The 10 Best Webcams
"But Doesn't My Computer Already Have a Camera?" -- Cue Laugh Track
The first webcams in the 1990s were installed in public places and provided the kind of live, linked feeds employed worldwide today by everything from police departments to traffic reporters and creepy neighbors. Most of us, however, can think of a time before video chat. You remember when we had to walk to school up hill both ways in ten feet of snow, and we ate dirt and were grateful, and dinosaurs roamed the earth?
Well, those days are gone, and now almost everyone has a camera of some kind built into their devices, be they computers, tablets, or cell phones. But, generally speaking, those cameras aren't so good. Make no mistake, there may be billboards with beautiful pictures from your iPhone 1000 S Plus Infinity Supreme Deluxe LE all over the city, but they weren't taken with the front-facing camera, which is the one you use for video conferencing.
Those front-facing cameras tend to be a fraction of the quality that phone companies place on the back, which is where the "serious photography" takes place.
So, you need something sharper, more capable, and more versatile than those little guys, perhaps for business conferencing, perhaps for personal use. Whatever the need, the cameras available today far outshine their ancient ancestors.
With a combination of today's hardware and video conferencing software, the big screens in your conference room can feel more like windows into a room next door than they might feel like fuzzy broadcasts from the nether reaches of Antarctica. The thing about these technologies is you've got to see them in action to appreciate them.
Just Like a Camera, But Different!
In the age of digital cameras, not too much has changed about what makes one camera sharper or better in low light than another. Most folks go straight to megapixels and only care to compare that number. Please, don't be one of those people.
I don't care how many megapixels your camera sensor has. If the lens letting the light hit it isn't up to snuff, megapixels will never matter. And in the world of lenses there are a few important variables to consider. One of those variables is size.
That's right, and I'm sorry fellas, but this is one of those fields in which size definitely matters. The best telescopes in the world are enormous for a reason, and it's not just about magnification. It's also about light collecting area: the wider the lens is at its first element (the glass part that you see), the more data it can collect. So, a bigger, wider lens is bound to take in more light information. That's also why the best lenses for still photography and big budget movies are so large.
Another thing to consider is aperture, which is a pain to explain technically, but is usually represented by a fairly simple number. Some webcams advertise this number proudly; others never mention it. What you need to know is that the smaller the aperture number is, the more light the lens can let in, and that will drastically improve a camera's performance in bad lighting. What's a good number? Anything below 5.6.
Science Fact: The Webcam's Long Journey to Reality
One of the most pervasive examples of the video call in our culture is, of course, the classic scene of personal failure in Back to the Future 2, in which a beleaguered Future Marty McFly loses his job. The technology was also extensively used in an under-celebrated aquatic sci-fi television series called SeaQuest. There are plenty of examples, but it took a great long while for the technology to catch up with our dreams of it.
That day first came in 1991, when some eminently practical students in the computer laboratory at Cambridge University pointed a web-connected camera at the communal coffee pot outside the Trojan Room. The students gave everybody on the local network access to the live image, as the idea, apparently, was to enable students in other parts of the building to save themselves a trip to the coffee pot in case it was empty. That camera ran for 10 years, and its final image was preserved for all to see.
Later, around the same time the first commercial webcams became available in 1994, the University of San Francisco launched their FogCam, which still runs to this day, and is the oldest webcam still in operation.