Three of the web cameras we tested were easy to use and performed well — the Logitech QuickCam Sphere AF, Microsoft LifeCam VX-6000, and Creative Live! Cam Optia AF.
The most expensive camera, the Logitech QuickCam Sphere AF, was the best performer, and the most distinctive looking. The tall extender post can be easily removed to make the camera compact, with the camera sphere sitting directly on the base. Its motorised pan/tilt, motion detector and auto focus set it apart. The Microsoft LifeCam VX-6000, is good value at half the price if you don’t need those features. The Creative Live! Cam Optia AF lacks motorised pan/tilt but otherwise has a good combination of features and performance for general use.
Despite an impressive looking feature list, the other two webcams — the Pro-Q and the Speed S8800i — scored poorly in our tests overall. When looking for a webcam, note that high resolution isn’t necessarily guaranteed. The Speed S8800i boasts still image resolution of up to 8 megapixels (Mp) — and was the only one to have a manual shutter button — yet none of the cameras we tested were rated better than OK for overall image quality and two — the Creative Live! Cam Optia AF and the Pro-Q — were rated only borderline for still image quality.
The easiest for still image uploading was the Creative Live! Cam Optia AF, which had internet file transfer and web upload options in the supplied software (but not for video). For video chat, it’s usually preferable to have the camera at face level, often done by sitting the camera on top of your monitor, but only two of the five cameras allow this with an LCD monitor or laptop computer — the Microsoft LifeCam VX-6000 and the Creative Live! Cam Optia AF. The other three are meant to sit on a flat surface such as a desktop or possibly on top of a CRT (glass) monitor.
Supplied software that included a recording scheduler was easy to use, but automatic uploading of video or time-lapse images wasn’t always so easy. The Logitech QuickCam Sphere AF had links for uploading video to YouTube, Crackle and Logitech Mobile Video services, but no support for still image uploads. The Microsoft LifeCam VX-6000 has support for uploading still and video images to the Windows Live Spaces service. Only the Pro-Q and the Speed S8800i had support in their supplied software for uploading video automatically, but neither was easy to use.
All except the Pro-Q made it very easy to send email from within the supplied software. All the tested cameras had a built-in microphone and the two with the best sound quality were the Logitech QuickCam Sphere AF and the Microsoft LifeCam VX-6000. TheCreative Live! Cam Optia AF was borderline for sound and both the Speed S8800i and the Pro-Q rated poorly. Use of a different, separate microphone may improve sound quality, though we didn’t test this.