But first, we will compare the advantages and disadvantages of cameras and camera modules.
Raspberry Pi Camera Modules vs. Raspberry Pi Camera Devices
The preference for either of these two types goes much deeper than the obvious budget and size differences. While the cameras do not come as cheap as Raspberry Pi camera modules, they support identical behavior and allow coding on desktop, just like an embedded device. They also use longer cables and can be plugged into USB ports or active extension cables to extend the reach distance farther. Additionally, they are less sensitive to electrical interference or physical damage. Last but not least, USB webcams come in hundreds of models, making it easy to get a specialized device, such as an industrial-grade or waterproof version, for your unique needs.
On the other hand, RPi Camera modules utilize the special MIPI CSI camera format to use less power, allow faster bandwidth, and fit within a smaller physical size. What is more, these modules support higher resolution, a better framerate, and have reduced latency issues when compared to the USB cams. This is because USB 2.0 is too slow for anything above 1280 x 720 @ 30 fps when capturing videos, and USB 3.0 is still quite expensive. Conversely, RPi module cams can deliver up to 4k videos. RPi cams also support 640 x 480 @ 90 fps for slow-motion capture, which comes in handy for real-time surveillance. However, RPi camera modules require you to create a custom housing for them, which can be difficult if you are not a DIY enthusiast.
Ultimately, the choice between the two comes down to your needs and personal preferences. I would suggest using RPi camera modules for security purposes, and RPi cams for video chats.
1. Raspberry Pi Camera Module v2
Any product is better when it comes from the source, right? The RPi Camera v2 is an 8-megapixel Sony IMX219 image sensor add-on module for Raspberry Pi. This device is small, can record 4k video, and works like a charm with the RPi 3 and 3 B+ models.
The module is tiny, with dimensions of 25mm x 23mm x 9mm and a weight of just 3g, and is ideal for mobile or other smart applications where the module’s size and weight are an important consideration. You can attach this module to Pi through the small sockets on the front by using the dedicated CSi interface.
The camera is capable of capturing images at 3280 x 2464 resolution (8MP), and supports video recording at 640x480p 60/90, 720p 60 and 1080p30 with 62.2 x 48.8 degrees field of view. For higher performance, its pixels are reinforced with OmniBSI technology, which leads to low crosstalk, higher sensitivity, and low overall noise.
RPi recommends using a 2A power source, which is higher than other camera modules. Therefore, you should double-check your device’s power source before installing the module. Overall, the RPi Camera v2 is a great option if you are looking for a low-cost outdoor RPi cam.
Buy Here: Amazon
2. Logitech C525 HD Webcam
Logitech is a market leader when it comes to webcams. They bring this same quality to the lesser-known C525 HD webcam, which combines basic features with the same portable design seen in most modern webcams to make for an excellent RPi camera.
This USB camera is plug-and-play for RPi and can record videos in 720p @ 30fps screen resolution. The device features autofocus, ensuring that the subject in focus is never blurry, even when moving around. Moreover, with its one-touch photo sharing option, you can instantly upload your pictures and videos to Facebook.
As this is an older model, it is readily available in stores. If not, you can always order a used version from Amazon at a reduced cost.
Compared to other RPi cams on the list, this model’s screen resolution does fall short of the expectations. The higher price does not help, either. However, considering the features mentioned above, Logitech’s C525 is not a bad bargain at all. We recommend using it as a webcam, and you would not have any trouble with recording at a lower resolution.
Buy Here: Amazon
3. MakerFocus Raspberry Pi Camera Module
If there is one RPi camera module that can go toe-to-toe with the official Raspberry Pi camera (v2.1), it is this model by MaskerFocus. This camera comes with an 8-megapixel IMX219 sensor and features a 160-degree field of view
This device is easy to set up on all different RPi flavors. Just make sure that you have a working V2 PCB. All you have to do is plug and play. The still picture resolution is 8MP (the highest on our list) and supports video recording at 1080p30, 720p60 and 640x480p90 framerates.
The lens on top of the module protects the sensor, a feature that is absent from the official camera module. The IR lights are a nice bonus, making it workable in dark corners, though the camera works great with or without the lights. As this module features no IR lens, sometimes the colors may seem off. However, due to this very reason, this model has much better night vision than any RPi camera reviewed in this article.
Our only minor complaint is related to the heatsink. Although this device is well made and adheres well, its smaller size limits its effectiveness. Slightly bigger heat sinks would have made this model a perfect Pi camera module in every way.
Overall, the wider focus maintains a view of every nook and cranny in sight, whether in your backyard, on your front porch, or at the supermarket. Hence, it is an ideal outdoor and security RPi camera. Plus, the price is also very market competitive.
Buy Here: Amazon
4. Arducam Sensor OV5647 Mini Camera Video Module
Arducam has come up with some great video modules for RPi in recent years. The OV5647 continues this trend. It is natively compatible, compact, offers 5MP resolution, and comes at a fraction of the cost you would otherwise pay for a Pi Camera.
This device is capable of recording videos at 30 fps @1080p, 60 fps @ 720p, and 90 fps @ 480p. The fixed focus 1-m infinity camera offers a 54 x 41-degree angle of view for clearer, wider shots. The video quality is adequate, but its ability to focus is a bit limited, and the focal length does not change automatically, either.
The board is very tiny, coming in at 25 mm x 24 mm, making it perfect for applications where both quality images and a limited size are the primary considerations. The camera is attached to the board through a higher-bandwidth CSI bus carrying pixel data to the processor. This interface is specifically designed for integrating with the camera, which is fully compatible with the official camera and uses the same software package and programming for consistency. The device also fits the official camera case perfectly.
All in all, this model works great with all RPi models. However, if you want to use it with Pi Zero, be sure to use the right connector board, as it supports a smaller connector.
Buy Here: Amazon
5. PlayStation Eye
While PlayStation Eye is normally used for Playstation, a little-known fact is that this device also works well with RPi. Simply plug the device into a USB 2.0 port, and the Eye is all set for the Pi.
Once connected, the Playstation Eye gives you a 56-degree or 75-degree field of view, shooting videos at 640 x 480 and 60fps or 320×240 and 120 fps screen resolutions. As the camera is designed for gamers, it works well even in low lighting conditions, making it a good option for outdoor use as a security cam.
This model’s fantastic omni-directional, 4-microphone linear array works great for voice activation on Pi. To get the microphone array working, get the ALSA sound drivers, and you should not have any trouble with the audio quality from anywhere in the room.
Given the general performance limitations of the USB 2.0, the camera performance is decent, though it may feel a bit outdated in 2020. The live video streams, though very clear, are a little choppy and delayed. However, at such a low cost, it is understandable. That said, PlayStation Eye is an overall excellent value for the price if spending extra on a Pi Camera is out of your budget range.
Buy Here: Amazon
All things considered, the Raspberry Pi cameras mentioned above each come with their strengths and limitations. Based on where you will be using the device, be sure to get the right product to save yourself from disappointment, and ensure the best experience possible. As a general rule, the greater the number of pixels on a camera, the better the video quality. But of course, you should also look at other considerations, such as size, price point, and adaptability. The Raspberry Pi camera V2 module is a good all-around option, available in IR, as well as a standard version. Hopefully, this article helped you decide which model works best for your needs.