This is a rewrite of a review I previously wrote about both the Logitech C920 and Microsoft Lifecam Studio 1080p HD. I've raised my rating from three to four stars for both webcams. They are both very good units, but both have significant flaws that make it impossible to give either of them five stars.
I bought these webcams for a video project, so all of my testing has been for video capture and editing. I haven't tested still images or Skype.
At the end of the review, I also will give some information about four software packages that are available - one of them free - for recording video with these webcams: Active Webcam, Arcsoft's Webcam Companion, CyberLink's Youcam, and Virtual Dub.
I'm rewritten this review after using the Logitech for a month and the Microsoft for three weeks. I ordered the Logitech first. I've been buying Logitech products since the 1990s and until now was never disappointed. This time I was so dissatisfied with it that I ordered the Microsoft, only to be even more disappointed.
It's not that they are terrible. They are both excellent in many ways. However I expect more from a 1080p unit than from an ordinary webcam, especially considering the glowing reviews they receive.
One thing I love about both webcams is the tripod mount. For my video project, I needed to mount the webcam on a tripod, so this was a requirement. It will also be useful in future shooting. Both webcams will work with any standard tripod. I used a Sony VCT-R100 tripod for my project.
Microsoft's most obvious flaw is advertising this as a 1080p webcam without mentioning that it only does 1080p still images, not recorded video. If you use some non-Microsoft software (Virtual Dub and Cyberlink's You Cam), it will record at 1080p, but the quality is poor if there's any movement in the scene.
On the other hand, the Logitech doesn't come off well either. Its most obvious flaw is in its video compression, which results in major video artifacts under certain conditions. If you don't know what a video artifact is, it basically makes the scene look like something out of science fiction. The strange thing is that the recorded video plays with no problem in a video player, such as Windows Media Player, but when I try to edit it, the artifacts appear. I've read reports by other owners who say it also happens with Skype. I haven't tried these webcams with Skype, so I have no experience with this.
I did find a way around the problem with Premiere Pro, but the easiest way to avoid the problem in recorded video is simply to use non-Logitech software for recording video. I tried Virtual Dub, Arcsoft's Web Companion, and Cyberlink's You Cam. All of them recorded video from the Logitech with no artifacts.
One other recording issue is video format. If you are buying the webcam for recorded video on a Mac or Linux, or if you want to edit the video, you may find the Logitech the better choice. The .wmv format is a Windows format, so anyone on a different system will probably have to convert it to a different format to use it, and even on Windows, editing it can be a problem, but the Microsoft records only in .wmv. The Logitech records 1080p and 720p as .mp4 and 480p and 360p video as .wmv
The Logitech's other problem is color balance, which is disappointing. The Microsoft's color balance is generally much better. I gave up completely on using the Logitech's automatic color and set it manually every time.
The Microsoft is much more demanding of your CPU. Unless you have a fast computer, you probably won't get z good HD recording with it. I have a quad core 3.0GHZ i7 with 24GB of RAM, but the Microsoft could record only 13.1fps at 720p and 6.4fps at 1080p, using Virtual Dub. The Logitech did much better, averaging exactly 30.0fps at both 720p and 1080p. Using the Windows 7 Performance Monitor, I found that the CPU usage while recording ranged from about 40% to 60% for the Microsoft but only about 15% to 35% for the Logitech.
I also tried it on my 1.6GHz Samsung netbook. The Logitech recorded better than I expected, though it you wouldn't want to use it on any scene with movement in it. The Microsoft's greater demands on the CPU made it completely unacceptable for recording 720p video on the netbook.
To my eyes the Microsoft delivers a much sharper image (a purely subjective measurement) than the Logitech.
If you transport your webcam a lot, then the recessed lens on the Microsoft offers much more protection than the Logitech lens, which has no protection at all. The Microsoft comes with a rubber lens cap, but it's so loose that it's completely useless. The recessed lens is an excellent design feature, however. The Microsoft is also much smaller, which could be useful if you move it around a lot.
The Microsoft software won't let you change the microphone on the Microsoft, but the Logitech software does allow it. The Microsoft microphone is located on the top rear of the webcam, which I expected would be a terrible location, but in practice it's better than I expected. The Logitech microphone is in front, where it should be, and does produce better audio (I was sitting about two feet from the webcams for the tests). The Logitech is stereo and the Microsoft is mono. If you use other software for recording, such as Virtual Dub, Arcsoft's Web Companion, and Cyberlink's You Cam, you can specify different audio inputs.
The autofocus isn't great on either unit, but Logitech's is better than Microsoft's.
Logitech's software allows you to specify a folder for storing videos and photos, but Microsoft's does not. On Windows 7, it stores everything in My Pictures. Microsoft creates .wmv video files and Logitech creates .mp4 files. Logitech offers three levels of video and three levels of audio quality. Microsoft doesn't give a choice. Logitech allows recording at four video resolutions: 360p, 480p, 720p, and 1080p. Microsoft allows recording at seven video resolutions (eight for photographs): 160x120, 320x240, 424x240, 640x360, 800x448, 960x544, and 1280x720.
Zoom controls on both tend to be erratic in how they operate and often don't work at all.
Microsoft tilts and pans, rotating a full 360 degrees. The Logitech can only tilt up and down. If you want to pan, you need a tripod.
The sad thing is that I actually prefer both the color balance and the zoom & pan controls on my old Kodak S101 640x480 webcam, though the Microsoft and Logitech both are superior in image quality, even at low resolutions equivalent to the Kodak's.
The Microsoft developed some intermittent problems towards the end. The previously excellent automatic exposure sometimes didn't work properly, and my computer occasionally gave me a warning that it didn't recognize it as a USB device.
My bottom line:
I only needed one webcam for my project. I originally disliked the Logitech so much that I ordered the Microsoft and intended returning the Logitech, only to be even more disappointed by the Microsoft. I ended up using the Logitech for my project and I am returning the Microsoft. It was frustrating, because in many ways I prefer the Microsoft, but recording only 720p video and having higher CPU requirements made it less useful for me. I returned it because of the intermittent problems I experienced, but would have returned it anyway because of the other issues.
Now for the software. If you buy the Logitech and you plan to do 720p or 1080p video recording, then you'll definitely want to look into alternative software because the Logitech's produces video with unacceptable artifacts that you don't see while watching them, but become very apparent if you edit the video, at least with Adobe Premiere Pro.
Virtual Dub (free)
At first this one turned me off, but after I played with it for a few weeks and watched a YouTube video on configuring it, I fell in love with it. If you are serious about video, this is the one to get. It's loaded with options, but it's not the most user-friendly software available. However after you get used to it, the others are frustratingly limited in comparison. However it's definitely not for casual users.
Cyberlink You Cam ($35)
If you're going to edit your video or if you're on a Mac or Linux machine, this is the one you want to get because records .avi files. It's a great choice for nontechnical people who don't want to deal with Virtual Dub's nonintuitive user interface
Arcsoft Webcam Companion 4 ($35)
This is a nice package with just one problem: it only records .wmv files. This is a Windows format, so you'll need to convert it to use on a Mac or Linux machine, and you may have problems editing it.
Active WebCam ($29)
Initially this is the one I thought I'd like, but I was never actually able to test it because it was constantly freezing up. If you are using multiple webcams for surveillance, you should look into it. It does get good reviews. However the user interface leaves a lot to be desired, but because of the freezing up I never had the opportunity to give it a real test.