When it comes to buying a webcam, there seems to be two distinct product groupings. On the one end, you have inexpensive cameras that sell for between $20 and $50. These cameras often feature relatively low resolutions like 320×240 or 640×480 and are relatively simple to operate — you stick the camera on top of your monitor, fire up AIM, Windows Live Messenger, or Skype and then start your video chat.
Then there are the $80+ cameras that feature higher resolutions and carry features like automatic face tracking, low-light adjustment, and stuff like that. Most regular consumers will opt for the less expensive models but those that opt for the higher-end cameras often have a very specific reason for doing so and, as such, put a little more time and effort into researching their various options.
So that brings us to my story. I’ve been looking for a good webcam for a while now and I needed one that could handle the specific task of grabbing decent videos of gadgets at very close range. I didn’t want to spend a bundle because I didn’t need things like HD or even very high resolution due to the face that the width of the CrunchGear page is only 560 pixels wide. So I needed something that did 640×480 at the most and I didn’t need head tracking or anything like that found in the more expensive cameras.
However, the cheaper cameras were just that – cheap. I’ve gone through a few of the lower-end Logitech and Microsoft cameras and I’ve either had problems with low-light or poor microphones. I have a camera built into my VAIO laptop but it’s only 0.3-megapixels and the microphone picks up the way-too-loud fan that plagues the VGN SZ650 series of VAIO laptops (if you listen closely, you can hear my laptop’s fan running and grinding in almost every video I’ve put up here on this site).
So, long story short (too late): It just so happens that there’s a camera out there that somehow manages to straddle the canyon between cheap and expensive webcams. It’s the IPEVO POV webcam and it costs a mere $40.
The main selling point of the POV camera is that it can be held in the hand kind of like a pen and then can focus down to within 2.3 inches of an object. There’s a little focus ring around the lens of the camera that allows you to switch between landscape and macro mode and a snapshot button on the top of the camera that allows you to grab stills. For regular video chatting, the camera snaps into a small clamp that sits on top of your monitor.
The cameras resolution is 640×480 (which can be software-enhanced to 800×600) and video is captured at 30 frames per second. There’s also a quick send button on top of the camera that provides you with one-touch e-mailing of photos and videos. The camera is USB 1.1 or 2.0 compatible and works with most Windows-based instant messaging software. Sorry, no Mac support.
Here’s a short video with some footage from the camera itself, starting at the one minute mark.
It’s inexpensive for what you get. At $40, the macro mode alone makes it an easy choice over all of the other lower-end webcams out there. Aside from that, videos appear crisp, even in low-light, and the one-touch snapshot and e-mail buttons are nice touches. Also, the ability to hold the camera in your hand or use it on its stand make it fun to use. I was videochatting with my wife via Skype when I was in Japan and she asked me to show her my hotel room. I simply detached the camera from its stand and started pointing it at various things. Easy.
There have been various complaints that the included software doesn’t really do much. It’s true, it doesn’t. It only captures snapshots, not video. However, the camera is designed to work with instant messaging programs and it worked quite well when I tested it with Skype, Windows Live Messenger, and AIM. If I need to capture non-live video for later, I use Windows Media Encoder.
The lack of Mac support is a little troubling, as I’m sure there are plenty of Mac users out there that could benefit from a detachable, movable webcam as a supplement to the built-in iSight cameras that come with most new Macs.
Finally, the drivers are a bit wonky on both Windows XP and Windows Vista systems. After I’d installed the software and drivers, I’d still occasionally get a “driver not found” message after plugging the camera back into the USB ports. I found that opening the POV software before plugging the camera in on toggling the camera’s power switch off and then back on solved this problem whenever it popped up.
If you need an inexpensive webcam that does more than the average inexpensive webcam, the POV camera is a great deal at around $40. The macro mode, alone, makes the camera worth the price of admission.
IPEVO PoV Web Camera [ipevo.com]
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