Web cameras have recently started becoming popular with main stream computer users. They are a cheap way to get video or pictures on your computer. They are also widely used for video conferencing and video chatting. With older web cameras, you had to get the camera in just the right place because you didn’t have any control of the cameras focus, pan or tilt. With the OptiCam M1 from plustek you get that control and a few other features.
- The first Web camera equipped with a high quality lens that has micro shooting capability, as close as 15 mm!
- Wide coverage viewing angle – horizontal 150-degree (lens pans 100-degree , left 50-degree and right 50-degree), vertical 110-degree (lens tilts 55-degree, up 40-degree and down 15-degree)
- The camera can be controlled by a remote user with bundled software application upon request
- Works seamlessly with popular Instant Messaging (IM) applications such as MSN Messenger, ICQ and Yahoo! Messenger
- High performance and stability – video frame rate up to 30 fps, QVGA 320×480
- Enhanced with Audio and Video functions and built-in microphone. Easy to add live video and audio to your IM sessions
Like most USB, the products setup is really easy. You install the software and drivers from the provided disk and then plug in the web camera. Once you do that you are ready to go. Even though you can control the pan, tilt and focus you will still want to find a place to put the camera that is fairly level with your face, otherwise you will always be looking up or down to the camera. You also don’t what to make adjustments to the camera while you are using it. We will talk about that more later.
The OptiCam M1 is not designed much different from what you would expect. It looks very similar to an observatory. It is small and clean looking. There are not a lot of overwhelming colors or design features. Instead it has a simple, but very functional design. Probably the best part of the design is that you don’t need any external power. This camera runs completely off of the power from the USB.
The lens itself is located inside the top of the camera and has two movable axis. With this you are able to control the Pan and Tilt of the camera. These are easily controlled with the provided software and are very useful for getting the picture just the way you want. With this control you are able to cover about a 150-degrees of horizontal view (lens pans 100-degrees) and a 110-degrees of vertical view (lens tilts 55-degrees).
There is also a built-in microphone. This saves you from having to hook up a separate microphone for audio conversations. The microphone is located on the top right of the camera.
On the bottom of the camera there is a place for a tripod. This is helpful if you cannot find a good place on your desk or if you want better height control.
For a sub $100 web camera, it actually performs well. For example, I had no problem setting it up and chatting with my wife via msn messenger. The picture was clear and the sound was good. I enjoyed the ability to control the camera while I was chatting. Being able to adjust the focus is also nice because you don’t have to worry about how far or close you are. You can fix any blurriness by adjusting the focus. I noticed you really only need to adjust the focus if you want to see something really close.
There are also several things that I found that I didn’t like. It is not USB 2.0, so your bandwidth is already limited. The picture quality and video quality was really grainy when you put it at 640 x 480. I took pictures with the web camera of some color charts to show how well the camera reproduces colors. As you can see below they are rather grainy and the colors are ok as far as accuracy. Also, when the camera was moved it made a really loud noise and the built-in speaker picked it up. Having to manually focus the camera is also a pain. It was often hard to find just the right focus. I recorded a small video that demonstrates the sound, movement and the focusing abilities of the camera, you can see it here (5.75 MB).
The software works well. I managed to get it to crash a couple times by removing the USB cable and then plugging it back in while the software was running, it even crashed windows once. Other then that, the software was really stable. There are mainly 3 programs that come with this camera. Cockpit is used to control the pan, tilt and focus of the camera when you are using msn or another program to view the video. When you start cockpit you will see a grid which is used for controlling the pan and tilt. The grid consists of a big box with grid lines, and a small box that you drag around in the big box to move the camera. You can click a button at the bottom that will switch out the grid for a set of arrows; these arrows are up, down, left and right. They also control the pan and tilt. You will also see a slider that will adjust the focus. Cockpit-msn and Cockpit-netmeeting are also like the standard cockpit software except you get a couple new buttons. These buttons let you give control of the camera to the person you are chatting with. The other button allows you to take control of the other persons camera if they have one. I was unable to test this feature because the software did not work correctly. I know that plustek is working on a patch for the program. I don’t know if it will fix this particular problem, but I will re-test it when the patch is released. ProtoSnap is just like cockpit, but it also shows the video and gives you the ability to take screen captures. The ProtoSnap controls are exactly like cockpit.
If I could offer some suggestions I would ask that plustek add a button that lets you flip the horizontal control. Currently, because you see what the camera sees, when you move to the left it looks like the video picture is going to the right. If we could flip it, then when you click the left button or move the grid to the left, the picture you see also moves to the left. It would be nice if you could just click anywhere in the grid and have the camera move, currently you must drag the box around.
OptiCamFX is for broadcasting your web cam images to the internet. You only get a 30 day trial of OptiCamFX.
Like I said earlier, this is a good camera for under $100. It has options and features that are normally reserved for more expensive cameras. This is good and bad. Good because it gives you the features, but bad because those features are implemented poorly in order to cut costs. There certainly are some things that plustek needs to work on. The first thing I would do is make it USB 2.0 compatible. I doubt this would cost much and it would give it more bandwidth for better picture and sound quality. The image quality would probably be the next thing I would work on. After that, I would work on the noise that is made when the camera moves. Because you don’t need to move the camera all the time, the noise is only annoying sometimes. Next, I would try to add an auto focus. After those have been fixed it would be great if they came out with a more expensive model that had a zoom.
|JusTech'n editors' rating|