic lenses but it’s not much more expensive to get a glass lens and they tend to be more effective. It can also be useful to choose a camera that has automatic light adjustment and focusing capabilities so that clear images can be seen even in a darkened room, for example when web chatting. Autofocus is a must as far as we are concerned.
DPI/Resolution – these refer to the general camera quality. As a rule of thumb, the higher the number is the better the quality of the camera. Look on the packaging or the web page if buying online to find out information about the resolution and DPI. A resolution of 640x480 is usually adequate for most purposes, although you will now find quite a few HD and Full HD cameras, which is to say they have 720 and 1080 horizontal lines respectively.
It’s important to note that some manufacturers can exaggerate the camera quality by advertising specifications that can’t be achieved unless you enhance your images with photo editing software. They will often also advertise high resolutions that cannot be achieved at maximum frame speed, for example an 720p capable webcam might only be able to film at 15 fps at that resolution and require you to lower the resolution in order to achieve the full 30 fps advertised on the box. This sort of "detail" really makes all the difference so pay attention to the fine print before buying.
Microphone – some webcams don’t come with in-built microphones so if you are planning to use yours for web chatting make sure you choose one with audio capabilities. If you plan to use your camera for something like stop motion animation then you can add sound to your images when you edit them. Beware, however, that in-built mics are not always very good and quality can vary enormously from one cam to another. Expensive cams do not necessarily have the best sound. In some cases you might be better off buying a separate USB mic.
Still images – lots of webcams can also record video and capture still images but often the quality is not as good as the webcam quality. Look for a camera that takes still images of 2.0 megapixels at least if you want to produce high quality images. Full HD (1080p) at 25 fps or more should provide very good results.
Portable – most webcams are very small so it could be argued that this makes them easy to move around. However, a portable webcam will have a clip attached to it so it can be clipped to a laptop.
You can get lots of other exciting features such as face tracking, but most of them aren’t technologically advanced enough to be used for anything other than fun. Some cameras come motorized and actually move to follow you but they are still pricey.
Making the most of your webcam.
If you’re thinking about special features but you’re not sure how often you would use them then it’s possible to download free software so you can try out things like video effects/motion sensors and purchase the software if you want to.
The power of high-definition webcams
If you’re planning to use your webcam to stream videos, for example on social networking sites, then you could find a Hi-Def webcam useful. If you’re not sure whether the webcam you’re considering is high definition then look for one that captures video of 720p or higher. We suggest 1080p minimum if you are trying to achieve professional-looking results.
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