Dashboard Camera Final Thoughts
Dash cameras are nothing new, but the lens/sensor technology and convenience features help elevate the latest generation of devices to a level beyond previous offerings. There’s no doubt that vehicle recorders will ease fears when dealing with insurance claims or law enforcement, and based on my short time testing the PAPAGO! GoSafe 272, I’m confident vehicle recorders will contribute to numerous online videos that capture road-rage and other driving un-pleasantries.
There have been several close calls recorded, and far too many times where other drivers were captured behaving dangerously to the point of nearly causing an accident. In one incident this year a driver got out of his vehicle to confront another motorist beside me, but when I pointed directly at the dash cam high on my windshield the angry driver returned to his vehicle. It’s possible he changed his mind, but it’s more likely the camera changed it for him.
The only perceivable downside to having a vehicle recorder is the minor obstruction caused by the camera. I was able to alleviate this distraction by hiding it behind the far side of my rear-view mirror, but this still exposes the USB cord that hangs below the camera. The camera’s profile is smaller (shorter) then others we’ve tested, and so is the mounting hardware. The compact size reduces the chance of this dash cam interfering with my vision.
Image Sensors and Resolution
Most consumers are not also camera experts. Manufacturer’s know this, which is why they tout their device’s picture resolution before mentioning the image sensor size. If you’re taking photos with a camera, which typically has a flash or uses staged light sources, then resolution is very important. But if you’re recording video using the available ambient light sources, typically either sunlight in the day or street lights and headlamps at night, then the surface area of the image sensor becomes critical. A larger surface area is typically better.
We tested three different dash cams in this review, and each utilized a different size CMOS image sensor. Making matters worse, each image sensor was classified by a misleading representation of its size. For example, the Genius DVR-FHD568 vehicle recorded featured in this article used a 1/2.7“ CMOS image sensor that yields 21.70 mm2 surface area (the largest offered) but only delivered a 2-megapixel resolution (the smallest offered). The Genius DVR-FHD590, which gave us the best detail quality due to less angle in the lens, featured a 5-megapixel camera resolution (very large) with a 1/3.2″ CMOS image sensor that yields 15.50 mm2 surface area (very small).
In a perfect world, you’d have both: high resolution effective pixel capture for sharp detail clarity, and an image sensor with large surface area to collect light in dim/dark environments.
My Wish List
The latest dashcams begin to approach perfection, but I’m convinced they could all do better (especially if they marketed their resolution and image sensor sizes more clearly – something none of the manufacturers do). After testing the 128° wide-angle Genius DVR-FHD590 back in May 2013, I was convinced that the lens could be wider. Later it would be compared against the Papago! P3 dashcam, which is 400% bigger and heavier, but featured a 130° wide-angle lens that seemed ideal… right up until the point where I needed to read the license plate number on a car only a few lengths away.
If I had the opportunity to design my own dash cam, it would first include on-board memory for internal storage. Memory is cheap these days, and there’s really no excuse for any of these products not to include their own 8GB integrated chip. That being said Micro SD is the format of the day, so large and obsolete SD cards should not be found on any modern camera.
Next on my design checklist would be a high-resolution camera for capturing fine details. Something 8.0-megapixels or better would do nicely for most motorists. We’re trying to read license plates, not the frame surrounding it (although having both would be nice, if not too unreasonable).
Then we’d address the CMOS image sensor, which would need to step up to at least 2/3″ to yield either 58.10 mm2 surface area. Of course, I wouldn’t complain about a or 1″ image sensor offering 116 mm2 surface area and nearly capable of night vision. Still, size is a consideration, and I don’t want a heavy dash camera coming unattached from my windshield while I’m driving.
Lastly, I want only enough battery to finish writing the file if the power source is turned off. I’ve discovered half-hour lengths of video recorded after I exit the vehicle, just because the motion sensor captures somebody walking nearby. The large battery adds to the size, cost, and heat output by the unit.
Features such as GPS are nice, if not trivial. Unless the unit is going to offer voice navigation, nobody is using an LCD display smaller than their phone’s screen to read while they drive. It’s not safe, nor reasonable. Additionally, the device should offer frequent firmware updates. This is important for proper GPS functionality, as maps are constantly being updated as changes occur.
These are not impossible requests, and they’re all using technology already presented in other products. If a smartphone can do this and much more, the next generation of dash cam certainly should be capable of my list.