Continuing along with another webcam-related post, in the past month, I was experimenting with Raspberry Pi and webcams. I tried using my Microsoft LifeCam Studio, which I previously reviewed, and there wasn’t much joy. With the Raspberry Pi, we got very frequent image corruption, and dropouts which necessitated a hard reset to recover from. Further experimentation seems to show that the LifeCam Studio also has trouble with some of my Intel-based USB chipset ports with occasional corruption of image but no hard-lock-up, whereas on my AMD-based reviewing machine, everything was okay.
So I was back on the hunt for another webcam – it didn’t have to be particularly high spec – it just needed to give a decent image for a good price. I settled on the Logitech Quickcam C270h Webcam and Headset bundle, available for about AU$26.
It has the Logitech Quickcam C270 webcam, which is the lowest-cost 720p capable webcam in Logitech’s line-up and adds a very basic headset for an extra AU$1. I decided to part with the extra AU$1 just to see what I was getting.
The product comes in a colour thin-card box with a window showing off the webcam, and an icon indicating the headset is packed inside. The box encourages on to go “beyond built-in” – although seeing as many laptops today provide even higher resolution sensors, it’s hard to see just how far beyond built-in this product might actually go. I suppose the second half of the blurb of “flexible and adjustable” is somewhat true, but who moves their webcam around (and not their device) during a video-chat anyway?
Specifications and support information are given on the sides and bottom of the box. Of note is that the video quality is rated as “Good” and the focus type is Always focused for 40cm and beyond which, in other words just means fixed focus. The camera comes with a two-year warranty.
Of course, when you buy a webcam, that’s what you get – a webcam with integrated microphone and a single USB 2.0 connection with ferrite bead suppressor. It’s got a nice shiny grey plastic fascia, rather subdued. The body itself has a fold-out design so it can just hang onto your display as has been the norm of modern webcams.
Nothing fancy about connectivity either, using 3.5mm TRS analog jacks.
Of course, there are the mandatory few pieces of paper for support and regulatory reasons and to get you started.
The first thing we notice is the grey plastic fascia unclips from the front of the camera to reveal the screws holding the camera together. Another thing we notice is the fake shiny plastic surround which tries to give users the impression of a large glass lens, when the lens itself is much smaller.
With the fascia off, we have access to the camera’s PCB. The electret microphone itself is covered in a round silicone gasket to insulate and direct the focus to the front grille for better audio capture. The camera’s lens is seen to the left, and it seems it may be possible to alter the focus manually if needed by taking it apart.
The camera itself runs on an IC which is remarked Quickcam Logitech 334-000121 1402-06 M138130, next to an ST EEPROM.
The USB cable is looped over the PCB, as if to provide some sort of cable retention. The PCB itself seems to be dated Week 2, 2014.
Removing the pair of screws allows us to see the underside of the PCB – it seems this unit is based on the Marge & Maggie platform, which are probably internal code-names. The USB connection is nicely socketed, which means cable replacements aren’t very painful despite the rarity which it is done. The screws holding the lens frame onto the sensor can be seen here too, and seem to ride along slots, allowing some freedom for alignment.
Quick Performance Check
Given that this is a lower end camera, it’s no big surprise it doesn’t do anything fancy. That being said, it did exceed my expectations when it comes to resolution, topping out at 1280×960, above the 720p level.
There wasn’t anything special in the compression modes – this camera doesn’t have any MJPG encoding available, so the data is sent raw from the sensor (and is hence, demanding on the USB bus).
Despite this, I did test it with my Raspberry Pi and didn’t experience any hard-drop-outs requiring hard resets, which is a nice touch. The images were generally stable with a once-a-day corruption which may be because of the Raspberry Pi itself.
Using it with a desktop computer was quite satisfactory when acting like a webcam. Given that most people don’t have enough upload speed to get 720p video calling anyway (you need >1Mbit/s actual throughput – so it’s no for all you ADSL2+ users), it really wouldn’t matter.
For comparison, the below is an image from my Pro 9000 running in 1280×720 (closest available resolution). Aside from the white balance difference, I’d have to say the image is pretty good, but the field of view is slightly less (as is common to most fixed focus cameras).
One drawback of the fixed focus camera seems to be that using it for long-distance shots, the image is somewhat fuzzier than at the “computer screen distance” which is likely due to the way the lens was set-up during manufacture. It might be remedied by an end user by manual adjustment.
As expected, the headset was very weak and flimsy, and barely workable but hardly enjoyable to use.
I’d have to say the Logitech C270 webcam isn’t a bad unit for the price. The images are sharp and clear if you’re using it as a “webcam”. The resolution goes beyond the 1280x720p that you might have expected from the box. The fixed focus is a drawback, but a given at this price range. Its performance is solid with the Raspberry Pi, which makes it a good choice for tinkerers. The images are quite good, and the sensitivity and dynamic range is much better than no-brand webcams.
That being said, I don’t advise buying it for the headset, or paying more for the headset, because it’s quality is quite poor. In fact, if you’re okay with using your own headphones or speakers, you won’t need it because the webcam has an integrated microphone and that works quite well.