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Introduction
Webcams have been around for about a decade since the introduction of the original Logitech Quickcam in the late 90's. Their use remained confined to a relatively niche community for many years, however the recent explosion in user-created video & VOIP has brought Webcam use to a more mainstream audience. Most laptops now come with integrated webcams, and external USB webcams can be had at very affordable prices. We take a look at three webcams in this review: A Dell integrated Webcam, and budget webcams from Creative and Logitech.



Back in 1998 I remember using the original Logitech Quickcam to try some primitive video conferencing. It was a novel experience at best, with poor audio and video quality due to a multitude of factors, including slow computers (200MHz, USB 1.1), slow internet connections, and relatively unrefined video & audio compression codecs.

Fast forward to 2008. Most people have laptops with integrated webcams, and a multitude of amazing programs such as Skype are available to facilitate free online communications. Almost everybody has broadband connectivity. This has created a perfect storm for a mass migration away from traditional land lines to VOIP and cellular communications. In fact, I cancelled my AT&T land line last month.

Creative Live Cam Notebook Ultra - Purchase Price $34 AR [History]
This camera boasts some impressive specs at first glance, including 1.3 MegaPixel Video and 5.0 MegaPixel Photos (with an asterisk). The box art indicates the photo resolution of 5.0MP with an asterisk, however nowhere on the box does it tell you the true resolution. The sensor is actually 1280x960 resolution, which is classified as 1.3 MegaPixels. The unit has an integrated noise canceling microphone to facilitate chatting & video creation.




Logitech QuickCam Deluxe for Notebooks - Purchase Price $17 AR [History]
This is one of Logitech's budget line of webcams, routinely coming in at $20 or less after rebate. It's specs include a native VGA resolution sensor (1.3MP interpolated) , an integrated mic with echo cancellation technology, and a snapshot button. This is also the only webcam in this comparison that boasts a glass lens with adjustable focus. The other webcams are fixed focus.




Dell Integrated 2.0MP Webcam
Dell has recently been including a built-in webcam as an option for most of their notebooks. It is listed as being 2.0 MegaPixels, with an integrated microphone directly next to the camera lens.



Review
Much has been said about the "MegaPixel Myth" in recent times, and it definitely becomes apparent here, where the Logitech QuickCam clearly has the best image quality and yet the lowest resolution of the bunch. The other contenders have the capability to take higher resolution images, however there is little reason to do so due to the poor optics.

In terms of form factor, the obvious choice is to use whatever camera you already have integrated into your laptop bezel. The increases in picture quality you might get from a separate webcam such as the Logitech Quickcam are marginal at best. The main advantage of having an external camera is the ability to move it around, rather than having to reposition your entire laptop.

Along the lines of usability, whereas the Logitech QuickCam has the best image quality, its design is slightly annoying in that it blocks your screen. If the distance from the top of your screen bezel to where the LCD starts is less than one inch, the QuickCam will interfere with your ability to view the screen. Creative's Live! Cam Notebook Ultra resides above the bezel and therefore does not interfere.

One thing that I had not anticipated, and yet I discovered, was that the Creative Live! Cam Notebook Ultra gets hot during use. I used a temperature gun to check the temperature and it registered 120 degrees F, far above the ambient temperature in the mid 70's. This extra generated heat will shorten your battery life if you use this camera off of AC power.

Field of View
The Creative camera has a 76 degree horizontal field of view, versus the Logitech & Dell which both have a 50 degree field of view. This means that the Creative camera captures an image that spans approximately 1.5 times wider than the others. It doesn't make much of a difference if the main focus is your face, but if you have a few people gathered around the Creative will be better suited to getting everybody in the picture. The downside to having a wider angle lens is that the Creative camera has severe barrel distortion near the edges of the frame. The comparison shot below clearly shows the field of view differences as well as the barrel distortion.



Conclusion
If your laptop has a built in camera, then by all means use it. The integrated camera with the Dell Inspiron 1525 has acceptable quality for casual use in video conferencing and video blogging. If you'd like to add webcam capability to a laptop that doesn't have an integrated camera, I'd go with the Logitech QuickCam Deluxe. It is frequently available (if you check BensBargains) for $20 or less after rebate, and provides excellent picture quality for the price point. Avoid the Creative Live! Cam Notebook Ultra.

Image Gallery


Logitech


Creative


Dell

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