A webcam is a digital camera that transmits its images in real time via the Internet. A webcam is nowadays installed in many PCs or mobile devices. Not only can you take photos with a webcam, you can also shoot videos, watch your house, or hold video-conferencing.
The advantage of a webcam is above all its multifunctional operational capability. Over the last few years, not only the technical features but also the appearance of the webcams has changed. Which models and manufacturers are there and what you should consider when buying a webcam, you can find out in our great comparison. In addition, we tell you whether the Stiftung Warentest has already performed a webcam test.
Top 10 Webcams
What is and how does a webcam work?
A classic webcam is nothing more than a digital camera that transmits your images in real time over the Internet. This is done either publicly with access for everyone – as with permanently installed cameras at some popular attractions – or privately for a narrower audience – for example, in the video calling via Skype.
A webcam works like a normal camera. From model to model, there may be some differences. For example, in most cases, a continuously moving image is not filmed and transmitted but only creates a snapshot at specific time intervals.
Some webcams are able to transmit sound in addition to the picture.
Advantages and disadvantages of webcams
It is indeed a great thing to be able to see and hear your opponent while talking on the Internet. A webcam, however, has far more uses. Most webcams usually have no special hardware requirements – even slower computers with old USB ports can handle them and can be used for video transmissions. At least that applies to low resolutions. The new-quality webcams that provide high-resolution live streams should have up-to-date hardware.
Which webcam types are there?
There are different types of webcams on the market. In addition to the simple USB webcams, you will also find HD webcams, conference cameras, IP cameras, and wireless webcams. Here you can get to know the differences between the webcam types:
- Standard webcam: The standard webcam is now a discontinued model. Although you get these models relatively cheap to buy, they are correspondingly economical in the equipment. These cameras were not originally designed to produce high-quality movie shots. Therefore, the usual resolution in this division is only 640 × 480 pixels. These webcams are connected via USB to the computer and do not transmit a continuous image, but only updated still images in recurring intervals. Although this variant plays virtually no role on the market today, it is still used.
- HD Webcam: An HD webcam is a webcam designed for indoor use. The HD cameras can output live pictures in HD format with a resolution of at least 1280 x 720 pixels. They are ideal for simple webcam chat via Skype, ICQ or Facebook and also for the Omegle Chat.
- Conference camera: This type includes special and high-quality webcams for conferences. They usually have a pan, tilt and zoom function, so you can take great pictures on large conference tables. In addition, they have a handsfree with Bluetooth and NFC, which allows various settings and optimal audio playback.
- IP camera and WLAN webcam: This variant is also called network camera and is considered the successor to the web camera. An IP cam differs from a simple webcam in that the IP web camera can independently go to the Internet and thus spread images. A connection to a PC is not necessary. In general, you use Wi-Fi to connect to the Internet.
You should pay attention to this when buying a webcam
A webcam should allow you a good video chat, especially in terms of image and sound quality. To help you understand what is important when buying a webcam, please familiarize yourself with the following tips.
- Purpose: It makes a difference whether you use the camera sporadically for chatting or use a surveillance camera in continuous operation. For the outdoor area, we recommend a robust model with additional shielding against bad weather conditions. Pay attention to the legal requirements. These must be taken into account in publicly-attached webcams for monitoring purposes. They are not allowed to film and take photos everywhere, even when storing and distributing visual material.
- Video resolution: An HD Ready or a Full HD Camera? These are two video resolution formats. HD-Ready allows a size of 1,280 x 720 pixels, while a Full HD video has a size of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels. If you want to see your conversation partner in the webcam chat as well as possible, you should choose a higher video resolution.
- Photo resolution: With a chat, you can also take pictures, so the highest possible photo resolution is an advantage. Depending on the model, the resolution of the photo may be between 0.9 and 15 megapixels. A good product has at least 3-megapixel photo resolution.
- Connection: By default, most webcams have a USB port. It is used to transfer image and sound to the webcam software. The cheapest products have only a 3.5 jack plug for connecting the microphone.
- Bracket: Choose a model that has a flexible foot for attachment to a device such as a PC or laptop. Such webcams can be easily clamped to a variety of monitors or screens. These are special universal brackets that allow you to carry video chats in all situations.
- Extras and Accessories: To make video chatting and setup easier, the cameras should have various features and extras. Find autofocus products that help you focus on the image. An integrated microphone is a must nowadays. Much of the equipment only records in mono quality. Some higher quality models, however, allow stereo recordings. Furthermore, pay attention to the Skype-ready award, because in this case the video chat program Skype will make the webcam software easier to recognize.
The legal basis for the operation of a webcam
If you want to take pictures with a webcam, you must observe the rights to the own picture and the data protection laws. Mainly you are not allowed to place people without their consent on the internet.
The webcam provides access to the personal habitats of its users, which unfortunately can be abused. Hackers can easily take pictures of a webcam and misuse them for their own purposes. Such hacker attacks are of course illegal and strictly prohibited.
Usually, however, they are rarely punished because the user often has no idea that he will be spied out. Not infrequently, there are no traces of the perpetrators who could be prosecuted. Many users are just too comfortable and reckless, which makes it easier for hackers to access the foreign webcam.
Not only Windows users are victims of such hacker attacks, but Mac users also need to be more cautious. Mostly access to the system or webcam using an unobtrusive program or an app that is installed recklessly and unsuspecting by the user.
What measures can help protect against the hackers? If you follow a few important basic rules, the safety in your own system can be improved a lot. Above all, be careful with any type of download. In principle, you should not download anything from an unknown or dubious source. In addition, you should always keep your operating system up to date. This particularly affects Windows users, for whom regular updates are important. Also important is the installation of a good antivirus program.
You can temporarily ” turn off ” a laptop’s webcam by sticking a small strip of dark tape (it’s imperative to be opaque) to the lens. Use an external rather than an integrated webcam. For an external webcam, it is sufficient to remove the plug of the USB cable in case of doubt. You are already on the safe side and nobody can access the functions of the webcam.
What useful accessories are there for a webcam?
Basically, a webcam does not need any accessories, but there are a few useful accessories that make it easier to operate a webcam:
- Headsets and Headphones: If you want to use your webcam as a videophone, you will need a headset. Although you can buy and connect the headphones and the microphone separately, a headset has more advantages: It weighs less and is easy to use. The market offers a wide range of headsets, often they are already included with the webcam.
- Microphone: In many classic webcams, a microphone is already integrated. Separate microphones are only worthwhile if you want to create professional voice recordings. For normal everyday use such as Internet telephony and popular even with players voice chat the small microphone of a headset or the webcam is sufficient.
- Speakers: If you want to purchase external speakers, it’s best to have active speakers so you can adjust the volume directly.
- Brackets: Webcams that are not integrated into the device need a bracket to attach them anywhere and somehow. There are various holders on the market that allow you to mount your webcam in almost every corner of a room. Mostly a bracket is already included with the webcam. However, this does not always correspond to the intended purposes of the buyer. An extra holder from the retailer can help here.
Which alternatives to the webcam are there?
Basically, there are no real alternatives for a conventional webcam, but this has in many applications certain precursors, which are still used today.
As a real alternative to the external webcam, you can call an internal webcam, as it is integrated into the screen frame of most laptops or laptops. These models are especially suitable for video telephony.
In theory, a classic camera can usually do everything, including a webcam, is used. With expensive models, you even get a better picture quality – but it is associated with a considerable effort.
Can a mobile phone camera serve as a webcam replacement? For video telephony, using specific software, one’s own mobile phone or smartphone can be converted into a webcam. For Android smartphones, you can use the app IP-Webcam, which simulates a webcam via a Wi-Fi connection. The smartphone then works like a real webcam and can even be used as a surveillance camera.
Keep in mind that many apps are picky and they do not work with every piece of hardware and operating system. With a regular digital camera, you can achieve the same results as with a mobile phone camera as a webcam alternative. Some models even have a dedicated setting that lets them operate as a webcam. You basically need a special driver for the current operating system so that you can still use the camera after a software update.