As we said before, it’s been a while since we got excited by a webcam, but a demo of the Logitech Quickcam Pro 9000 has caught our attention. Equipped with a Carl Zeiss optic (which also sells optics to Sony and Nokia, among others), this webcam has a very good image quality – much better in fact than the Quickcam Pro 4000, the Logitech webcam that I owned before I switched to the Apple iSight.
Is the Quickcam Pro 9000 as good as it sounds? And most importantly, how does it stack up against Logitech’s marketing pitch? Read the full review to see if the Logitech Quickcam Pro 9000 is for you.
Looking at the information on the packaging, here is what we expect from this webcam:
- High image quality
- 30 frames per second video-recording, possibly in HD
- Effective auto-focus.
We will put these features to the test and as an Apple iSight (1st generation) user, I will tell you how the Quickcam Pro 9000 compares to it.
The Quickcam has a sleek design with a black and shiny surface. It does not look cheap, but the aluminum body of the iSight is more fashionable, in my opinion. The good thing is that it does not need any adhesive to be mounted and is compatible with most monitors. Some might complain about the absence of a lens lid, but I just turn the camera towards the ceiling when I don’t want to have the lens pointing at me all the time. It connects to USB 2.0.
The webcam’s image quality is very good (for a webcam).It’s the best that I have seen, to be honest. The image quality is much better than my first-generation Apple iSight. While using the webcam, you might be prompted by Logitech’s software to enable “RightLight”, which is their automatic light settings adjustment algorithm. It works OK, but induces changes in color tones, sometimes several times a second, which leads to a slightly blinking image that can be annoying. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. (Note that Logitech’s “HD” refers to a 960×720 resolution while most HDTV have a 1280×720 (720p) or 1920×1080 (1080p or “Full HD”). )
Here are a few snapshots taken simultaneously by both webcam. I moved the bug from a 3 feet to a couple of inches from the lens so that you can see the differences. The autofocus mostly works for both webcams. The lighting conditions were interesting with a window in the front and lights in the background. Note that the Quickcam Pro has a wider angle than the iSight. Note also that no particular tweaks were made on both webcams. It’s what we got “out of the box”.
Next, I tried to snap several videos to see how the recording performs. This is not only testing how fast the camera can capture, but also how fast the computer can compress. I tried this on a computer equipped with an AMD X2 4200+.
- 960×720 resolution: the video was recorded with a 15 frames per second (fps) theoratical frame-rate, but the computer was capable of playing it back at only 13.4fps.
- 640×480: Same performance. 15fps recording, 13.7fps playback.
- 300×240: 15fps recording. 14.5fps playback.
This is not really what I expected, so it looks like “Up to 30 frames per second” video means that the “sensor can capture 30fps” (and there is no hard evidence), but the combination camera/software is not capable of recording that fast. I bet video conversations will have the same limit.
Having an auto-focus is very handy, especially when I have to show an object during a video call. Without an auto-focus, you have to search for where the camera focuses and that might be too close, or too far from what you want to show. The Quickcam Pro 9000 has an auto-focus, but it is not as good as I had hoped for. When I put something in front of the Quickcam Pro 9000, it is somewhat slow to react and takes four or 5 seconds to focus. Sometimes, I have to help it a little by moving the object around to cover the previous point of focus (my face). The Apple iSight is a little better at that, so there’s room for improvement. Overall, it’s not a major problem.
It’s great to have an excellent image quality, and I was eager to show it to my buddies but unfortunately the video compression of most video IM software will ruin all the details. That’s right, you might see a very sharp image of yourself in your MSN messenger window, but the person on the other side of the video-call sees and blurrier version of the video because video applications often compress the image to reduce the bandwidth usage.
If you want your friends to see a better image quality, you will have to use a peer-to-peer (direct computer connection) application like WebcamXP. Instead of going through an MSN messenger server, the image is sent directly to the other party’s computer and because of this, you can use a better image quality video stream. The downside is that it’s likely no to work if you attempt to broadcast from the office where there’s a firewall.
The Quickcam Pro does deliver a very good image quality, at least enough to make me want to dump my Apple iSight. If you don’t already own a webcam, I have no problem recommending it. If you already have one, then think about how you are using it. With most IM video chat software, your friends will not see a huge difference. If you simply want to YouTube yourself, the quality will be good, but remember that 15 frames per second is the actual limit of the camera.