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Scan Windows 7

Point and don't click
Did you know that there are around 700 recognised phobias? Yet one of the most common irrational fears, that of appearing on video or in a photograph has no name as far as I'm aware. I suppose it's more a reluctance than a phobia but, considering the person taking the photo or video is probably looking you squarely in the eye anyway, it can certainly be classified as an irrational.

Despite being qualified as a photographer I tend to go to extraordinary measures to avoid seeing my ugly mug on celluloid, CCD or CMOS, yet I know family members with a similar distaste for being photographed who seem to have no qualms about sitting in front of a WebCam and beaming a moving image of themselves far into the darkest reaches of the 'Net.

Creative have been ploughing a fair amount of resources into increasing their range of WebCams and can now boast a portfolio that features powered pan and tilt models, models which apply real-time special effects and apparently a night-vision model too.

The model I'm looking at today is their WebCam Live for notebooks, a very compact and stylish little device no more than a couple of inches square yet boasting a relatively high-end 640x480 CCD sensor (CMOS sensors are often used as they're cheaper though usually lower quality), a decent quality wide angle lens and manual focus for sharpness.

There's no horizontal panning offered by this camera but you can swivel the lens through a full 180 degrees. The lack of horizontal panning is partly compensated for by the wide angle nature of the lens and, being a notebook camera, you can sit your notebook at a slight angle to centre up your face.

Also helping with the problem of accurate positioning is a driver feature which theoretically zooms the lens and then uses skin tone to track any slight movements you might make keeping it centred. This worked fairly well in ample lighting but was pretty erratic in low light.


A spring-loaded retaining plate pulls out and clamps onto the top edge of your notebook screen. The body of the camera and the back of the clamping plate have rubber on them to help hold the camera firmly in place but be warned, some notebooks have bevelled or heavily curved screen surrounds and the clamping plate may not be deep enough to get a reliable grip. A fairly simply stand might have been a nice inclusion so such users could go for a freestanding approach.

I really wanted to see a lens cap provided for this Cam but Creative did the next best thing and supplied a protective Nylon carrying pouch. The WebCam isn't the only hardware in the box, you also get a fairly basic but perfectly usable headset which ties in nicely with Creative's recent collaboration with Skype for VOIP services.

The WebCam comes with about a meter of cable which is more than enough for notebook use and probably ample for use with your desktop system too if you can use your ingenuity and find a way to mount it. The cable carries the video data and also supplied all the power requirements so no additional power source is needed.

As any photographer knows, a camera is only as good as its lens, and Creative have equipped the Ultra with a pretty good 2.9mm wide angle lens with a bright f2.0 aperture.

Though I saw no mention of it, the lens appears to be multi-coated to help reduce glare, but despite this it really doesn't cope well with bright areas, be they in or outdoors. I could eliminate most of the camera's glare by shielding the lens with my hand which suggests Creative should consider bundling a deep lens hood, or at least making one available as an extra purchase.

Here's a shot taken outdoors with a bright but overcast sky in the frame.

Focusing is achieved by rotating the outer ring on the lens barrel and the resulting images were surprisingly good with reasonable colour accuracy and acceptable sharpness. In low light there was a very strong screen effect banding which immediately disappeared by reducing the resolution to 320x240 and if I hadn't read the specifications I'd be tempted to assume this was a 320x240 sensor being enhanced to 640x480 by interpolation. The image quality was generally much better in good lighting.