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I found another thread here which states that the implementation of how the frames are captured by openCV may be the culprit:

OpenCV calls on video-4-linux (v4l2) to request RGB frames from the camera. My camera was delivering JPEG compressed images which v4l2 was decompressing using a very slow software decoder.

I am using a BeagleBoard and when using the (convenient) openCV-functions I had the mentioned problems. I tried the program Martin Fox linked in the thread, which takes YUV-frames from the webcam directly with v4l2. Now it is possible to get pictures up to 1280x1024 pixels without problems what is the resolution of the webcam's sensor.