Online Streaming Cam Wars: Webcam vs. Camcorder
On the live stream I periodically get asked what webcam I use and how I get the image to look at good as it does.
I inform that yes I use a Microsoft Lifecam VX-3000. It does the job and does it well for live streaming.
However I will be the first to admit it’s not perfect. There are drawbacks to webcams, such as:
The itty bitty lens only allows for the bare minimum of focal length. In layman’s terms that means anything over 10 feet away will most likely be out of focus. If you’re sitting in front of your computer, you’re good to go. If it’s far away.. well.. don’t expect a perfect picture.
Aside from the manual focus ring on most webcams, all functions of the webcam are software based. While this is convenient it is at the same time very frustrating.
The single largest complaint of anyone who uses a webcam is that “static” appears when the light is too low. What the webcam tries to do at that point is “grab” light from anywhere in the frame, and if it finds none it will literally fabricate pseudo-light which appears to the eye as static.
Minimal data transfer
Your webcam is most likely connected via USB 2.0 spec. As anyone knows, USB is great but not exactly fast concerning transfer speed. Your best bet is to stick to 320×240 resolution. Some webcams do 640×480 (and even 800×600 for some), but the end result is that you’re pushing thru USB 2.0.
If you ever wondered “Why does my video look so much better at a low frame rate compared to high?”, it’s because the lower frame rates allow for higher bigger-data frames at the expense of frame rate.
The advantages of using a camcorder
Big lens with true optical focus
The larger lens makes a huge difference, and additionally has true optical focus. Even if you were standing 50 feet away from the camera, you would still be in focus.
The vast majority of webcams don’t have auto-focus. Camcorders do and they adjust very quickly.
Colors that look more “real”
Again this is from the larger lens; it’s able to capture more of what the true image looks like and the difference can be seen easily.
Firewire (IEEE 1394) is obviously superior to USB in every way. You can transfer much more data over the wire.
Vastly superior microphone
The on-board microphone on almost all camcorders have built-in noise reduction and compression. If you’re right next to the cam it’s almost the same as speaking into a vocal microphone.
It’s sadly true that on even the most expensive webcams the microphones are absolute junk. Not so on camcorders.
There are two.
The camcorder is bulky and usually requires to be mounted on a tripod. If you can deal with the bulky-ness of the camcorder, go for it.
Connecting devices over Firewire, while great, may sometimes cause your computer and/or software to “think” about it more because of the high data transfer rate. USB 2.0 never has this problem. While it’s true you can run a Firewire-based webcam and still multitask without issue, periodically you may encounter a software lock-up (usually your camera software). This happens no matter what OS you’re using, be it Windows or OS X.