The holiday season is just around the corner and many people are looking for great gadgets to give to their loved ones. On many wish lists, there is a webcam.
That's where the real problem starts. What is the best webcam for the best price? During the past couple of years I've bought several webcams. Most of these cameras were used on my SpeedyCam web site to film road movies around Europe.
The quality of those cameras differs significantly and also depends on their price.
I've put this little page together so you can see the quality of the images produced by the cameras I've bought. Maybe it helps you a little bit to decide which one is the best present to get.
If you are looking for software to create time-lapse movies, please check out the following links (additionally, several of the cameras bought come with their own software packages which can also produce time-lapse movies)
Logitech QuickCam VC
I bought my first webcam in spring 1999. First I wanted to get a QuickCam Pro however because Logitech didn't produce enough of those new cameras at the time, I decided to get the entry model -- the QuickCam VC (video conference)
That camera was first used for my LoveTest.com Road Show: when I was in Spain for a holiday with my friends, we put the webcam on our balcony to film the pool area and broadcast it live on the Internet. That way, visitors of LoveTest.com could see what we were up to during our holiday.
The second big web broadcast was the solar eclipse on August 11th, 1999. I had the live video of the solar eclipse on my EasyScopes site. During 1 hour, more than 5000 people connected to my laptop via the Internet to see the moon move before the sun.
As I didn't have much experience with any webcams, I was quite satisfied with the results produced by the QuickCam VC. However it was a bit slow at times.
Logitech QuickCam Pro
It had been impossible to get a QuickCam Pro in Europe for quite some time. During a work trip to New York, I attended a conference and fund-raising dinner. One of the items auctioned off at that dinner was a QuickCam Pro. I really wanted to get the pro version of the QuickCam. My final bid was $150 which was about the same price as I would have paid in Europe. I was very happy to get the camera.
The quality of the images produced by the QuickCam Pro is much better than those produced by the QuickCam VC. It's also possible to film at higher resolutions. The pro version provides a low-light mode which enhances the movies in dark rooms. It's also possible to zoom in on an object.
Most of the earlier movies on the SpeedyCam were created using the QuickCam Pro.
While surfing on the web, I saw a lot of (annoying) ads for a tiny wireless webcam called XCam2. Those ads popup on many sites. After having seen those ads for several weeks, I decided that I should read more about it. So I clicked on the link and was taken to the X10.com site
On their site I read a lot of interesting things about this camera. Because I was intrigued by it and really wanted to know if it works, I bought it through their European distributor.
Once the package arrived, I installed it immediately. I really wanted to see if the wireless camera would work across our home. I installed the XCam2 near our front door and the receiver on my computer. However there was no video signal.
I discovered that the 30 feet distance between the camera and the receiver was too far - especially as there were lots of walls in between. I ended up installing the camera at the end of my corridor so I could see who would come to visit me.
At the Alive music festival I used the camera to film the VIP restaurant and backstage area. In that situation, the camera worked flawlessly, although I was still disappointed by the movie quality. The video signal was too noisy and colors didn't show up correctly.
It's possible to install a battery pack in the camera, so you don't need a power outlet to get it going. The receiver needs an external power source, which means that I can't use the wireless camera in my car with the receiver and laptop on the back seat.
iREZ Kritter SV
Still looking for a great quality webcam I came across the iREZ web site. They have lots of different cameras. I ordered their Kritter SV (s-video) with a CapSureUSB device in order to connect it to my computer.
The Logitech cameras connect to your computer's USB port. The XCam2 has a composite video (c-video/RCA) connector whereas the Kritter uses s-video. My main computer has a RCA input (TV tuner card) so I could use the XCam2 already. The CapSureUSB lets me connect c-video or s-video on an USB equipped computer. To use the Kritter I needed the CapSureUSB device.
Anyways, I was very impressed with the iREZ Kritter SV. It offers superb video quality even at big resolutions. The Kritter was also used at the Alive festival to film the celebrity chat area (Dog Eat Dog, Iggy Pop, Front 242, J.B.O., Sub7even).
After getting some experience with the iREZ camera, I decided to use it as my main setup to film my road movies.
The Logitech cameras come with 2 programs: QuickMovie and QuickPict. The first one allowing to capture movies (as well as time lapse movies with a maximum of 1 images per second) and the later one allowing to grab a single photo.
The XCam2 doesn't come with any software, so I needed to use my TV tuner software (ixTV Desktop) or a shareware program called BTV Pro.
iREZ ships 2 programs with the Kritter. ReelEyes allows you to capture the movies whereas ReelEdit is used to add titles or special effects to your film projects.
Ben Bird's BTV Pro is a great solution to work with any QuickTime compatible capture device (such as all the cameras listed on this page). It has lots of options (especially for time lapse movies). However describing this software goes beyond the scope of this page.
The best choice for a camera really depends what you'd like to film and how often you use a webcam.
When I didn't know any better, I was very happy with the QuickCam Pro. In my eyes the wireless XCam2 was disappointing as it didn't really work as advertised. However you can use it on your TV set or video recorder and don't need a computer.
My projects need a high quality image and good speed. The camera also needs to work on my laptop computer and without an external power source. For that kind of filming the iREZ Kritter SV was the best solution.
If you'd like to get a webcam for casual filming, I suggest you get one of the Logitech cameras (the newest QuickCam Pro 3000 looks like a winner). Logitech is the market leader for webcams. As a novelty gift, I can recommend the XCam2 although its applications are limited and the wireless transmission doesn't like any obstacles in its way. The iREZ camera is the best solution if you are serious about filming movies for the web. It's very small and easy to operate.