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Video calls and good cameras

By Jean-Claude Elias - Apr 09,2020 - Last updated at Apr 09,2020

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When making a video call, do you use a laptop computer or a mobile device like a smartphone or a tablet? Is the quality of the camera you have good enough to optimise the experience and to bring it as close as possible to the real thing?

Over the last month or so video calls have shown how important the technology can be and how useful it is in times where physical contact between people and in-person meetings are prohibited or dramatically reduced.

Video calls and videoconferencing have been fashion for a long time in business. Private use of the technique has been low to moderate till earlier this year. It is only recently that it has been widely used for personal communication, because of the confinement situation.

Personal and business video calls have increased significantly and everything indicates that it is going to be the case for some time. Even when confinement is lifted or reduced, it all looks like we will heavily rely on video calls to communicate between us, for whatever reason, for pleasure, for private purpose or to conduct business.

Interestingly, the voice and video calls over WhatsApp and that were blocked in Jordan by the system until last month are now allowed and at the reach of each and every one. This alone is a sign of the times – a rather positive one in this very case. Indeed, video calls over WhatsApp are really handy for they can be used instantly, do not require you to start another software application like Skype, Messenger or Zoom for example, and – the icing on the cake – they use your quickly available and main contacts list.

Now the camera question.

Understandably having a good camera makes a big difference when it comes to video calls. If you make the call with a tablet or a smartphone that was manufactured after say 2013 or 2014, which probably is the case of the majority, then any model, of any brand, at any price, will more than ensure a good image. This is just how modern mobile devices are, by design.

The game may be a little different when it comes to laptop computers. It is only in very recent and middle to high-end models that manufacturers have taken the trouble of integrating good quality cameras, usually called webcams. The lens would generally be located in the top centre of the screen and would be pointed at you.

I have compared the webcams in two Lenovo laptop models: one Thinkpad made in 2018 and one IdeaPad made in 2016. The difference in manufacturing is only two years, but the difference in image quality is huge, with the Thinkpad providing a high-resolution, sharp image, while the IdeaPad’s was barely acceptable by today’s standards. The comparison is all the more valid that the two models are of the same, well-known brand.

Going for a smartphone or a tablet guarantees good image, but at the expense of a smaller screen, unfortunately. If it is a one-on-one video call, this would probably not be a hindrance, but if it is a group call or a video conference, you definitely need both: the best possible camera and an as-large-as-possible screen.

As for desktop computers, the kind that is almost not used anymore at home, one can always buy and add an external USB webcam to place atop the monitor. In most cases this provides superior quality image: Logitech, Microsoft, Creative Labs and Razer Kiyo make the best models, at prices that vary between JD50 and JD150. Even those who have a new laptop with a relatively good camera sometimes go for such an additional top-quality external webcam to be sure to have the best possible resolution image.

When videoconferencing the most demanding also go for an external USB microphone that completes the visual experience with equally good sound to match the image.

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