MacBook's iSight: No Assembly Required

The picture quality is super and it's a snap to use, but this built-in webcam has lag and zoom issues that may disappoint frequent video bloggers

Editor's Rating:

The Good: A built-in laptop camera that's ready-to-go and easy to use

The Bad: Noticeable image lag, no zoom

The Bottom Line: Hard-to-beat convenience, but serious vloggers will want a camera that allows a wider range of shots

In Apple's ubiquitous Mac vs. PC commercials, Mac is the cool dude, PC is the geeky guy, and Victoria's Secret model Gisele Bundchen is the embodiment of the movie you can shoot using the iSight video camera on a MacBook laptop. The embodiment of PC's movie is, well, if you haven't seen him/her, believe me, you wouldn't want to.

But is iSight really the supermodel of webcams? Not exactly.

The camera is now a standard built-in feature on all MacBook laptops. Until this year, Apple sold an external iSight webcam for about $149. Those standalone cameras, which drew rave reviews for picture quality, are selling for more than $200 on eBay (EBAY) these days.

Core Features

The built-in version of the iSight camera offers many obvious benefits. For one, it is fully integrated with Apple's iChat and iMovie high-definition software. And anyone who has ever struggled to affix a clip-on webcam to the edge of a laptop screen will appreciate a preinstalled camera. Likewise, the lens is already positioned at the optimum angle for recording a seated computer user—no adjustment required.

Apple's (AAPL) preinstalled video software is similarly easy to use. In many cases, the computer detects when the camera is on and prompts the user to create a short movie or start a video chat. The iChat AV software is particularly impressive. Its features include picture-in-picture technology that lets you see both yourself and the person with whom you are speaking. For conference calls of up to four people, it splits the screen and tilts the images, creating the effect of a virtual roundtable.

Not for the Serious Vlogger

The iSight's picture quality is comparable to a glossy magazine shot. Images are bright, sharp, and focused squarely on the user's face. The color was only decent. The camera software also includes a host of image filters that can warp images in assorted ways. Sadly, there isn't a filter for transforming my mug into Gisele Bundchen's. But I was able to snap a picture and turn it into pop art.

The biggest problem I found with the camera was a bothersome delay in the on-screen image while you're shooting. When I waved my hand at the lens in my dim apartment, the image lagged considerably. Sometimes it seemed as though my video image was more a mimic than a true reflection. However, I didn't notice any blurring.

Another shortcoming: The camera doesn't feature zoom capability. To make my face fill the screen, I had to physically move closer to the lens. Serious video bloggers will find this annoying. After all, how else can you convey that you are sharing an intimate, private moment with your viewers unless you can get right in their faces?

But casual video bloggers and chatters should find the iSight fills most of their needs. It's easy to use. The picture is attractive. And most important: no assembly required.