If you use web and video conferencing at work, there’s a good chance you use a webcam. In fact, if you’ve bought a laptop computer in the last few years, it almost certainly has a basic webcam embedded. There is a broad range of webcams available today – anything from the basic webcam built-in to your laptop to affordable, high-quality webcams designed to provide a more professional video experience. With so many options, it’s important to choose the right camera for the task.
What task? Aren’t webcams simply used to send a video image from your desktop to others? The short answer is no. In fact, the very first webcam was built for a pretty unconventional purpose. Because webcams are affordable and readily available, people rarely give much thought to them, but webcams offer up a world of opportunity beyond their traditional use cases. Below are four non-traditional uses of consumer and professional webcams and suggested webcams for each.
- Secure access: You can use a webcam to replace passwords. If you’re the type to keep your passwords written somewhere within arm’s reach of your computer, you may consider facial recognition programs such as KeyLemon as a more secure alternative. Facial recognition programs use your webcam to recognize the unique structure and shape of your face like a fingerprint, even under varied lighting conditions and with make-up. Some programs add security functions such as taking a picture when an unauthorized user tries to get past your login screen, so you can see who was trying to access your computer. It will be harder to take your actual face than to find the post-it you keep under your keyboard.
Right camera for the job: Any basic webcam should be enough for this task.
- Home security/monitoring: There’s a huge range of affordable, high-quality cameras that give the average consumer the means to build a security monitor setup that only a few years ago would have required an expensive, dedicated system. Now consumers can put together their own basic monitors with a little time, effort, and third-party software. Keep in mind that these don’t always have to be security monitors either- webcams can be placed as video baby monitors, pet monitors, and even record family events so you can be in the picture.
Right camera for the job: The Logitech C920 is affordable and will provide clear images and a relatively wide field of view. It also processes and encodes video in the camera itself, putting less stress on your home network and delivering a smoother stream. Those looking for standalone solutions should look at IP cameras like Logi Circle.
- Still imagery: High quality webcams are not built to compete with dedicated standalone cameras like DSLRs. Webcams specialize in taking a lot of pictures very quickly to produce smooth video content, so the quality of still imagery doesn’t quite compare to those of an expensive professional still-image camera. That said, webcams have some serious advantages in this space. Webcams cost far less and are therefore accessible to even the most modest budgets, offer remote capture from a computer and easy software integration. Sellers on sites like Etsy and eBay who take lots of high-quality images on simple backgrounds would benefit from a high-end webcam (or they can take advantage of the wider field of view and zoom of a ConferenceCam for larger images, like clothing), allowing them to quickly change out the product being photographed and then remotely take the next image. Hobbyists in stop-motion animation can take benefit from directly saving to their computer for onion skinning, previewing loops, and convenient access to their software of choice.
Right camera for the job: A business-grade webcam like the Logitech C930e will produce high quality images. Those working on projects that require extra space and a wide field of view will love the power and versatility of enterprise cameras like the Logitech PTZ Pro, though it does come with a premium price tag.
- Controller: At their heart (or image sensor, if you’re rather not anthropomorphize), webcams are recording devices, but with the right software they can be set to collect information about images rather than saving the image itself. Much like how the optical sensor (or trackball) on your mouse reads how you move the mouse across your desk and translates that into the movement of your onscreen cursor, webcams can track movement and translate that information into basic functions. Using the images from your webcam, software can write an equation based on how much an object has moved, how quickly, and in what direction, and use that information for cursor movement, pausing and playing videos, actions in video games and more. Some programs can even recognize specific objects, allowing you to build props that can be used to control your programs.
Right camera for the job: Framerate and image quality are the most important features here, so look for high-definition webcams with 30+ fps recording, like the Logitech C920.
These are just a few unconventional webcam uses we’ve seen. We’re always looking for new and innovative ways to leverage readily available technologies, so let us know how you’re using webcams today (but keep it clean, please!).