Review: Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000
Don Bradbury tries out a full-featured, modern webcam for your video links
|Product||QuickCam Pro 9000|
|We like||Easy setup. Good functionality. Good standard image and audio quality|
|We don't like||Zooming was achieved digitally (see body text)|
|Requirements||XP with SP2 or higher; Windows Vista or 7 (32 or 64-bit)
CPU 1GHz min, 2GHz recommended; dual core recommended
There are many webcams out there to choose from, and many laptops come with one pre-installed, usually embedded in the top strip of the screen. While these can work adequately, features such as auto-focus, zooming, video and audio tuning, mirroring the image etc may not be supported.
Good optics in the shape of a Carl Zeiss Tessar 2.0/3.7 lens was incorporated, complete with auto-focus and zoom, and there was a good built-in microphone, all horizontally mounted within a substantial plastic coated cradle which could be adjusted to sit either on top of a system box or a laptop display panel. We tested the webcam on an Acer laptop, a machine that came with Acer's own Crystal Eye webcam, so either of these could be pressed into service after installation was complete and a chosen connection service signed up for.
Installation itself was quite easy, though we thought first-timers to online video conferencing might have appreciated a little more hand-holding at the final hardware/software interface. Logitech offers a range of video conferencing software through downloads (ie they're not on the webcam driver software CD). These include Logitech's own Vid service, Skype, SightSpeed, and Google Mail. Microsoft Live Messenger was not on offer, but for our tests we chose to install the latter, and it worked well once setup was complete. Webcam activation was indicated by a red circular LED around the Logitech logo.
With setup finished and the webcam's image from the 2MP sensor summoned to the screen, we could tweak the hardware settings to our taste in a variety of ways from the Logitech software. This was presented in the form of a vertical strip of options that we could align with the side of the image from the camera on the desktop.
Among these many options is one called 'Mirror' that we particularly valued. It reverses the user's image the webcam presents so that the somewhat disconcerting reverse direction movement of the image on the screen, when the user moves, is reversed. This means it becomes like your movement when viewed in a mirror, ie the image on the screen moves in the same direction as your body.
High definition video up to 1600 x 1200 resolution was available (though with software 'enhancement'), 8MP photo capture (again, software interpolated), and up to 30 FPS video. In addition, all the usual optimisations were offered, such as brightness and contrast, colour intensity and balance, but we could also zoom the image, pan and tilt, opt for automatic face tracking as we moved so as not to lose focus or placement, and set the auto-focus range.
The QuickCam Pro 9000 could follow subject movement to preserve focus, but for super close-ups we selected the appropriate range first on a slider, and then let auto-focus play it's part over the range in which it will then operate.
The QuickCam Pro 9000's mode of zooming resulted in loss of image quality. That's because, as Zeiss/Logitech confirmed, the zooming was achieved digitally, as opposed to letting the lens take care of it optically - the standard way to avoid loss of image quality in optical equipment. However, there are circumstances when modest zooming is desirable, such as the reduction in background objects in view by narrowing the angle of reception.
Another instance of zooming being valuable is when the communicators opt for full face imaging. At the standard, relatively wide angle zoom setting, as every photographer knows, this leads to a degree of distortion of the face, and then moderate zooming is beneficial. We found that zooming in was tolerable in terms of image quality up to perhaps 25% of the total zoom range available.
Logitech's RightLight technology automatically adjusted image brightness as the level of illumination was varied, and using the audio tuning wizard we could optimise levels for both microphone and speakers.
The 2Mega-pixel sensor in theQuickCam Pro 9000 could record video resolution up to 1600 x 1200, as we said, but users may well be restricted to lower resolutions to suit their equipment; this was automatically determined during setup. In any event, using the higher resolutions restricts the rate at which auto-focus can work effectively.
The Logitech software could automatically capture images, both stills (JPG) and video (WMV), at the click of a button, and that might prove to be a handy feature. These screen captures were shown as thumbnail images at the bottom of the display panel, and could be played back by simply clicking on them. Either of these options could prove useful during live video conferencing.
Sundry video effects were on offer; fun perhaps for shock approaches to family but not so useful for more serious linkups. The quality of such depends on sundry factors, including variations in PC power used at each end of the links, not to mention the relative broadband speeds and the degradation in these to be experienced at busier times of day. Users may have to experiment with these factors to optimise their links, but the Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000 can certainly do its part in most respects.
On the installation CD there's a useful HTML file that summarises possible issues you may encounter. One of these is that the webcam may not be immediately recognised by the computer. The help file suggests:
"In situations following an installation, one may encounter a timing issue where the LWS application has not recognised the camera. In many situations one of the following approaches will address the issue: Unplug the camera from the USB port and then reconnect to the same port. Unplug the camera from the USB port and re-connect to another port. Exit the LWS application and re-launch it. This includes closing the application from the system tray".
On our Vista test PC we found that webcam recognition did not always survive hibernation, for example; a relatively minor point. The webcam had to be simply unplugged and reinserted for the system to recognise the device.
This help file is full of useful tips and is worth perusing.
The combination of Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000 and Windows Live Messenger worked well for most of our linkups once we had setup working correctly. It's not a cheap device, this Pro 9000 webcam, but we think it pays off when you can make use of its ample functionality. Image quality under normal conditions of usage was great, but just watch out for the degradation that accompanies more than modest amounts of zooming because it's achieved digitally, not optically.
A two year warranty covers this device, and all-in-all, most users stand to be delighted with it. Only when pushed beyond its main range of usability settings does it demonstrate limitations.