Everybody has their favorites–those old reliable things in life that get the job done time and time again.
For me, it’s my little black webcam.
A Logitech C170 webcam, to be exact. It cost less than $30, powers just about all my video calls, and it’s been around so long I don’t actually have a memory of buying it. In fact, although you can still find it on Amazon and at Office Depot, Logitech has moved on with the C270 model as the bargain offering on its site.
But the C170 still has a place in my heart, and atop my computer screen.
You can get higher res images with fancier cameras, and you can get a lot more zoom and pan too. Heck, even the average smartphone camera packs more punch.
That said, it gives a better performance than the camera built into my Asus laptop, it works across every video conferencing platform I’ve tried, and it’s the default camera of choice on my PC desktop.
That’s why, in my opinion, when you’re talking about bargain webcams–the most basic, practical tech you can buy–you almost have to talk about the C170.
Plug and Play Video Calling
Getting rewards when shopping at the (very) affordable end of the video calling cam market is all about managing expectations.
You’re not going to get Ultra HD visuals and state-of-the-art voice tracking from a camera that cost less than $50.
You should, however, expect clarity, smooth video, and a richness of color that allows you to actually discern the different reds in your pencil case, or make your eye color clear to the people on the other end of your video call.
The C170 hits those marks easily. Even with a resolution of 640×480 (you can near double that when using it as a static camera offline) when video calling, you’ll be seen clearly, and there’s no discernible blur or pixelation when you move.
By comparison, the C270 gets you entry to the world of 720p HD video calling–and it’s fitted out to work on all the popular instant messaging applications, like Hangouts and Yahoo. It also has better resolution than the C170–1280×720, to be exact. And it’s true that it adjusts better to use in low light than the C170 does.
But when you have a small, bare-bones camera, what you want most is reliability and ease of use, right? These two webcams do pretty well there, too.
Both the C170 and C270 are robust little units that have no qualms working across VC platforms, and, on a Windows machine at least, they are up and running as soon as you plug them into your PC. Both also have a handy little clip function that lets them perch atop your screen, or fold up and idle on your desk.
But one of my favorite features is the fantastic audio on both these units. With built-in noise reduction you get a clarity of speech that you’ll totally take for granted, so natural does it sound. Unplug the webcam and listen to the unenhanced quality of a basic laptop sound system and mic, however, and you notice the difference.
It’s like hearing your own stereo and comparing it to the muffled version coming through from your neighbor’s sound system. That’s a feature that certainly stands up against Logitech’s peers in the realm of video conferencing webcam technology.
Software Enhanced Webcam
Logitech does offer a little additional grunt to its most affordable cameras through a software download. After swallowing up a 70 MB package you can boost your still photo quality to 5 megapixels, but that’s about the extent of the fun.
There are some limited zoom, pan, and tilt functions included in the download. If you’re using Skype, for instance, you can choose between two zoom settings through this new camera control.
That does come in handy with the C170, as the default zoom setting is more primitive than the C270, and pretty much settles right up in your face. It’s basically the difference between a head and shoulders presentation and a tight passport photo image.
Microsoft LifeCam VX-800
Microsoft and Logitech have become solid pals in recent years through their collaboration on some Skype for Business tech. But they do still compete in the peripherals sphere.
Microsoft’s LifeCam VX-800 is a good foil for the C270, offering as it does many of the same attributes. It is easy to set up, and offers good if not spectacular visuals (it has more issues with low light situations, and colors don’t seem as accurate as the C170). In my experience, though, the audio isn’t quite so clear as in Logitech’s offerings. The LifeCam does have a greater range of motion due to its ball-and-socket design, though, which improve your viewing angle once you mount it on your screen.
(Left to right: Asus Laptop camera, C170, LifeCam)
For me, range of motion isn’t too big a deal (it’s usually just me and one other person on video calls, and I don’t tend to move around a lot); I’m more concerned with a decent picture and crisp audio. So my choice would the C170–but that’s probably due more to nostalgia than anything else. The C270 has even better visuals and isn’t much more expensive.
So if you want something basic and easy to use to improve the generic audio and visuals of your laptop, then I’d have to take a deep breath and recommend the Logitech C270.
But I’ll continue to treasure my C170.
Image of the C170 and C270 courtesy of Logitech