Logitech QuickCam Vision Pro webcam: why doesn't 4 stars tell the full story?
Logitech makes some good stuff: I keep hearing raves about their Revolution mice, and they're well-known for keyboards (I own a DiNovo Edge and it has great battery life) and webcams. However, Logitech is also one of the more lopsided companies in regards to support across multiple platforms, as I learned recently with the QuickCam Pro for Mac (Amazon affiliate link, but you may rethink buying after reading what's to come). While not a conventional review, this is a closer look into what to beware of with the QuickCam Vision Pro.
I have a QuickCam Pro 9000 that worked pretty well on my Windows XP (since upgraded to Vista) machine, aside from blue screens of death if I replugged it. However, when I connected it to my Mac, I had extremely low framerate, around 5 FPS. Casual searches showed this was because the "RightLight" technology to automatically compensate for dim conditions was only in software, and there are no Logitech Mac webcam drivers. Thus, I learned about the confusingly-named Vision Pro. It has a very similar form factor to the 9000, the main differences being some coloring ones, such as the ON ring light is white instead of orange. But the insides are supposedly different (I haven't cracked mine open), with the Mac version having RightLight in hardware.
I did my research, I swear!
I searched for the Vision Pro at Amazon, and read the many (now 102) reviews, which averaged out to 4 stars. I noted most of the ratings corresponded with intended usage: people just doing iChat or Skype video chat were enthusiastic, while others who had more heavy needs weren't as happy — placing myself in the latter category and mindful to clarify the caveats myself, I ordered one. As with other Mac versions of Logitech goods, it's significantly more expensive than its Windows counterpart. In this case, about US$100 vs. $70 — presumably that's because of the hardware as well as having less sales volume, but Logitech hasn't acknowledged this.
Unboxing and installing the Vision Pro was very easy. I plugged it in to a free USB port on my Mac Pro. But I also noticed, to reaffirm what I mentioned earlier, there are no Mac drivers, no control software which allows you to adjust picture settings as well as wackier special effects — as is present and extensively developed on the Windows side. Apple does provide Photo Booth, so I started that up and was sorely disappointed: the framerate was as slow and jerky as the 9000 on my Mac. I couldn't find any way to optimize this; others report the same.
Then, I tried iChat and Skype. In both, the video preview was silky smooth (as expected), and here's where I noticed a substantial framerate improvement. Looking closely, I wondered if this was because of the dimensions: iChat and Skype seem to (again, I wish Logitech provided clear documentation) show a 320x240 preview, while Photo Booth records at 640x480. (Photo Booth with my MacBook Pro's built-in "iSight" webcam is visibly smoother at this same resolution.)
A video's at least a few thousand words, see for yourself (an unaltered framegrab is at the top of this article): I look like a ghost because what's on my monitor is white-ish. This isn't the Vision Pro's fault.
Another test: I started QuickTime Player, because File menu > New Movie Recording lets you do just that. Again, I was thwarted by a choppy framerate, and on top of that, the image was forcibly zoomed in, cropping the image. I don't know why it does this, and couldn't find a way to disable it. So far, I was very disappointed.
So many half-finished features
Now, it was time for me to use the Vision Pro for real — record screencasts with ScreenFlow. I'm sad to say that Telestream, the makers of ScreenFlow, offered me no leads on recommended and compatible webcams, so I chose the Vision Pro because it seemed to be in the higher-range of things. But overpriced, I do think. Again, a disappointment: ScreenFlow's preview was very jerky. However, when I actually did record a video, it looked smooth. The final recording size was shown as 640x480, even though its blurriness suggests it was actually recorded at 320x240 and upsampled.
So in short, here's the rub: Logitech's support for the QuickCam Vision Pro is sorely lacking. You have little idea what to expect or how it should behave. Its marketing is disingenuous, too, which is a red flag to consumers. They claim:
HD video: QuickCam Vision Pro is a high-performance webcam capable of delivering 720p high-quality images* up to 1600 X 1200 pixels.
Yet aside from a little footnote, Logitech don't give you advice on how to actually get higher resolutions. No list of tested, compatible software. On the Windows side, the included picture-taking app makes it easy. On the Mac side, no such luck. It really makes you feel like while this was offered to the Mac market, they put little thought and consideration into its usefulness.
But wait, there's more… suckiness…
There's no system way to turn off autofocus or RightLight either, and like the 9000, the microphone is mediocre, captures too much background noise, and distorts easily with awful clipping, so don't believe the "A high quality microphone provides excellent, hands-free audio." It's not true, it sounds like you're in a tin can if you speak from about two feet away. I use a Zoom H4n for my mic recordings, but it's over $300! (You'd be far better off with even a dedicated USB condenser mic.)
To get around the issue of no video adjustments, you can get eCamm's iGlasses which works with most webcam apps (but not ScreenFlow), but this sort of thing should've really been bundled.
That's not the end of your troubles: several reviewers note the Vision Pro gets very dark if two or more apps try to use it at the same time, or in quick succession. I can confirm this is true, as well as another problem where it fails to turn on if you keep making one recording after another — it's a pain and breaks your creative flow. Workaround? Replug. But that's annoying.
Oh, if you're wondering, human support from Logitech is lacking, too. I've received no help on how (if it's even possible) to make the Vision Pro work adequately in Photo Booth. Did I mention iMovie doesn't support it either?
All in all…
While the Vision Pro is usable, it gives me mixed feelings and has wasted a lot of my time. I'm not satisfied with my purchase. Buyer beware if you intend to do more than the most basic video chat, where cheaper webcams will perform fine. I'd give the Logitech QuickCam Vision Pro 2 stars out of 5. I looked at getting an original Firewire Apple iSight but they're even more expensive, and I've been wary of competitors like the aGent.
It appears there's a dearth of really excellent Mac webcams — if you know better, would you please recommend me and fellow WiseBread readers one? I'm so sad.