Cheap USB 2.0 webcams are quite disappointing

Cheap USB 2.0 HD webcams turned to be noticeably worse than their better-branded counterparts

Microsoft LifeCam HD webcams get the best reviews in the webcam category, as well as get a lot of attention from amateur astrophotographers wanting something cheap for planetary and Lunar imaging. Lifecam Studio has 2 Mpix OmniVision sensor and is the biggest webcam in this line. Recently webcam market got flooded by cheap multi-branded webcams than on the box have the same specs - 2Mpix and USB 2.0. They are cheaper than Lifecams... but are they usable for astrophotography at all?

I did a quick check by testing Canyon CNR-WCAM820 and Esperanza EC103 webcams - both described as USB2.0 and having 2Mpix sensors. The results are quite disappointing.

ESPERANZA EC103 and CANYON CNR-WCAM820

Canyon identifies itself as "0ac8:3420 Z-Star Microelectronics Corp. Venus USB2.0 Camera", while Esperanza as "0c45:62f1 Microdia". Both webcams are real USB 2.0 devices, but SharpCap can't offer more than 5-7 FPS!. Looking on some hardware Linux websites there are interesting comments about those webcam components. For Canyon electronics 30 FPS may be doable but only below 640x480. In the case of Esperanza electronics - UVC descriptors return 640x480 as the highest resolution (while it should have 2 megapixels). Sharpcap wasn't also able to control exposure time of those webcams.

Crop from Canyona CNR-WCAM820 frame, 50 frame stack, some artifacts visible

Crop from Canyona CNR-WCAM820 frame, 50 frame stack, some artifacts visible

Crop from Esperanza EC103 frame. 50 frame stack, better frame quality than Canyon

Crop from Esperanza EC103 frame. 50 frame stack, better frame quality than Canyon

Canyon was quite easy to dismantle. After unscrewing few screws I was able to remove the lens and put the housing back together. Esperanza turned out to be un-moddable as the lens and sensor are glued together.

Canyon CMOS sensor
Esperanza with sensor and a lens glued together

In sharpcap I couldn't control exposure time for Canyon, but even in FireCapture where I could Mars was overexposed severely. Lifcams offering all the controls are much better than those cheap "HD" webcams and just don't waste your money on those low end cameras.

Mars in Canyon
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