There was a time when grabbing a quick bite or picking up that first coffee of the morning meant having to choose between quality and convenience.
If you have dietary memories that reach back before the turn of the millennium, they are probably of a time when fast food was more fast than food, and coffee dripped out of a communal office pot like gruel being flung at Dickensian orphans. And then, sometime in the mid-to-late 1990s, new ideas grew up about how good food could be fast, and there was the second wave of coffee.
Best exemplified by the now-omnipresent Starbucks chain, this revolution favored those who cared about where food came from, cared about how it tasted and looked, and cared about the environment and experience of consumption.
Some of the old giants are still trying to convince us they’ve heard the message. What does this have to do with video conferencing, you ask? Well, that same battle to merge quality with convenience is currently being waged in the tech world, albeit in reverse.
Built-In Doesn’t Always Mean Better
The convergence of communication technologies that has defined the new millennium has come with at least one drawback. The craving for smaller, do-it-all technologies has led us to accept some less-than-optimal performance.
Video calling, for instance, once exclusively depended on external webcams, built by dedicated hardware manufacturers competing on the grounds of quality and functional flexibility.
Then, in 2006, Apple introduced the MacBook Pro and its built-in iSight webcam.
The visuals were hardly best-in-show, it lacked the ability to autofocus, and of course you had to move your entire machine in order to change the view, but it was a hit simply because it was there.
Like a fast food breakfast sandwich, built-in was new, easy to transport, and arrived ready to go. And many of us have been content with that built-in is better philosophy ever since–despite the sacrifice in quality it can demand.
The Drawbacks of a Built-In Webcam
Well, not quite everyone is happy with their built-in webcam. Mac enthusiasts have panned the FaceTime cameras being shipped with current laptop offerings, with the main gripe being the less-than-HD-quality presentation.
Other common complaints about webcams in all kinds of brands of laptop include grainy and off-color images, poor webcam placement, and poor performance in low lighting, even on the highest-rated models.
So is it just convenience that keeps us turning on these supposedly inferior cameras? If so, that can come at a cost, especially if you want to use your webcam for professional purposes.
The Artisanal Webcam
Aside from having to take a second to plug them in and to tuck them into your laptop bag, there’s actually very little that’s inconvenient about the modern external webcam, despite the common perception of these devices.
Plug-n-play technology means the tech installs itself, and you only need to do it once so there’s no fuss when you travel. In our opinion, that little extra effort is worth it, considering the advantages an external device can bring.
For a start, you get better resolution and flexibility as there’s simply more space within a dedicated cam to place a bigger lens and accompanying pan, zoom, and light sensitivity features. You’re also able to add stereo microphones, wide-angle lenses, and autofocusing.
Moreover, with an external device you’re free to upgrade whenever you wish, and you’ll never have to place tape over the camera to guard against the spying eyes of hackers. You can just unplug the device, or use a shutter.
And that’s how that slight edge in convenience you get with an internal camera melts away once you consider how much easier webcams get you a professional appearance and ease of operation.
After all, you wouldn’t offer a guest at a professional meeting instant coffee. Trust us, the next thing to undergo an artisanal revolution? Webcams.