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Dashcams

Back in 2013, I wrote a blog post on dashcams. That page started getting significant traffic a few months ago, so I upgraded it from a blog post into a full subsection with additional info.

I've received a few questions about using these as storm chasing cameras, so I gave that topic its own subheader. I'm copy-pasting that below.

I also finished evaluating the Garmin Dash Cam 20, one of the major models available in the US today (every Best Buy has them). Unfortunately I have to give that model a thumbs-down for chasing since it frequently blows out the sky exposure. I have a few other models to review (both purchased and ones sent to me) so I'll update this thread as I get new info in. Disclaimer - other than the cameras being sent to me for review, this is all an unpaid effort.

Here is the dashcams-for-chasing section. Let me know if you have additional questions and I'll update this thread.

For storm chasers
One of the big reasons I use dashcams is to have a hands-off way to capture a complete video record of every storm chase (from as many angles as possible). If something interesting happens on a chase that I couldn't get a handheld camera on in time, I can pull the dashcam footage of said event later.

Here are a couple of my thoughts on storm chasing-related applications for dashcams:
  • Dashcam as a streaming cam: Most dashcams are not designed to be a webcam/streaming camera, but many of them have HDMI or analog TV/RCA outputs that you can use for streaming if you have the right capture hardware on your laptop. Again, a dashcam is normally supposed to be a full-time fixed-view camera (wide angle, no zoom capability), so for most chasers a dedicated conventional video camera may still be the better choice for streaming. I consider dashcams to be supplemental "B cameras" and not a primary way to capture "A-roll" video.
    I don't stream video of my storm chases, so I've never tried using one of my dashcams for that purpose.

  • Dashcam or GoPro? Many chasers employ GoPros as their supplemental "B cameras" to capture full-chase videos. A dashcam essentially serves the same purpose - but as a permanent fixture, it simply makes capturing full-chase video a hands-off task in the sense that there is no setup/takedown or "start recording" task to attend to. A dashcam is always doing its thing, so at the end of the chase, the full video from each one is there for archiving if you so desire. GoPros generally have better video quality than a dashcam, but again, aren't as "hands-off".
    Keep in mind that a dashcam will also be there for you for your daily driving (it was built for that to begin with), not just for your storm chases. You wouldn't normally mount your GoPro for your daily commute to work or trips to the grocery store. A dashcam will be faithfully recording every second of your driving both on chases and in daily life, with no intervention required until you capture something worth saving.

  • Memory cards: You will want to use at least a 32GB Class 10 card in each dashcam you employ. That gives you roughly 5-7 hours of 1080p footage (depending on bitrate), enough time to capture most storm chases from start to finish. Most cameras support 64GB cards.

  • Powering: I hardwire all of my dashcams to my car's primary 12v storm chasing equipment circuit (the one that powers the laptop, chargers, etc). This circuit is controlled by a manual power switch, and does not turn off when the ignition is off. You might want to consider doing this to allow the cameras to continue rolling even when the vehicle is turned off. I do this so I can leave the dashcams on during fuel/restaurant stops and pre-storm activities (waiting for initiation, etc).
Here is the full dashcam section on my site:
http://stormhighway.com/dashcam/
 
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I've got a filmtools mount and a Sony HD camera that I've been using as a dashcam for multiple years now, and even streamed from it with the use of an ez cap device. Now that I don't stream, it's just mostly a dashcam that sits there and captures most of what I can't in a wider view and steadied.

With that said, I would like to eventually get a static dashcam that goes with me everywhere - ie I want to be a professional Russian. I've seen a few that work pretty well, but they are in the $200 range, and I would rather not spend that on a dashcam.
 
The Dash Cam Talk site is a great resource for unbiased reviews:

https://dashcamtalk.com/

There are quite a few models there for under $100, but most you have to buy direct from China/Taiwan, and the failure rate on a few of those is alarmingly high (like the G1W, which is their top recommendation).

I'm planning on picking up a Street Guardian and see how that fares - that seems to be getting the best reliability/performance reviews. Just need to make sure it works as a chasing camera (sky exposure).
 
I have been looking at the KDLinks X1. It's around $160 but seems like it will do a good job for me. I never considered a dash cam until this past chase season when it suddenly became apparent I might need it to be an unbiased "witness" to my personal observations (looking at YOU, Medicine Lodge PD/FD).
 
I use the Panasonic HC-V770k Camcorders. They sit nicely on the gripper 115 mount from film tools. The great thing about these camcorders is they have the manual zoom, great focus, the night time 0 lutz feature in on these and this particular model allows you to stream and record in 1080 at the same time. They are hardly talked about but they all got tremendous reviews. There are a number of other things that are fun with them. Slow motion (fun with lightning), etc. Here is a link to them.. I actually have multiple of these in my car. http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1109405-REG/panasonic_hc_v770_full_hd_camcorder.html .. The camcorders hdmi all go into one of these great little gadgets. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00H9642JS?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=oh_aui_detailpage_o05_s00 .. You can have all your camcorders go into this box and they have a remote control. So between the app and this remote control I can have cameras pointing different directions in the back of the vehicle and never have to worry about going back there to activate one or start the recording.

I like to live stream so from that little box above just one cord comes out of it and goes to a magewell capture card which then goes into my laptop.. Absolutely love this setup and is very convenient having remotes to control everything. Here is a link to the magewell. http://www.amazon.com/Magewell-XI10...=UTF8&qid=1444830831&sr=8-1&keywords=magewell ..

Anyways thought Id post a little love on the camcorder front. Have a great day!!
 
Thanks James, I'd check out the threads on dashcamtalk.com and see what they have to say about those models. Anything on Amazon that says "fulfilled by Amazon" at least gives you some peace of mind against DOAs and counterfeits.

Most truck stops have some of the Cobras in stock, so you might be able to pick one up locally and at try it out. I haven't looked much at the Cobras, but I'm sure there are some sample clips on Youtube from people who have one.
 
Good writeup Dan. I've been thinking about one for a while, just have too many other things I have to buy first (starting with a new laptop)
 
I finished test driving a Street Guardian this week. The dashcamtalk.com site had these as one of the best performing cameras, so I wanted to try one out. These seem like the way to go for chasing use. It properly exposes the sky and allows timestamps to be turned off for clean video. They're also more compact and take up very little windshield space.

This is a dashcam I bought and paid for on my own (they didn't send me one). I just bought a second one for the rear camera. If I could afford it, I'd just use these for all four camera views.

http://www.amazon.com/Street-Guardian-SG9665GC-Supercapacitor-DashCam/dp/B00U0OJMYG

Here's a side-by-side comparison video with my Garmin:


$200 bucks is pretty much the going rate for a quality 1080p dashcam right now, unfortunately. The Street Guardian comes with a 32GB class 10 micro SD card, so in actuality the cam is roughly $185. Just about every other model at prices lower than $175 are going to have some issue or compromise in performance. Below $100 it gets even more dicey with high failure rates, counterfeits, picture quality issues and various problems.
 
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looks like the garmin has some form of polarizer on there? i know you say the SG was properly exposed, but it seems a little over exposed to me especially in direct sunlight. What do you think ?
 
I know I'm being terribly lazy, but can anyone suggest a dashcam or Gopro model that had decent built-in audio, or a micropone jack?
The rattly-plasticy sound so characteristic of these cameras drives me utterly nuts.
A menu option to disable auto-record-level-adjustment would be nice too.
 
I use the JVC Adixxion 2 (GC-XA2) for my dashcam. It is like a GoPro, but is better in my opinion as you dont need to put on a weatherproof case. It's shell is the weatherproof case. I just leave a USB plug into it the entire chase for power and I can record up to 10 hours continuous. I bought mine for $110 on ebay. Also great as you can use it for things other than a dash cam.

Here is my video from the Canadian, TX tornado with that camera. Being on the dash, the audio sounds funky, but that happenes with any camera with the mic facing the windshield.
 
The sound on my older Aiptek cameras was abysmal, but the 3 models I'm using now (Street Guardian, Garmin and Windshield Witness) all have acceptable sound quality. The Street Guardian/Windshield Witness cams have better sound than the Garmin, which seems to have a bandpass filter for higher frequency sounds (audio sounds muffled). The SG's mount right on the windshield means it picks up a little more wind noise than my other cameras, but it's not that baed all things considered.

None of the dashcams I've used have had external mic jacks. I could definitely use something like that, it would be nice to have an external audio source from outside of the car.

The SG's overexposure of the sky in direct sun is its only real image issue. I run into that condition so infrequently while chasing that it wasn't a deal breaker IMO. All of the other cameras had some issue that came into play with chasing scenarios (low light performace, sky overexposure at dusk, etc).
 
I've been looking around for a dashcam to use to myself both for future chasing as well as for road activity. Looking for a 1080p that accepts 32GB cards, but don't want to go too expensive. Lighting for the camera is the only reason I'm not buying one right now, because as stated above, they will not record the sky features as they are mainly manufactured for watching the road. I almost bought the Garmin one mentioned here when it was 33% off for Cyber Monday on Amazon, but held back on it due to uncertainty. Can't just spend a ton of money on something that may not give me what I want.
 
I had been meaning to post these earlier. These are some frame grabs from the Street Guardian on an actual chase (Nov 11 in Missouri). Just to give an idea on how it performs with storms - seems to do just fine. Some of these were after sunset. (All of these are clickable to the 1080 sized version)

nov1115dc.jpg nov1115dc1.jpg nov1115dc4.jpg nov1115dc5.jpg nov1115dc6.jpg nov1115dc7.jpg
 
Picked up a new dash cam recently as my old one couldn't handle a Central California summer with it's battery. Picked up a Street Guardian SGZC12SS and got to take it out for a test run this past weekend. No audio as I had it muted without realizing and I haven't figured out how to remove the timestamp yet(if the option is there, it's not very obvious in the camera settings). Pretty happy with it regardless, picks up everything in the windshield no problem. The capacitor should get it through the summer well enough too.

Sun directly in the camera:

Storm view in camera:

Edit: I guess this camera doesn't have the option to turn off the timestamp, but the newer version of it does.
 
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I just installed a Yi dash camera with a 64GB microSD card. Should be good for a nearly 8 hour loop. Not very stealthy but cheap and certainly less bulky than strapping a DSLR up there like I used to do. I hardwired it so it always records any time aux power is on. Video quality seems decent but I still need to test sky exposure.

20170304_170830_fb.jpg
 
I sprung for a real dashcam for the loop recording and auto on/off. So there's no chance of missing something important year-round. It's also cheap enough to not be a huge theft target.

The law in most states is ambiguous when it comes to mounting devices on your windshield. But if it's larger or more obstructing than a typical GPS unit you may be asking for trouble (and dealing with a real safety concern).
 
Like I said you can always switch to a smaller cell phone which would work just as good. I usually have the screen turned off and use a slightly smaller tablet than the one in the photo that is mound higher up and behind the rearview mirror, but the idea is the same and seemingly much less unobstructing. I have a couple dozen tablets of various models so I just use whatever is available when chasing storms instead of buying a lot of dedicated equipment.
 
For my dashcam, I use an old Android cell phone running the "DailyRoads Voyager" App. I mount it in various places, but like to keep it low. One year, I had a tablet sitting at the top, right corner of my windshield, and I couldn't see the clouds because the tablet was blocking my view! I like having GPS, which can produce additional information beyond just a video. You can use the GPS information to overlay a map on your video if you want. I just display the text at the bottom of my videos. You can of course display as much or as little information as you want.

Go to 10 seconds in to see the GPS information...
 
Dash cams are so inexpensive nowadays, there's not a whole lot of reasons not to just hit up Amazon and check them out. If at the end of the day you want to save your video, you can just pull one card, insert another and you are all set for the next day. You can edit later when you have the time.
 
Just got the Street Guardian SG9665GC V3 (2017 Edition) with 64gb card from Amazon. Quality is great, it is easy to use, and it starts recording as soon as it powers up. I have an F150, so I spent quite a bit of time trying to find the best place to mount it so that I could actually reach the buttons without having to fumble with it behind the mirror, yet still have it as close to center as possible. I may end up moving it, but so far, I am very impressed. One of the things I like about the Street Guardian is the 120 degree field of view...it is not too wide, but wide enough. Any wider and you start to get distortion.
 
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