This is the excellent USB power pack I use when I travel.
2 x 2.1amp outputs. 8400mAh capacity.
Two digit Led display shows battery level
What SD CARD should I buy?
If you want an SD Card for your camera - these are the ones I use and recommend.
I'd strongly recommend not to buy any SD cards off ebay - I've heard about too many issues with counterfeit cards - often sold on by unwitting resellers. My inbox regularly gets messages from people who bought a £150 camera then cheaped out and bought a £3 memory card on ebay - Then when it doesn't worth they blame the camera! It doesn't make any sense. Good memory is cheaper than it's ever been - see the links above.
A lot of HD cameras will not work properly with cards larger than 32GB (cards over 32GB are usually SDXC rather than the SDHC standard used by 32GB cards. SDXC cards use the ex-FAT system rather than FAT32 - in short they are a different standard). - so don't just buy the biggest card you can afford - read the specs in the manual to see what it accepts.
VERY IMPORTANT. These links go to the product, but Amazon have three different ways of selling. There's Amazon Direct - This means that you are only dealing with Amazon themselves, then there's other sellers that use Amazon's facilities - these show as Fulfilled By Amazon and finally there's Market place sellers that advertise on Amazon, but operate independently. I strongly recommend that you only use the first...the Amazon Direct - Sold By Amazon option. Even if it appears that you are paying a couple of £/$ more it is more than likely you are comparing the going rate for a real item against the price of a fake one that won't work.
As an example of the extent of the problem of fake goods online...In a recent survey by Apple - 90% of the 'Apple' chargers sold by Amazon - using the other the two methods..which includes the "Fulfilled by Amazon" option - were found to be counterfeit....90%!
A dashcam is an accident camera - like a aircraft black box flight recorder - it’s only useful when something happens. It is designed to function without any need for manual intervention. The vast majority of dashcams are powered by a standard 5V USB power supply…this power is provided by the vehicle accessory/lighter/cigar socket. A car will usually provide 12V through this socket, therefore the dashcam is supplied with a lead that converts the car 12V to the 5V that a dashcam needs. Most cars only turn their accessory socket on when the ignition is turned on. Dashcams utilise this feature by starting recording video when the power is turned on and stopping recording when the power is turned off. By doing this, the camera is only recording when the car is in use. Some cars act slightly differently (e.g. my Mini turns on it’s accessory socket when I unlock the car and turns it off 5 minutes after I lock the car) - your car may be different. It is worth finding out how your accessory socket operates before buying a dashcam. Do this by plugging in an accessory that lights up when powered - then see how it is affected by the operation of your ignition or the locking of your vehicle.
Looping Video/Recycled Video
Dashcams use memory cards (usually MicroSD aka TF cards). After just a few hours a memory card will get full of video. To avoid you having to pull the car over to delete files and free up room on the card, a dashcam automatically loops over the video. To enable this a dashcam records in short segments e.g. two minutes, so in this example after an hour of driving your card would have thirty, two minute video segments on it. When the card is full - the oldest two minute segment would be replaced by a new file - and your card keeps writing over the oldest file with the current one. This way you can keep driving indefinitely and always have the last few hours of driving video stored on your memory card.
When a dashcam is permanently powered - you don’t want it to record 15 hours of video of the inside of your garage wall every day. Motion activation ensures that it only records video when it sees motion. On some cameras this means that the video will pause every now and then. Many people mistakenly unnecessarily turn on the motion activation feature when they have the camera wired into a switched power supply (see Auto Start/Stop above) - this is a common cause of confusion about a camera's functionality. It is recommended you only switch on the Motion Activation feature if you have a continuous power supply - there is no need to use it with a switched power supply.
Most dashcams have an emergency button - usually labeled with a Warning Triangle. When you press this it adds a lock flag on the video file currently being recorded. Sometimes it creates a new file that consists of video a few seconds before and after you pressed the button and puts this in a separate folder on the memory card. The purpose of this is to prevent this video being overwritten when the memory card is full. So if you are driving along and see something interesting you want to keep and perhaps share later - if you press the emergency button this file will be easy to find later as it will either be in a different folder on the memory card or have a different name. It will also remain on your memory card until you manually delete it - either through an option in the menus or by fomatting the whole card. There is often a limit on the number of emergency files a camera will store.
The G-sensor works like the emergency button, but automatically. The camera contains a sensor that detects motion. When the camera detects a physical shock, e.g. an impact - it will lock the video file currently being recorded (and often ensure that a set period of video before and after the impact is also locked). You can usually alter the sensitivity of the g-sensor to low, medium, high or off using a menu option. A hard suspension and a road full of pot-holes can often set a g-sensor off. To avoid filling my memory card up with locked files I usually have to set the sensitivity to Low. Sometimes turning the G-Sensor off can have a knock-on effect on disabling other features of a camera, so if possible leave it on.
Parking mode features are becoming more common in dashcams. Newer cameras can switch into parking mode automatically when they detect a lack of movement for a few minutes (usually via the g-sensors). In parking mode some cameras will start recording time-lapse video (e.g. one frame of video per second) this avoids filling up a memory card with stationary footage. Some cameras will enter a motion activated mode - either looking for motion or sensing it via the g-sensors and some will listen out for a loud noise. Parking mode only works when a camera has a constant power supply as any battery inside a camera is insufficient for powering a camera for more than a few minutes.
Whilst driving you won't want a distracting illuminated LCD screen on your windscreen. Dashcams will automatically blank their display after a predetermined number of seconds. The settings for this feature are in the screensaver menu.
Some countries/regions deliver 60hz electricity while some use 50hz. A camera set to 60hz recording in the UK (which is 50hz) might record a flicker on some street lights and signs (due to being out of sync)…setting it to 50hz could eliminate this. In practice this setting usually has little practical effect and unless flickering is noticed, can usually be ignored.
Wide Dynamic Range is a setting that is sometimes activated by default, that enables the camera to capture more detail when an image contains areas of both high and low brightness…e.g. driving towards a low sun or on a tree covered lane. In my experience it’s worth turning on and leaving on.
You can sometimes overlay a small amount of text on a video to enable you to identify the source of the video at a later date. It is most common to put a vehicle registration number in the Car ID text field.
A feature common on many dash cams. A GPS enabled camera will store data alongside the video files that can be used to display location, speed, direction etc. This data can often also be overlaid on the video itself. GPS data is of limited use to some and is essential to others. If you can’t see why you would need it then often you can opt for a cheaper non-gps version of a camera. A word of warning, if your GPS data showed you were driving 45mph in a 40 mph speed limit at the time of a crash, it would weaken your case for not being at blame.
LDWS / FCWS
This are features that are routinely added to dash cams because they come at no additional cost to the manufacturers whenever a camera has GPS functionality…they are value added extras. Lane Detection Warning system will sound an alert if the camera detects you are straying from your lane….and Forward Collision Warning System will do the same if it detects you are too close to the car in front. In the real world these featues give too many false positives to be considered useful and most people deactivate them and resort back to looking out of the window to see what they are driving at - which is more sensible than putting your life in the hands of a novelty feature added at no cost to a cheap dashcam.
Hard Wiring/Constant Power Source
Parking mode features are usually only available when the camera is constantly powered. Some cars supply constant power to their accessory socket even when the ignition is switched off. A dashcam plugged into one of these will continue to draw power until the car battery is flat - although some cameras sense the battery is low and will switch off.
If you want to provide constant power to a dashcam but you have a switched power supply in your car (one that turns on when the ignition is on and off when the ignition is off) you will need to hard wire your camera. There are a number of options, connect it to your fusebox using a fuse-tap (or similar device) - wire it up to the battery or use a battery pack.
One accessory for dashcams is an external battery pack. These will power the camera when the car ignition is turned off and automatically recharge when the ignition is on. I have tested one of these called the Cellink B - I still use this in one of my cars. As this is quite expensive, many many people regularly suggest to me that you could just use a standard USB battery pack instead (although few have said that they do this themselves). If you want to try it - there are a few things to consider before just buying any old USB battery pack. The Cellink B charges at the same time as also providing power to a dashcam, so you will need to find a USB battery pack that can be simultaneously charged and also provide power to attached devices otherwise when you are driving your dashcam will be turned off. The Cellink B will also charge at 7amps which means that a 15 minute drive will charge it enough to power a dashcam for 10 hours. A normal USB battery pack will usually charge at 2.1 amps which would store enough power for approx 3 hours of parked up dashcam use. Many standard USB battery packs won't provide power to attached devices without you first having to turn them on by pressing a button...not ideal for a dashcam that you just want to work automatically. So depending on the battery pack you buy, and the amount you drive you may find a normal USB battery pack works for you, but I can't give any promises.
Batteries do not like getting hot.
In warmer/sunnier countries the interior of a car can get extremely hot. If you live in one of these places it is strongly recommended you buy a dashcam that uses a capacitor rather than a battery. Incidentally a capacitor system is also recommended for cameras used in very cold climates too. I’ll always state whether a dashcam uses a battery or a capacitor if this information is available.
What does the capacitor do?
A capacitor holds a storage of power, just like a battery, albeit for only a few seconds. This is enough to keep powering the camera long enough for it to automatically switch off by stopping the recording in a controlled manner and save the current video file to the memory card. Without a capacitor or battery if you yanked the power cable out, the current video file being recording would be lost and the memory card could get corrupted. As this is a strong possibility in an accident, you would lose the footage of the crash. For this reason every dashcam contains a battery or a super capacitor to store enough power to power down the camera.
USB Ports in Cars
Some people make the mistake of plugging a dashcam into the USB port in a car. The USB port in cars is commonly connected to the sound system so that you can playback a USB stick full of music. When you plug a dashcam into this, the camera will see it as a computer and enter USB file transfer mode…this means that it wont be recording. If you want to use your own USB lead - plug it into a USB power adaptor plugged into the accessory port and avoid using the built-in USB port.
Video Playback Issues
The most common comment I’ve received by far is from people who say that a dashcam isn’t working because the video isn’t playing back on their computer - the sound is coming through but the video is blank, or the video is jerky and corrupted. In every case (with no exceptions - yet) these people are playing the video back on a Windows PC and they do not have the correct codecs installed to play that type of video file. The ‘K-Lite Codec Pack’ is the one stop shop for getting all the codecs required installed onto a Windows PC. If you don’t like the idea of installing codecs - you could try using VLC - the Video Lan Client to play them instead - but in the long run, you’ll end up needed those codecs at some point, so might as well bite the bullet and just install them anyway.
Length of Video Segments
One common question is from people who don’t want short segments of video - they want to record the journey as one long file. The short answer is that you don’t want a dashcam. There are a few reasons - imagine you could record a journey as one file and you drove from 9AM to 3PM and you had a crash at 2:50 You’d have to copy a multi GB file across to your computer and then find the part of the video where you had the crash. You’d then need to get an editing package to cut that section of video out. Much easier to have a dashcam record in 2 minute segments, look for the file labeled 02:50 and copy that small file to your computer. There are other limitations too - the FAT file system used by most dashcams has a file size limit of 4GB, so that is the maximum size of file that most dashcams could record (if they even let you). One other reason not to use large file sizes is that it takes more processing time to delete a 4GB file than it does a 200MB one - that could mean that the camera has a second or so delay between deleting a file and freeing up space to start recording the next one, during this time the camera wouldn’t be recording and could miss an accident. Another reason for not recording large file sizes is that every time you delete one, you’re deleting hours of footage rather than just a couple of minutes, so your memory card instead of having the last 5 hours of video on it will only have the last couple of hours at any one time. In short….dashcams are Accident Cameras - if you want to record a full scenic journey in real-time - get an action camera, or a video camera, but not a dashcam.
Copying files to your computer
Some dashcams can be connected to your computer, on other cameras the USB port is just there to provide power and will not supply data to a computer. A regular cause of confusion is when a Windows computer doesn’t ‘see’ a camera that is plugged into it. There is one very simple solution that takes away all these problems. Use a USB card reader. I always get files off dashcams by taking out the memory card and putting it in a a USB SD Card reader. In the UK you can get a USB card reader from most pound shops that works just fine and I’d expect the same goes for Dollar and Euro shops. It’s a small price to pay to avoid hours of messing about with drivers and cables.
The first thing you should do when you put a memory card in a camera is to format it using the onscreen menus or accompanying app. You shouldn’t format it in a computer as these often use a different format (e.g. NTFS). However if you’ve already done this and you find that your camera cannot read the card now, you’ll need to put the car in a computer and re-format it as FAT32 before trying to re-format it again in the camera. You should also re-format the card using the camera ever month or two, as the constant re-writing over the card will eventually cause problems. Despite being solid state, memory cards due have a maximum re-write capability, after which they start to become corrupted.
The number one problem by far that people have with dashcams is when they buy ‘fake’, slow or faulty memory cards. I'd strongly recommend not to buy any SD cards off ebay - I've heard about too many issues with counterfeit cards - often sold on by unwitting resellers. My inbox regularly gets messages from people who bought a £150 camera then cheap out and bought a £3 memory card on ebay - Then when it doesn't worth they blame the camera! It doesn't make any sense. Good memory is cheaper than it's ever been - just spend the small amount of money it takes to get a decent quality 32GB card from a reputable source. I use Samsung 32GB Class 10 cards - links are available on Techmoan.com (look in the right hand panel). A lot of cameras will not work properly with cards larger than 32GB (cards over 32GB are usually SDXC rather than the SDHC standard used by 32GB cards. SDXC cards use the ex-FAT system rather than FAT32 - in short they are a different standard). - so don't just buy the biggest card you can afford - read the specs in the manual to see what a camera accepts. If you want to see if your card is fake - search for a piece of software called H2testw 1.4
Some people with DAB radios report that they experience radio interference after installing a dashcam (specifically with DAB radios in the UK). I have a DAB radio in my car and haven’t had any issues - however I have a tip that might (just might) help. I very rarely use the USB power supply that comes with the cheaper cameras I’m testing - they are often cheaply made and poorly shielded for electrical interference and in some cases they are just plain dangerous. In my car I have a good quality (thick) USB lead routed around the top of the car, down the pillar, across the floor and into a dual 2.1amp output Griffin 12V to 5V USB adaptor plugged into the accessory socket. It’s a quality cable and a quality USB adaptor…and I have no interference on the radio. However it’s probably as much down to the placement of the radio aerial as much as anything.
Dashcams with GPS often get their time from the GPS satellite, however depending on your position in the world you’ll usually also need to change a setting in your camera to tell it how far ahead or behind your local time zone is compared to UTC. If you don’t do this it may also affect your GPS location - e.g. showing you in the middle of the sea.
GPS Playback software
The go-to Windows package was Registrator Viewer. As new cameras were released with slightly different methods of strong GPS data the software required regular updates. Unfortunately it was reported that the Russian programmer of Registrator Viewer was killed in a motorcycle accident so the software hasn’t been updated in some time and can also be difficult to find. The best Mac software is Dashcam Viewer by Earthcam Software.
Long Term Reliability
Imagine you got a nice new £1500 Sony DSLR camera - put it on a car dashboard, plugged it into a charger and left it to record continuously throught the year, through freezing winter, baking summer, humid days, damp days, how long do you think it could work for before failing... weeks, months or years? What would go first, the battery, the electronics, the seal on the lenses, it's asking a lot. Most people would care for an expensive DSLR camera, carry it around in a case, avoid dropping it, wouldn't leave it out in the sun for 12 hours a day or in a cold shed over winter...but that’s what a dashcam has to do and it’s a wonder that any camera can last for a few months never mind years.
In the past I've spent £1000 on a video camera that's been on a couple of holidays recorded perhaps a hundred hours of video before upgrading to a new one, a dashcam will do that much work in a week
However many people spending £60 on a dashcam think it should work forever. It won’t. It will break - probably sooner rather than later. So when you buy a dashcam don’t assume you have a new companion for life. I have no idea how long your camera will last (a lot of that depends on your situation) however if it has been a few months since I did a review on a camera it might be worth reading through the comments to see if people are reporting issues. Generally though a very cheap camera will not be as well made and will not last as long as a more expensive one. However no camera can last forever, so it’s probably best to look for a camera at a price that you could afford to replace say every 18 months. This is why I concentrate more now on sub £100 cameras.
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