If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Dashcam Cometh

Ordered on Friday, arrived today (Tuesday).  That's pretty good, considering it was the weekend.  As I said before, there are many of these cameras on eBay, most being sold from Hong Kong or China, but I chose to buy from a seller near Cardiff.  It's still a Chinese product (I am sure of this from the garbled instruction 'manual'), but at least it got here quickly and it's giving someone relatively local a bit of business.  The seller was South_Park_Shop_2013, and I have no complaints about the transaction.

First impression, it works (phew).  Second impression is that it's a damn sight better quality than it has any right to be, considering the price (£22.95 with free P&P).  The slip of paper that contains the instructions needs a bit of interpretation, but it was enough to guide me through the setup and basic operation.  First job was to mount it on the screen, and I've got it to sit just below the rear view mirror so that it doesn't get in the way too much.

It comes with a car charger, and the lead is both heavy-duty and about a mile long, and visually that is the only negative: there's a lot of it dangling about and it seems to coil round the gear lever like a drunken snake. However, that is something that can be addressed in due course.  The view from the driver's seat is not too badly obtruded:

The little 2.5" screen is very useful for getting the aim right, and it will fold away if I feel I no longer need it.  It's taken me a while to get a really firm mounting from all the swivels and joints, and I probably don't need the screen any more, but it's still a novelty, so it's staying for now. The image is small but clear:

Some initial observations about it in  use:
  • It's of fairly flimsy construction (obviously) and there's a persistent rattle from the audio playback which sounds like a dog chewing lego.  There's nothing in the car to make that rattle, so it must come from the casing itself.  Not a big deal, considering the price.
  • Colour rendition is fair only.  There's little saturation and everything looks greyish, and also bright light sources burn it out easily: green traffic lights look like oncoming headlights.  But it's certainly good enough for the purpose, which is to provide a record of what goes on around the Nowheremobile.
  • The wide angle of the lens (120 deg) captures a lot of action, but it has the side-effect of making the drive seem faster than it really is.  In the sample below, parts of it look like a stage of the World Rally Championships, but in reality it was a very calm and legal drive.
  • You can choose how big the recording segments are - 2, 5 or 15 minutes.  I have selected 5 to start with and this seems to work OK.  When the card is full (it takes a standard SD card, with a maximum of 32GB), it starts to overwrite the oldest file.  For the purpose, this seems a very practical arrangement.  In the case of an accident, you would only be interested in the final 30 seconds or so of the most recent segment.  However, there is a delay of about 3 seconds between the recording of the segments, during which nothing is recorded, so it makes sense to keep the segments as long as practical.
I am using a 1GB card at the moment, and this is probably plenty.  Using the VGA setting (lowest quality), a 15-minute drive used half the card's capacity, suggesting a ratio of 30 minutes per GB.  For the purpose of recording a scenic journey, it would make sense to have a much larger card and record in 15-minute chunks, but for simple traffic monitoring the 1GB card will do.  (However, I notice that Currys are doing a two-pack of Sandisk 16GB cards for twenty quid at the moment, so I am going to get one of those for the dashcam and use the other for my still camera.)

Here's a sample, recorded today in the pouring rain while coming back from getting some bits and bobs in Halfords.  It's not intended to be interesting or sexy, so don't get the beers in and make a night of it, but it shows a fair example of what it will do.  (There's a nice watersplash at 4.00.)  I recorded this on the WXGA setting (1280 X 960) but the actual output isn't significantly better than the VGA (640 x 480) I tried at first, and the higher pixel count seems to make the motion a bit jerky, so I think I will revert to VGA for the time being.

There seems no reason why I can't mount it on the bike, although I think it will take a bit of ingenuity.  But there's no way it will be weather-proof, and taking it out today would have drowned it.  But come the summer ... It could be a cheap way of getting some on-bike footage, as a way of deciding whether it is worthwhile splashing the cash for a GoPro or something equally decent.

And another thing: it has IR illumination for night-time and a motion detection setting.  I've been thinking about getting a wildlife camera to put in the garden at night, so tonight I think I am going to point it gardenwards with the IR on and see who visits.

Good so far.


  1. An interesting "Road Test Report" Richard.

    Particularly as you also give the output video-clip, too.

    You should have wangled a 10% introductory-fee!

  2. Given that you have the camera in case of an accident, would there be a benefit if the camera was moved further back in the car to capture the dash? Just wondering out loud...

    The video quality is amazing considering the cost. Nice report.

    1. Thank you. As for showing the dash, wouldn't that include a view of the speedometer? That may not be a good thing ...

      Practically speaking, there is simply no place to mount it that would give a view of the dashboard. I take your point, though.

  3. Richard:

    that video is very clear for such a low cost unit. I'm not used to driving on the wrong side of the street

    Riding the Wet Coast

    1. There is no right or wrong side. It's just a convention which hedge you dive for when the other guy won't give way :)

  4. I agree with Bob, pretty darn good quality for that price point.

    I still can't get used to seeing folks drive on the left side of the road. Normal for you, but it feels weird to me.

    1. It must be strange for you, as most of the world does it your way. Many people here drive or ride in Europe, so we get used to the 'wrong side of the road' thing pretty quickly. It takes me about 20 minutes to acclimatise in a car, and less on a bike. In fact, on a bike it's no problem at all, and you even get a hand free to wave at other riders.

  5. Looks like the opening credits for "Hell Drivers".

    I've ordered one from the supplier who did well for you, but it's very likely to end up in pieces....

    1. if you can work a digital camera (menu/up/down/select, etc) you can work this.

      I'm definitely going to mount it on the bike when I get a nice dry day. With the speed amplification effect, it should make an awesome white-knuckle ride for any non-biking viewers.

    2. Taken to pieces, not broken! Cheap Chinese video devices that actually work sometimes have intersting components in them....

    3. Sorry, thought you meant you would break it! There is certainly a working camera in there, but I tried with the IR setting and motion detection at night, and nothing was recorded. Can't have everything, I suppose.

  6. You did well to find the exit of the car park - I got trapped at Reading services a few weeks ago in a gaint maze...

    Next time please give a commentatary and publish as a vlog!

  7. Replies
    1. I think they do it on purpose to drum up business for the Travelodge there. And I like 'commentatary'. It sounds edumacated.

  8. I'm planning to do Travelodge tour of Wales - which one is that?

    1. I was talking about Reading services. Travelodges near here are Pembroke Dock and St Clears. Not sure either are worth a visit per se, but may be useful on a tour.

    2. I was thinking abot Porthmagggggog in the north and somewhere in the south for an extended weekend jaunt. I'm sampling the exotic Bangor T/L when I go to Thundersprint in Anglesey in April. I know how to live...

  9. Jeg tror jeg kender denne vej.
    Mange knus Peer.
    Den store viking.

  10. (Peer, the big Viking, thinks he knows this road. He does.)

    Peer, det er godt at høre fra dig. Ja, det er vejen til mit hus. Lykkelige dage! Mange knus, og store knus til Ruth. Anna sender sin kærlighed.

    Richard, den store mand fra Yorkshire.


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