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iSight : iSight versus DV Camcorder or other web-cam

As mentioned in the Title box - there are pages that were written a little while ago by EZ Jim, a poster on the Apple Discussions who contributed to iSight and iChat Discussions. The words the following pages are EZ Jim's

Use the the Information Column Menu for EZ Jim's pages

iSight versus DV Camcorder or other web-cam

 (For webcams to be used on PCs, see iSight and the PC.)

Edit 1

This was written initially before the External iSight was taken off the market. At the time Cameras for the Mac were the External iSight, a Camcorder, possibly DV and USB Cameras, mostly USB 1.1 capable.

As EZ Jim's first paragraph says, the main thrust was could you use other cameras with the Mac

This has become more of "What camera can I use with the OS and Mac that I have ?" and the answer has become almost as wide as the models of cameras

I will add some sort of Summary at the bottom as well.

6:36 PM Sunday; September 14, 2008

Many people ask whether you can use DV Camcorders, USB web cams or camcorders, or your digital still camera instead of iSight. The answers completely depends on two things: (1) the application you plan to use to accomplish your intended purpose it, and (2) which alternative camera you intend to use.

As with all other questions dealing with applications, you get the answers to your questions by researching the application. Instructions for the camera you intend to use with it will also play a part.
(Edit 14th Sept. 2008: Two links to pages removed from the Apple site have been taken out here This though, is the Driver that is included in the OS and a list of supported Firewire Webcams. Direct information on Firewire able DV CamCorders is more difficult to find.)
There is this article concerning a possible FireWire Issue With Some Canon Mini-DV Cameras.

For the commonly used Apple apps, discussions areas related to operating Apple's iSight with iChat and iMovie are located at:-

  1. iSight Discussions,
  2. iChat AV Discussions for iChat 3 and iChat 2 and Earlier,
  3. iChat and iChat Sharing (in Leopard)
  4. and iMovie Discussions
If you cannot find the help you need in the topics and links here, you can search or post in the Discussions area for the application you are using to drive your iSight or in iSight Discussions if the problem is with all applications.

Many people use iChat AV with a Firewire DV camcorder, at least for a first try at AV conferencing. It works just fine. Some continue to use their camcorders; however, here are some things you might consider to be reasons for adding an iSight or dedicated Web Cam:

    (1) An iSight/Web Cam saves space and set-up effort and reduces risk to your expensive camcorder.

    (2) Setting up the tripod and camcorder after receiving a video invitation involves more work and fumbling risk. Am iSight/Web Cam is always available.

    (3) Only you can decide whether you would rather spend your camcorder's useful life hours making tape instead of video messaging. A replacement iSight or Web Cam is cheaper than a replacement camcorder.

    (4) While you leave your iSight or Web Cam set up (requires little work area space), you can still use your camcorder.

    (5) iSight is directly supported in Apple's OS, applications, and help.

    (6) iSight doesn't need third party hardware or software, so no additional computer overhead or possibility of software conflict. The same applies to a UVC (USB Video Class) compliant USB camera with OS 10.4.9 and above and a USB 2.0 port (See the Edit below)

It is also possible to use iChat AV with a USB webcam or camcorder including those with suitable but NONE DV ouput over Firewire, but those require the addition of a third party software application like iChatUSBCam. This link has an explanation of iChatUSBCam's features and cameras compatibility. It is try before you buy software.

Edit 2

From OS 10.4.9 Apple have included an USB Driver for UVC (USB Video Class) Compatible Cameras. To a certain extent this is to support the Internal iSight on Intel Macs. However it does allow the use of Cameras that are USB Video Class (Sometimes listed and Universal Video Class) without the need for Mac specific drivers from the camera manufacturers or from third parties like IOXperts or macam and the use of the iUSBCam utility for use with iChat. It must be pointed out though that the iUSBCam link has a Camera Guide page which for some older cameras does link to both those two sites. The Drivers could be useful from these links if the manufacturer does not supply a Mac one even if the use is not for iChat.

How do you Tell ?

Essentially anything that says it is Vista Certified. This List may also help. Looking an various manufacturers sites you get to know their branded phrase for this such as Logitech's Rightlight®

What do you Need ?

  1. A Mac with OS 10.4.10 or above.
  2. A Mac with a USB 2.0 port
  3. Said UVC compliant camera

This means a G4/1Ghz Dual Processor will need a USB 2.0 Card added
Early iMacs (Bubble shape and G3) are unlikely to have the USB 2.0 port or be able to add it.
Intel Mac with an Internal Cam could add a second camera and those like the Intel Mac Mini or the Mac Pro tower will have USB 2.0 ports.
I suspect most people will be in-between the extremes listed and may need to check their specs for their Mac.

Some people like the image quality of camcorders better. See John Kennedy’s "Cameras and Image Quality", the Sat - October 30, 2004, blog for a comparison.

In general, if you would like to use something other than iSight, just try it! If it doesn't work, look at Help for the app you intend to use (the menu bar Help at the top of your Mac's display.) If you cannot get an answer there, search Apple Discussions or the web using Google or your favorite search engine to find what is required to get your desired camera to perform your desired function. Don't forget to search your cameras instruction manuals and the camera's web forums for ideas.




On the whole any other Firewire Cam whether a Web cam or DV camcorder will work.
With DV Camcorders the Format must be just Plain DV and not any proprietary version such as the Canon linked to above. Also if you don't have Quicktime 6 and it's HD abilities you may have problems with a HDV camera.
On the whole these DV cameras have to be set to show the Preview you see before pressing the Record Button. In some cases this means taking the tape out to stop any Anti-Stretch feature kicking in.
Include in this group DV Converters that have Firewire Outputs to the Computer.


Early (USB1.1) Cameras can be made to work with various apps if you have a Mac Driver or one of the two third party drivers
These drivers will be needed whether you have USB 2.0 or not as it is about the speed of the camera.

At this point iChat (2 and 3) is a special case and needs an Add-on, now called iUSBCam, to convert the input signal into something iChat can use (essentially it is DV only)

USB 2.0 - UVC Compliant

At 10.4.10 (Late Tiger) Apple added a UVC (USB VIdeo Class) Driver to the OS. This allows compatible cameras to be used by any application including iChat.
For External USB Cameras this means you also have to have a USB 2.0 port as these cameras don't come any other way. I have not seen any that have any other sort of Driver either. This means getting a newer camera for an older (USB 1.1) Mac may not ne a sensible thing to do.

USB Converters
Despite my own DV Converter failing and now longer allowing input from my TV signal output stills camera or my analogue Camcorder, I have not looked into USB Converters. Those that I have seen are USB 2.0 which at least supplies a speed simialr to Firewire. You would have to read more about individual device specs.

Made on Mac
Made on a Mac®

© 2005, 2006 EZ Jim
Updated September 2006

© 2005 Ralph Johns: Edited 24/9/2005, 5/5/2006
Updated September 2006. Moved to Gargoyles Mar 2007
Edited: 7:17 PM Sunday; September 14, 2008

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