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IR Dash Cams: Explained and Compared

IR Dash Cams: Explained and Compared

Whether you’re currently a cab driver or you’re driving for Uber and Lyft, chances are, you would have heard about the benefits of having an IR dash cam on board. But what is an IR dash cam, how is it different from regular non-IR dash cams and most importantly, how do you choose one that’s right for you?

If you find yourself asking any of these questions, this article is for you, so let’s get started.

What's an IR dash cam?

Some people call it an in-cabin dash cam, others call it a nightvision dash cam. Either way, the IR dash cam is a two-channel dash cam system that comes with a front-facing camera and a secondary camera that records the interior of the vehicle.

For those who are familiar with infrared security cameras, the concept of the IR dash cam is very similar to that of the IR security cameras, though the architecture of the camera lens and sensors are different - the IR dash cams are not constructed to cover great distances, after all, the distance from your windshield to windshield in your vehicle is typically around 7 to 8 feet, at most perhaps.

What makes an IR dash cam special?

If you take a look at the IR dash cam, you will notice the little lights positioned around the outer edges of the camera lens. These little lights are call infrared LEDs and they are responsible for giving the dash cam its “night vision.” Regular dash cams are not fitted with infrared LEDs.

Why are IR dash cams suited for in-cabin recording?

IR dash cams utilizes the infrared LEDs to invisibly illuminate dark vehicle interiors at night. Traditional dash cams would not perform well in extreme poor-lit environments, but thanks to the infrared technology, an infrared camera can offer crystal clear images even in pitch black environments, making it is the best dash cam solution for rideshare and taxi drivers, or anyone who need in-cabin recording.

How do IR dash cams work?

Unfortunately, there aren't many articles or references on the Internet on how IR dash cams work. But because the concept of IR dash cams is very similar to that of the IR security cameras, we shall take a look at how IR security cameras work.

How infrared security cameras work: Infrared security cameras use built-in infrared LEDs, an IR cut filter and a light sensor to enable video recording in poor-lit situations. The light sensor is used to detect when light levels are low. When light level goes below a certain level, the camera’s infrared LEDs automatically turn on and the IR cut filter is engaged over the image sensor. The IR LEDs then reflect the infrared light of objects within the view of the camera. The IR cut filter allows the camera to capture the infrared light. The result is a black and white video footage. When light levels return, infrared camera switches back to day time mode and captures colour images.

Applying the same concept onto IR dash cams: We know that IR dash cams have built-in infrared LEDs, so it's probably quite safe for us to assume that they also come with a filter as well as a light sensor. In other words, the IR dash cam uses a light sensor to detect the surrounding light levels, as well as an IR filter within the camera to capture the infrared light of objects within the its field of view.

What exactly is infrared anyways?

Infrared is a form of light. It’s light that we cannot see with our eyes. When we think of light, we think of a nice sunny summer day, or even the soft glow of a light bulb. But visible light, the light our eyes see, makes up just a tiny sliver of all the light around us, and infrared light is light that we cannot see with the naked eye. The term infrared means “below red” and everything around us emits some form of infrared light depending on its temperature.

Just like how a flashlight emits light in a dark room so you can see them, the IR camera emits infrared light and when combined with IR sensors, it can read the images within its field of view. Infrared can travel through fog, dust and smoke no matter how thick, making it quite reliable in all sorts of poor-lit situations.

A lot of people might confuse IR cameras with thermal cameras. IR cameras, like the ones used in security and dashboard cameras, are used for capturing images in the dark through the use of a light source in infrared. Thermal cameras, on the other hand, use thermal sensors to capture the contrast in heat in the objects around it to create a heat map.

If IR dash cams are better at capturing in total darkness, can I use it to record the back of the vehicle?

You could, but we would not recommend doing so. IR dash cams are fitted with infrared LEDs, which job is to illuminate the camera’s field of view with infrared light. If the IR dash cam is mounted up against the windshield (pointing through the glass to capture outside of the vehicle), the infrared light is instantly reflected off the windshield, resulting in a reflection or glare that will blind the camera. This will cause your videos to be overexposed or washed out.

Can’t I just point my Super Night Vision 2.0 dash cam around to record the interior of my vehicle instead?

Super Night Vision is not a true infrared night vision. If you park in a pitch black area like a closed garage with no lighting, the dash cam will not be able to pick up anything. In other words, dash cams with Super Night Vision still require a minimal level of light in the environment, whether it’s lights from oncoming headlights or the dim streetlight. We all know how dark it can get inside a car when driving at night, and considering you usually won’t want to have your cabin lights on when driving, you need some sort of light to illuminate the car’s interior if you want to have decent footage Infrared LEDs can illuminate the car’s interior without bothering the driver - because infrared light can’t be seen with the naked eye.

Can’t I just install IR lights inside my vehicle and use a regular rear-facing dash cam as an in-cabin camera?

Technically yes, you can do that. However, again, we do not recommend doing so non-IR cameras are not built with the right sensors and filters to capture IR images properly. You'll end up with video footage that is white-toned, or in extreme cases, white-washed, which ultimately means unusable.

How do the IR dash cam compare?

We carry a few different IR models that caters to various rideshare needs:

So, how these brands compare? Here’s a quick reference comparison chart:

Resolution: Front

4K UHD

1080p Full HD

1080p Full HD

Resolution: IR

1080p Full HD

1080p Full HD

720p HD

IR Wide-Angle View

145°

160°

140°

IR LEDs

2

4

2

IR Spectrum

940nm

850nm*

850nm

IR Video

Monochrome, IR Color

Monochrome, IR Color, Auto

Monochrome

*An educated guess based on the faint red glow that the dash cam emits in the dark.

850nm vs. 940nm - does it matter?

Most cameras with an IR cut filter will have a greater sensitivity to 850nm. But note that the 850nm wavelength will produce a slight red glow when looking at the camera, so they might not be as discrete as desired.

On the other hand, the 940nm wavelength does not produce any visible glow. But while it’s more discreet, it comes with its disadvantages, too. The illumination range of the 940nm is 30-40% shorter than that of the 850nm, and this often means that anything over 5 meters begins to blend into the background making the overall image quality not as clear.

So, with that said, for the standard passenger car, the BlackVue IR dash cams are perfectly fine. However, if you have a longer car interior, like a commercial truck or shuttle bus, the Thinkware or the VIOFO IR dash cam might give you better footage of the furthest back of your vehicle's interior.

So, which IR dash cam is the best?

When choosing the best IR dash cam, the resolution and video quality are still the most important deciding factor, so let's not get too caught up in how far a camera can see in the dark.

If you’re looking for a dash cam system that will give you the best front-of-car footage, then the BlackVue DR900S-2CH IR would be our top pick. It is currently the highest resolution IR dash cam on the market, giving you 4K UHD from the front-facing 8MP camera and Full HD from the 2.1MP IR camera.

The front-facing camera offers 160° field of view in its wide-angle lens while the IR camera covers a wide-angle view of 145. That’s more than sufficient for a comprehensive coverage of the road ahead as well as your passengers in the back row. You can operate the IR camera either in Color mode or in Monochrome mode. If you are recording passengers inside your car, we recommend using the monochromatic mode as it offers a sharper, clearer high-quality video. IR Color tends to become quite fuzzy at night, with a peculiar purple-ish tint.

Because the DR900S-2CH IR uses the DR900S main unit, you have access to all the technology that comes with that model, including H.265 video encoding technology, which comes in handy because 4K files take up a lot of storage space. With H.265, a 4K video file can be compressed into the size of a Full HD file, thus freeing up space on the memory card - in other words, you can get by with a 64GB or 128GB microSD card without upgrading to the max. 256GB.

The DR900S-2CH IR also comes with all of BlackVue’s premium parking mode offerings, including region-based motion detection, G-sensors impact detection, time-lapse recording with buffered events - you will need to hardwire the dash cam or hook it up to an external battery pack, like the B-124X.

And with BlackVue Over-the-Cloud (powered by Amazon’s AWS), you can connect to your dash cam anytime, from anywhere. This allows you to enjoy remote Live View, real-time vehicle location, and Push Notifications to your phone as well as back up important videos to the Cloud remotely, and much more - all you need is the BlackVue smartphone app, available in both Android and iOS.

*Important: If you currently own the BlackVue DR900S-1CH and would like to fit it with an IR Rear Camera, please note that there is no port on the 1-Channel to plug in the IR camera - you will need to purchase the BlackVue DR900S-2CH IR and replace the existing 1-Channel main unit. The existing cables and hardwire setup is compatible, so it's essentially a simple swapping of the front-facing camera.

Best Budget-Friendly IR Dash Cam

Perhaps you don’t need the 4K Ultra High-Resolution video quality or the always-connected Cloud features. Perhaps, you prefer a dash cam with an LCD screen or you’re looking for a more transient setup (ie. suction mount). If that’s so, the VIOFO A129 Duo IR would be a great option. Both the front-facing unit and IR dash camera record in Full HD. It offers a 140-degree field of view from the front-facing camera, but the field of view for the in-cabin IR camera has been raised to 160°, as opposed to the 140° of the non-IR rear camera. The larger viewing angle is useful to record all of the passenger cabin, even the front seats, at a close distance.

The IR camera comes with 4 built-in IR lights and you can choose between IR Colour mode or Monochrome mode, or Auto. Again, if you are recording passengers inside your car, we recommend using the monochromatic mode as it offers a sharper, clearer image quality, daytime or night. One thing to note though, the infrared LEDs do emit a faint red glow in the dark.

And like all other dash cams, you will need to hardwire the VIOFO A129 Duo IR or use an external battery pack like the Cellink NEO if you want to unlock the VIOFO parking mode features, which includes motion and impact detection as well as time-lapse recording.

Prefer something by Thinkware? We do have a limited number of refurbished Thinkware FA200 IRC Dual-Channel in store. Thinkware is known for its heavy emphasis on Advanced Parking Mode, and the this IR dash cam is equipped with time-lapse recording as well as Energy Saving Parking Mode to offer extended parking surveillance.

The front-facing unit offers Full HD 1080p video recording, but you only get HD recording from the IR camera. But because it shares the same front-facing unit as the super-popular FA200, it come with all the well-received features, such as WDR (wide dynamic range), Super Night Vision thanks to Sony STARVIS sensors, and much more.

The FA200 IRC is not a Thinkware Cloud-ready dash cam, but there is built-in Wi-Fi so you can still connect to the dash cam using the Thinkware mobile app on your smartphone. And also, just like the VIOFO IR dash cam, the IR lights on the FA200 IRC do emit a faint red glow in the dark.

Let’s compare sample footage!

BlackVue DR900S-2CH IR

Thinkware FA200 IRC

VIOFO A129 Duo IR*

Best Rideshare Dashcams**

*Unfortunately, we do not have any in-house sample footage of the A129 Duo IR. However, one of our affiliates, US Dash Camera, made a A129 Duo IR product review with sample footage, so do check it out!

**Alex, our CEO, sat down for a quick chat with Vortex Radar back in December 2019 to talk about IR dash cams for rideshare drivers. Check out what they have to say.

Time to buy? Save 5% off your next IR dash cam

February is Rideshare Care Month at BlackboxMyCar and we are offering 5% OFF all brand-new IR models, including the VIOFO A129 Duo IR, just use “RIDESHARE5” at checkout.

Think you can make impressive videos like US Dash Camera? Join the likes of US Dash Camera, CarCamCentral, Vortex Radar, Accelerated Motion, Dial2Fast and many more and become a BlackboxMyCar Influencer and Affiliate today. More details at: https://www.blackboxmycar.com/pages/partnerships

Until next time, Happy Ubering and stay safe on the roads!

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