The Creative Live Cam Optia AF is the ideal Webcam if you are looking to shoot objects other than yourself: your talented pet or your back door or your rose garden. For simply recording video of yourself sitting in front of your PC, Logitech's QuickCam Pro 9000 boasts a clearly superior image, particularly in low-light settings or those with a bright background. Creative has no answer for Logitech's RightLight technology for optimizing the image quality. And while the Logitech QuickCam software installs without incident, I wouldn't be surprised if you hit a couple snags when installing the software with the Live Cam Optia AF. What this Creative cam (generally listed for around $109 online) has going for it is an excellent design that makes it easy to record subjects other than yourself at your PC and a huge if somewhat buggy software bundle. Unless you're security conscious and want a Webcam you can set up for remote surveillance or would like to engage your artistic talents and dabble in time-lapse video, you'll be better served by the $99 Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000.
The Creative Live Cam Optia AF looks like a blown-up version of the company's Live Cam Notebook Ultra. The larger size nets you a larger sensor, from 1.3 megapixels on the laptop cam to 2.0 megapixels on the Live Cam Optia AF. You can capture video at up to 30 frames per second and up to a resolution of 1,600x1,200. You can take 2-megapixel still photos, and with software interpolation, up to 8-megapixel shots. The glossy, black camera is attached to a clear plastic base, but this time a ball-and-socket joint connects the two pieces, which allows for precise positioning without needing to move your monitor.
More impressively, the camera can be rotated 270 degrees, which lets you quickly spin the camera around to shoot objects in front of you. It's of more use on a laptop, where you might be capturing your hilarious cat or sublimely talented 2-year old performing in front of you. The image is automatically flipped when you rotate the camera around to face the opposite direction, and you can twist the lens so that it's facing down and into the stand, which disconnects the camera should you feel as if someone is staring at you.
The Webcam's stand features two rubberized edges for firm positioning on flat surfaces, and a spring-loaded, plastic clip folds out to hold the Webcam on top of an LCD monitor or laptop. You won't get a terribly firm grip on a thin laptop lid, but it stays in place and can even take a light jostle without losing its hold.
The Live Cam Optia AF is truly plug and play. I connected it to two Vista laptops and each recognized the Webcam immediately--no need to install drivers. You'll need to install the bundled software to take advantage of the many features Creative bundles with the Webcam, but the plug-and-play nature of the device is convenient if you want to install the camera on a friend's PC for a quick, video-enabled Skype call, for example. Macs will recognize the camera (not tested), but the Live Cam software works only on Windows machines.
The installation process wasn't smooth on either of the two Vista systems I used for testing. Using a Sony VAIO NR160 laptop, the drivers failed to install correctly. I had to navigate around a couple error messages and had to install the drivers from Creative's Website before I received a full complement of the Live Cam software suite and got it to recognize the camera. With a Dell Inspiron 1420, the installation process went off without a hitch, but soon after, the Live Cam software stopped recognizing the Live Cam Optia AF and listed the laptop's integrated Web as my only option. I had to uninstall and reinstall the software to get it working again. I experienced neither problem with the Creative Live Cam Notebook Ultra, and I had no problems installing any of the Logitech or the Microsoft Webcams I've tested recently.