We wrote this article to educate those wanting to learn about the basics of dash cameras. Please note: we aim to remain completely unbiased and do not make any specific recommendations or references to particular brands & products. We strive to provide an educational insight on all relevant information for readers pertaining to dashcams, along with the primary purpose of enhancing and developing a more thorough understanding for the broader community.
WHAT IS A DASH CAM?
A Dash Cam is basically a portable and specialised camera that attaches to the vehicle’s interior windscreen or dashboard by either via the supplied suction cup mount or adhesive tape mount. These dashcams basically continuously record whilst the vehicle is in motion, turned on or driven on the roadway. These devices are also known as a In Car Camera, Dash Camera, Car DVR or Automotive Blackbox Recorder. The use of dashcams have been popularised in mainstream media and online social media channels based on countless video footage of events occurring almost frequently on the Russian roads. See also: Russians and DashCams.
TYPES OF DASHCAMS?
There are different types of dashcam models that vary in size and colour, overall their primary purpose is to record events that occur outside the vehicle (and sometimes inside the vehicle based on some models). Generally there are two types of dash cameras which are broken up into the following categories: (1) Front facing dash camera or ‘one channel’ product. These dashcams typically mount on the front windscreen or dashboard whilst facing forward and capturing events and everything within sight. (2) Dual ‘two channel’ front and rear dash camera. In addition to the front facing camera, there is also a secondary camera which mounts at the back of the vehicle to provide coverage of all events happening behind the vehicle. (3) Four way channel dashcams, in addition to the front and rear cameras, there are also one affixed to the left and right side of the vehicle.
The dual cameras simultaneously record and store these videos onto one centralised memory card slot or with some newer models capable of storing these files individually. From experience, commercial vehicles such as truck transport or major logistic companies often tend to use multi-channel products.
HOW DO DASHCAMS WORK?
Believe it or not, using a dash camera does not require any technical expertise. In general there are four main components from ‘out of the box’ package that is needed to get this working. These include: (1) the dash camera (2) Memory card (3) power connection cable and (4) suction cup or tape mount. Basically, insert the memory card into the camera then ensure the supporting mount is attached to the camera. Following this attach this mount onto the windscreen and plug the connection cable from the dashcam into the cigarette lighter or 12v port for power. Then simply sit back, relax and go on about driving everyday as you would and knowing that you are protected by your own personal eye-witness.
When the vehicle is active and in motion, the dashcam captures everything within sight onto the external SD or microSD memory card. This recording process is usually automated and starts the second or minute your engine is turned on (provided power is connected from the camera to the outlet). When the engine is turned off, or vehicle is no longer in motion then basically the dash camera stops operating or recording. For some older models they may use a lithium battery which may last for up to 2.5 hours without connection to any direct power outlet.
Almost all dashcam models generally records in incremental segments of either 1, 3, or 5 minute files. The reason for these specific file sizes is to allow for a quick and effective means of access when needing to play back media files, oppose to referring to a specific file which may of been recording for 1 hour straight (thus the large file size). This also reduces computer memory usage and direct means of getting to the file without ease. Upon the memory card being exhausted and used up, most dashcams have an internal loop-function mode enabling the camera to automatically overwrite the oldest file and continuously record.
At any stage you need to refer to the videos, basically take the memory card out and insert this into your computer to playback the media files. Alternatively if your dash camera has a screen then simply select and playback the files using the toggle buttons associated with the product. Some of the smaller, newer and discreet models (with no LCD screen) have a WiFi (wireless) enabled option allowing you to to connect to your camera from your smartphone to stream back the video files. Generally these newer models are compatible with Apple iPhone and Android Devices.
In general, the following technical jargon applies to most (if not all) modern and later dashcam models. Some of these features are fairly standard.
- Video Resolution: VGA, HD, Full HD
VGA is the lowest quality video resolution output. HD is High Definition and Full HD is Full High Definition. The output lens of dashcams are either of the following optics; 1, 1.3, 2, 5, or 12 mega pixels CMOS.
- Wide Viewing Angles:
A wide angle lens features a viewing angle of about 120 to 180 degrees.
- GPS (Global Positioning System):
Most dashcams come with either an inbuilt GPS receiver or have an optional external GPS module that allows the camera to capture the speed and location details.
- Loop/Cycle Recording
Dashcams don’t generally record everything in one file segment, instead usually record in either 1, 2, 5 or 8 minute intervals. Once the memory card reaches full maximum capacity, this option enables the camera to recycle and record over the earliest file rather than delete everything.
- Motion Detection / Parking mode:
When vehicle is parked or stationary, the motion detection feature activates upon detecting an external movement. This is particularly useful for capturing vandals.
- Time and Date Stamp:
The time and date is permanently marked onto the video to show when the video was recorded. This option can be turned on or off.
- G-Sensor (Gravity Sensor):
If any impact occurs or irregular movement of the vehicle is detected, the G-Sensor will activate and protect the previous, current and next video files automatically. By doing so, this prevents the loop recycling function to write over or delete the files.
- Automatic On / Off:
The DashCam will automatically start recording once the vehicle ignition is turned off. Once the ignition is turned off, the dashcam will stop recording.
- Still Picture Camera:
This feature basically enables the dashcam to take photos and stores this onto the memory card.
- Audio Recording:
Records all audio and sounds within range of the dashcam. Generally captures audio within the interior of vehicle.
- Night Vision:
Most dashcams are capable of capturing videos in low light conditions either through advanced technology or via infrared.
- Bracket Mount Types:
The common bracket mounts for dashcams are either suction mount with easy release button, or adhesive mount sticks which provide more stability.
- High Definition Recording:
High-definition video recording & 1, 1.3, 2, 5, or 12 Mega pixels CMOS
- WDR (Wide Dynamic Range):
WDR technology enables the dashcam to automatically adjust and enhance its recording exposure to better capture video files in low light conditions.
- File Compression:
Dashcams generally capture video files and utilise the H.264 compression technology. This is superior to other formats as this allows for more high resolution files to be saved onto the memory card.
WIRING and POWER?
Typically dashcams are powered by the vehicle’s cigarette port outlet as mentioned. The inclusion of this cable is generally about 4 metres or more in length. The reason for this particular length is to allow for the cables (which run from the mounted windscreen or dashboard) to be hidden or tucked under the interior pillar, and connected directly to the power outlet. By doing so, provides for more of a tidy and discreet installation. Bear in mind, to ensure the least possible obstruction, the cables should run from the windscreen and along the front passenger side to the power outlet. Not only doing so is better for presentation and more so in the event the cables become loose, there are less possibilities to cause visionary obstruction or distraction to the driver operating the motor vehicle.
The alternative installation method is through hard wiring the dashcam directly to the car or vehicle battery fuse box. The hard-wiring kit is generally sold separately as an accessory and requires a qualified auto-electrician to properly install this. Some more recent dashcam models no longer operate from the cigarette power outlet and may require a direct hard wired installation.
The advantages of having a hard-wired installation is so to enable dashcams (which support ‘parking mode’ , ‘surveillance mode’ or ‘motion detection mode’) to provide continuous recordings even when the vehicle ignition is turned off. The power wiring kits vary for each respective model, and may also be known or refereed to as; UPS (uninterrupted power supply) or power prevention discharge device. Do note, these devices are generally engineered to cut off upon reaching a certain voltage, that way the camera does not drain the car battery.
WHO USES DASHCAMS?
You may be surprised law enforcement agencies such as the New South Wales Police Highway Patrol and each respective traffic enforcement agency across the country for have years utilised in car video systems to capture, record and retain these videos for evidential purposes and presentations at court. Other organisations such as the fire brigade, ambulance and state transit buses have also been using these dash cameras for a variety of reasons. More recently as demands for dashcams are now prominent, everyone from everyday individuals, to families and various business organisations have started to adopt the usage of dashcams to protect their assets, manage their logistics, fleet vehicles and dispute any litigation, insurance or liability claims.
BENEFITS OF DASHCAMS?
Apart from what we’ve highlighted above, there are also other reasons which may be beneficial for having a dashcam. Whether it be to protect yourself, family, assets, or to capture bad drivers on the roadway, dashcams provide irrefutable video evidence in the event something goes wrong for example, car crash disputes and insurance scams.
In addition just don’t be surprised if you come across a plane crash, flying meteor, marriage proposal or fake insurance scam (as they’ve all been captured and published by road users in Russia). All and all, there are a vast number of interesting and amazing events which occur almost daily on the roads and it is evident more vehicles are installing dashcams. Today, dashcams are used almost exclusively by drivers in America and South East Asian.
You may surprised most high-end dashcams have an inbuilt or optional GPS module accessory that enables the dashcam to capture the speed, location and coordinates of the motor vehicle. The logging of such details can be played back showing the speed the vehicle was traveling a the time, along with real-time location movements of where the vehicle has been. In summary we’ll also draw a quick glimpse on the following benefits;
- Automatic and continuous recording of both visual events and audio
- Key evidence to dispute motor vehicle collision and any wrong-doing
- Provides refutable video evidence to police, insurance companies and court.
- Safety and protective mechanism against reckless drivers and people
- Promote road safety and reduce road trauma through raising awareness
- Analyse Speed / Time / Date and Location of driver using vehicle
- Surveillance through motion detection or parking when away from vehicle
- Effective and efficient management of logistical fleet vehicle maintenance
- Evidence of any on road activity (accidents, theft, pedestrian activity etc)
Recently, there have been emerging cases where people have been successful in disputing liability over vehicle collisions with motor insurance companies and within the court of law. For instance, this article outlines how a taxi driver in Panama ran the red light and collided with a driver equipped with the dash cam. Subsequently, the matter went before the court and the judge handed down his verdict in favour of the driver. Ultimately, the taxi driver was fined, and directed to pay all costs and repairs etc. Also not to mention everyone including the judge was impressed with the form of video evidence!
IS USING DASHCAMS LEGAL?
In Australia, there are no are specific references under each respective Australian Road Transport Legislation or Australian Road Rules that stipulate or prohibit the use of in car cameras. Generally recording of the public roadway is allowed, and as long as the recording is not infringing upon ones personal privacy in which may be deemed inappropriate or incriminating within the court of law. Pertaining to the recording of audio, under the Commonwealth or Telecommunications legislation, it may be illegal to record any audio conversation of people without their knowledge or consent. Therefore, in any case it is recommended to disable the microphone, or formally advise upon interacting with any individuals that the recording of audio is taking place.
Upon reading this article, we hope we’ve been helpful and provided you (the reader) with all the basic, necessary and essential information to equip you with a better and much more thorough appreciation on using a dashcam.