When it comes to choosing a video conferencing solution, IT leaders often focus on cost, bandwidth requirements and resolutions. While those criteria are certainly important, there is one other that deserves attention: the camera itself. Technology, like what’s found in the latest video conferencing cameras, can make all the difference when it comes to users realizing the value of collaborating over video.

When it comes to video cameras, you really do get what you pay for, says Marty Sexton, Senior Product Marketing Manager for Polycom. “The same way you probably would not use a webcam to make a feature film, you would not want to rely on it for outfitting your large conference room either. Cameras that are fixed, and have a short focal length tend to give a view of the room where people are postage stamp-sized at best,” Sexton says.

While webcams work fine on a personal device, the image suffers when you get further than an arm’s length from the camera. According to Advanced AV, “At arm’s length, you can display facial expressions, gestures, and other nuances that make video collaboration preferable to phone or email, whether you’re using it for business or to connect with the grandchildren. Put a webcam in front of a large room of people, however, and you lose those nuances.”

It is exactly those nuances that close the distance between meeting participants. Being able to see participants’ facial expressions and gestures improves communication and participant engagement. But when a consumer-grade webcam is used for a business conference call, it can actually create the very presence disparity that modern video conferencing solutions can solve.

Signs It’s Time for an Upgrade

The best way to determine whether it’s time to upgrade your video conferencing cameras is to simply observe a typical video conference as one of the participants, Sexton says. This will allow you to determine how well the camera is working for the majority of users. “In many cases, you will find that people’s faces are not recognizable at a distance, they are horribly lit, or the camera is never re-positioned. Most users will place a video call and leave the camera in the default wide-shot for fear of breaking something or looking bad in front of their peers,” he explains. “If you observe some or all of these traits while in a meeting, it’s time to consider an upgrade to a better camera and possibly automation.”

While pan-tilt-zoom cameras provide some degree of flexibility, automation enabled by presenter-tracking technology eliminates the need to manually adjust cameras. “Sensors inside presenter-tracking devices hear the speaker and move the camera to get a good shot. At the same time, additional cameras stand at the ready to track the next speaker. When several people are speaking at once, the system defaults to a wide angle,” Advanced AV explains.

This automation mimics how humans interact. We look at whomever is speaking, which allows us to focus more fully on that person and engage more of our senses to understand what is being communicated. “Presenter-tracking helps participants become more engaged in the meeting by evoking more of a conversational feel, even across miles,” Advanced AV writes.

Other Features to Consider

There are other considerations as well, depending on your use case. “When considering technology for a meeting or collaboration room, its best to take into account the use case or activities that will happen in the physical space. If the primary use of the room is for video conferencing, you’ll want to select a camera that has the best resolution, focal length, and field-of-view for the room size. Other important things are how well the camera works in various lighting conditions, optical zoom/digital zoom, automation, and compatibility with the codec – all of these features work together to produce a quality image,” Sexton says.

That may mean investing a little more upfront. “To create the best experience, and therefore get the most out of your video conferencing equipment, don’t go for the least expensive camera,” Sexton advises. “Fortunately, most vendors package great quality cameras and automation gear all together for easy purchase and install.”

With state-of-the-art camera technology applied to the appropriate use case, businesses can optimize the adoption of their video conferencing solutions as well as the benefits of collaborating face-to-face over long distances without the expense of travel.