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Webcams - short and simple buying guide

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First things you need to know...are the basics.

A webcam is a camera which connects to your computer normally via USB. It can be used for video conferencing (programs such as Microsoft Netmeeting), chat (programs such as MSN Messenger) and also with the correct software taking photos and videos at your computer desk.

You can buy webcams specifically for that purpose, computer desktop use, you can buy ones for portable use, and you can, on many cameras use your digital camera as a webcam.

There are some key features and specifications that most webcams you buy will have details on. These include:

  • Digital zoom - means just that you can zoom in. Digital zoom is very different to optical zoom found on digital cameras. Instead of actually changing the lense positioning, it simply increases the size of a given area.
  • DPI/Resolution - these describe the quality of the camera. Generally, the higher - the better. Be careful though, some manufacturers/sellers like to twist the truth and give you resolution specifications which are only achieveable by enhancing a photo with a photo editor.
  • Microphone - just that, if the webcam has a built in microphone or not.
  • Portable - normally means it has a clip, so it can be clipped onto a laptop monitor. Thats the only real difference, the clip, because webcams are ordinarily pretty small.
There are a few other snazzy features webcams can have, including face tracking. Currently however the technology needed for this to be used effectively isn't there, but its fun anyway.

The next thing you need to consider when buying a webcam is cost.

If you browse eBay for just a few minutes you can probably pick up a webcam for around £10 including P&P.

For £10 you could probably get a basic camera, around 325 x 288 in resolution (low)

For £15 you could probably pick up the same camera as the £10 one, but with a built in microphone

For £20 you could get an ideal present for somebody, a simple, webcam with built in microphone - around 640 x 480 DPI which is perfectly adequate for a webcam.

For £30, you could get an even better one of £20 version, probably in a nicer colour and with more groovy stand!

For around £40, you can get a webcam with microphone, and digital zoom - resolution still probably around 640 x 480 DPI.

You really shouldn't need to spend anymore than £40 unless...you want to be really flash and go for a 'moving' webcam - similar to pan/tilt CCTV cameras you'll see in shops. These feature 'automatic' facetracking, and you can move the camera up down left right at your own free will with the correct software. There are only two that I currently know which offer these features, one of which is the Logitech Sphere.

Thats about it really, but it is also worth noting:

  • Some webcams have the ability to take still photographs at 1 megapixel, while video is at 640 x 480 DPI
  • Don't expect TV quality results! These cameras are made for pennies overseas, they are not designed for high quality or commercial recording.
  • The speed you can send video via programs such as Microsoft Netmeeting and MSN Messenger, is mainly determined by your internet connection speed.
Good luck with buying your new webcam, and if you found this guide useful, please vote to say you did! Cheers and Merry Christmas :-)




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