The key features of car cameras
Car cameras, while becoming increasingly more popular in the UK, are still largely uncommon, and as such, may have features that are unfamiliar to many people. Many of these features set car cameras apart from other types of camera on the market, such as bullet cameras and action cameras, as they tailor the device to the specific task of recording footage from a vehicle and enable it to intelligently detect any incidents. Here we breakdown the key features and functionality that can be found across our range of car cameras and highlight the benefits that they offer.
HD (High Definition)
The better quality of image that your camera can capture, the more detail it will pick up as it records, and this can prove invaluable should you need to call on it as video evidence. While all cameras will record footage that makes it possible to see the road ahead of you and the cars on it, HD video will enable you to capture number plates and other details that can make all the difference when proving your innocence in the case of an incident.
All cameras built specifically for in-car use have what is known as loop recording functionality. This means that the camera will record until it’s memory card is full, and then begin to record new videos over the oldest files. This means that uneventful video clips don’t clog up memory space which allows the camera to continue recording for significant periods of time without the need to clear old files from the memory card. In the event of an incident, which many cameras will determine using the internal G-sensors, the video file created at that time will be automatically locked, meaning that the loop recording mechanism won’t overwrite it. This ensures that all important video files are secure until you are able to move them onto your computer. Some models, such as the RoadHawk HD, enable loop recording to be turned off meaning the camera will simply record until the card is full. This can be useful in cases where you wish to retain all the footage, such as track days and scenic drives.
By incorporating GPS, otherwise known as a Global Positioning System, into a car camera it enables the unit to measure your precise location and speed of travel. This information, when combined with the video captured, can paint a more complete picture of the events leading up to any incident. GPS uses satellites to pinpoint your position and as such can be effected by your environment and the positioning of your camera.
Speed Camera Alerts
While GPS is a common feature seen in many car cameras today, speed camera alerts are seen less, but use the same functionality to tell you the location of speed cameras along your route. While only the MiVue 388 offers this at the moment, with the added benefit of free unlimited updates for life, this is likely to become a more popular and common feature in the future.
G-sensors, or G-shock sensors, measure the movement of your vehicle through 3 axis. This information can also help paint the picture of events in the case of an incident, but can also trigger your car camera to respond appropriately. Most cameras will detect significant movement and automatically lock the video file being produced at the time, meaning that any significant footage is safe. While this is a highly-useful function that will safeguard any genuine incidents, ranging from crashes and collisions to heavy braking and swerving, it can also be triggered by potholes, speed-bumps and other minor incidents. However, most cameras that feature a G-sensor will allow you to alter its sensitivity to alleviate this issue.
This useful function offers protection while you’re away from your car. Not only from collisions with other drivers who may bump into your vehicle and leave the scene, but also to discourage people who may be looking to break into or steal your car. Most dash cams with this feature will automatically engage parking mode when they detect that the ignition has been turned off or that the vehicle has been stationary for a predetermined period of time. To save on memory and power consumption the camera will usually engage a motion detection function and only record video when it detects movement, such as a car or a pedestrian passing within it’s field of view. Also, if the camera detects that the car has moved, either from a collision, or by someone tampering with it, it will again record a video to capture as much evidence as possible.
Dash cams take their power from the cigarette lighter in your car. When your vehicle ignition is turned on, power is delivered to the cigarette lighter and the car camera will be activated. This car be done neatly by routing the cable around your windscreen and ensures that your camera is recording whenever you’re driving. But how about when you’re not driving? With many cameras offering parking protection, your camera will require a power supply while your ignition is turned off. Some cameras overcome this issue with an internal battery, and while the lifespan might not be huge, they can have enough charge to last for several hours. One other alternative is to hard-wire the camera to your vehicles electrical supply or to ensure that your cigarette lighter remains powered at all times. Note: We recommend that all electrical work is carried out be a professional.
As well as offering high-quality video recording, some car cameras also enable you to take photos as well. This can be highly useful in the case of an accident as it allows you to capture additional detail such as the other drivers involved, damage to the vehicles and photos of the scene. These images can be extracted from the memory card in the same way as the video footage.
Most dash cams will accept either an SD card, or a micro SD card. These tiny cards are most commonly available with 8, 16, 32 or 64 gigabytes of capacity but not all cameras will accept the larger sizes so be sure to check the technical specifications. Thanks to loop recording even the smaller capacity cards can take along time to fill up as the camera will keep overwriting older, uneventful videos for as long as possible. Only once the memory is full of ‘locked’ files, which are locked because they have usually captured something of interest, will the card be full. However, we recommend that you adjust your camera’s sensitivity settings to limit the number of locked files being created and move video files to your pc or mac regularly to ensure you have space on your memory card when you really need it!
Several camera ranges come with bespoke software that lets you view your files complete with the additional detail captured by the camera. As well as viewing your videos, you will usually be able to see a map of the area you were in when the video was recorded, the speed you were travelling at the time, the time and date and the G-forces acting on your vehicle at the time. All of this information helps you to build a detailed picture of the events leading up to, and following, any incident. You can also manage your files, saving and deleting as necessary, to ensure you keep your important videos safe.
While many car cameras lack a screen in order to reduce size and cost, this means that it can be difficult to navigate menus and impossible to view your videos without the aid of a home computer. Mobile apps, often available for both iPhones and Android handsets, offer immediate access to your video files while you’re in your vehicle and enable you to manage your cameras settings.
Screens enable you to view your recorded video files and navigate menu systems to assist in the setting up of your device. This can make your camera much more accessible and user-friendly. It’s important to note however, that in accordance with Article 109 of The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986, it’s illegal for LCD screens to be visible to the driver during transit, unless they’re providing information about the vehicle, it’s location or are a driving aid. Car cameras account for this by either having fold away screens, as in the case of the SmartCam 2 HD or have the option to turn the screen off, like the X3000.
Multi, or dual-lens cameras, feature a rear-facing camera as well as a forward-facing one to record the interior of the vehicle while also monitoring the road ahead. This functionality lends itself neatly to taxi drivers hoping to monitor passenger activity or fleet managers who want to keep a record of driver behaviour. Alternatively, some cameras such as the Mi-Witness HD, offer the ability to mount the second lens elsewhere in the vehicle, separate from the main camera, often facing out of the rear window to capture activity on the road behind.
Wide Angle Lenses
To ensure that as much activity and information as possible is captured on video, car cameras use wide angle lenses. These ensure that any evidence recorded includes activity that occurs not just directly in front of your vehicle but to the sides as well, and many cameras boast around a 120 degree horizontal viewing angle. While wider angle cameras are available, this can lead to distortion at the edges of the video footage which could potentially render vital information such as number plates difficult to read.
While many car cameras use their internal G-sensors to detect incidents in which your vehicle is involved, you may also wish to record activity which this mechanism doesn’t detect but that you may like to keep a record of. This could include road traffic accidents that occur on the road ahead of you or examples of road rage. On these occasions, some dash cams offer emergency recording which will lock the current video file and keep it safe from overwriting. This is usually activated by a simple button that it within easy reach of the driver for ease of use.
Most cameras allow the video files to be stamped with the date and time that they were recorded and this information is usually displayed in the corner of the video when it is played back. This basic, but crucial, piece of information can help to validate your video evidence if it is called upon. While the process of setting the time and date is different for each model of camera, for this reason it’s important that you set this correctly.
To increase the effectiveness of video capture in low-light conditions, some cameras feature LEDs which activate to illuminate the surroundings with infra-red (IR) light. The camera also features an IF filter to pick up this additional detail giving clearer night-time video. The effectiveness of this mechanism can be limited in forward-facing dash cam applications as the windscreen can often create IR ‘glare’.
Most car cameras mount to your vehicles windscreen with either a suction cup or an adhesive pad. Both methods will hold your dash cam firmly in-place when in transit, but only the suction mount is easily removable; although most adhesive mounts do allow you to detach the camera unit, leaving the mount in place. Whether or not you wish to remove your camera regularly is a personal choice, with some choosing to leave their unit in place to benefit from security LEDs and parking protection and others preferring to remove their cameras when they leave their vehicle. Both mount types will adjustment of the camera to ensure it is positioned appropriately by incorporating a ball joint or other similar mechanism. It’s important to note the positioning of your camera and to be aware of the legality of mounting objects upon your windscreen. Read our detailed guide about car camera mounts for more information.