Webcams are relatively inexpensive devices that are used often in business situations for video conferencing, and for personal use in live video chat environments.
They can come with a microphone as part of the unit, and some more advanced models include zooming, tilting, and panning functions. Most webcams are used to monitor their immediate surroundings. They can be placed anywhere provided they can remain connected to their host computer or, if wireless, within range of it.
There is, however, a range of webcams that are “network cameras,” which means they contain their own web servers and connect directly to the Internet without the need for a computer on site. This enables you to see what it sees from any computer anywhere in the world that is Internet connected, no matter where the camera is placed.
These devices are more expensive than regular models and might not suit you if you have to leave the camera in potentially hostile territory. With any webcam, images can be sent immediately to the owner via email in the form of several still photos, or to a website that has been set up to stream images.
(Burglars have been caught in the act this way, and even despite stealing the computer that was transmitting the images!) Again, if you are covertly monitoring an environment, creative placement is the key.
Even though webcams are not typically built to be concealed, they are compact enough to conceal. Wireless webcams, which are not too much more expensive, might be even better toward this end. You may also want to consider using multiple webcams in different locations, which can all quite easily be attached to the same computer.
Most webcams are peculiar to either PC or MAC computers, and there are far more products available for PC owners. Apple makes its own webcam, however, for MAC users that is an excellent piece of equipment even if a bit pricier at $150.
It automatically sets the focus and exposure of the lens, and its builtin microphone delivers superior quality audio. In general, PC users can follow the “above or below $50” rule when choosing a webcam. Webcams under $50 usually have relatively low resolution – too low to print a picture from. For over $50 you will find nearly double the image resolution (at 640×480 pixel, or “VGA” quality). This resolution is considered as standard, with anything above it placing too much drain on your computer processor.