Who has ever been in a scenario where you had to squint at night to make out what that object was in front of you? Most of the times, it’s nothing, but there’s still a small chance that the object in front of you is an animal, person or debris in the road.
Where I live, the street lights are nonexistent so you have to rely on your vehicle’s headlights. And while they do their job for 99% of the cases, there are times where I vividly remember not feeling safe.
Morning or late night fog is a big one for me. Sometimes the fog density is so thick it seems like visibility is less than 20 feet. Or animals crossing the road blend in with the background testing your reaction time.
- Thermal Imaging allows you to see Heat Signatures 3000+ feet
- See through dust, fog and smoke with IR camera system
- IP68 Waterproof Casing for exterior mounting
If you find yourself in these situations time over time, you might want consider technology that can assist the shortcomings of your eyesight. This is why we’ve compiled a list of devices that can help out in low light conditions. These devices aren’t the typical dash cams we review, however. Technically, none of these are made specifically for dashboard cameras, but we are re-purposing them because the ultimate goal is to be a safer driver.
We’re going to be going in-depth on how we can use technology such as night vision, thermal imaging, IR sensors and software for the purpose of being a dash cam.
Night Owl Thermal Imaging Night Vision
The Night Owl is device packed with tons of optic features that are designed with the driver in mind. The Night Owl is designed to be able to see through smoke, dust, fog and is able to identify objects like pedestrians, animals or other road debris. It is able to reach up to 3000 feet in distance as well. How does it do this? The Night Owl’s sensors use heat signatures and thermal energy to create a display picture.
As far as some of the specifications, you’ll be glad to know that the output resolution is in 720p, widely unheard of for cameras in this class. It is also waterproof rated IP68, allowing it to be mounted on exterior parts of your vehicle. And it is rated for temperatures up to 158 degrees so you can always rely on Night Owl in any part of the world.
There are a few nuances to the Night Owl. First, this device does not record footage, it is to be used a real time driving assist. In addition, it does not come with its own screen; we typically see people wiring the output into their in-car navigation system.
SiOnyx Aurora Sport
The SiOnyx Aurora Sport is a really interesting camera that can also be repurposed for vehicle use. It’s geared for those who want better visibility in low light conditions, but doesn’t use thermal imaging. It uses a sensitive lens that allows the sensor to absorb as much surrounding light to produce an image. That being said, one can connect this to a continuous power source and record video, meaning you can use this in a vehicle as a dash cam. It also has WiFi connectivity, meaning you can review live footage. Unlike the Night Owl, the Aurora Sport will fall short when natural elements like fog, dust or smoke is in the air. That being said, the Sport is superb at determining color profiles and touts its ability to decipher colors in low light conditions.
Bestguarder Night Vision Monocular
Next up is the Bestguarder Monocular System. Much like the last device, it is used not primarily as a dash cam, but more for hunting or personal use. That being said, this camera has the ability to film in 720p @ 30fps which isn’t too shabby. While it isn’t 1080p, the benefit is that you are able to 6x zoom onto objects.
Making this a pseudo dash cam means you’ll need to be able to consistently power it. You can actively power this through a normal cigarette lighter USB device.
There are a couple ways of viewing the footage. You can either have it on continuous recording and only review the footage if you have the need or you can connect the camera to an external monitor. This monocular doesn’t come with an external monitor, so you’ll have to figure out that piece out.
What to Look For
Night Vision Capabilities
Obviously this post is surrounded around the idea of night vision and low light capabilities. Let’s go over a few of them. Thermal Imaging is a feature that detects heat, and typically anything that is living, that you don’t want to hit on the road, has heat. Animals and humans are two important ones that stand out. But you can also see the heat radiating off cars, electrical boxes and other objects. Thermals stand out tremendously when it comes to object avoidance. Even if the person is half covered, you can immediately recognize that it is a human. I do want to distinguish thermal imaging with infrared imaging as they are related, but in this context, infrared imaging is used in less sensitive cases.
While thermal cameras are needed to detect body heat, IR imaging has a smaller temperature range and often need help from IR LED lights.
Finally, to combat night vision, the lens and its aperture is really important. Aperture allows light to hit the camera sensor, and typically the smaller the F-Stop, the more light is allowed in. We typically like F/1.4 for low light conditions.
Ease of Use
The problem with repurposing cameras for dashboard cameras, is that they aren’t built for that application. Every camera that has superb night vision is typically built for another purpose, so you will have to tinker with the setup to get what you are looking for.
For example, a lot of these cameras don’t come with built-in screens. Not really an issue if you already have a in-car navigation screen. A lot of these cameras can hook directly in.
Ability to Record
You might think a dash camera has to have the ability to record or it isn’t a dash cam! And while I may agree with you, there are things you have to consider. If a camera doesn’t record, does it make it useless? If the idea is to be a better driver, to avoid collisions and accidents, then having a real time alert system is the way to go. This is the exact definition of being proactive, to be able to stop accidents that would have happened without the help. So, there are some dash cameras that can prevent you from getting into an accident and there are some that will help you with insurance after you get into an accident.
We have found the most success with the NightOwl system. It integrates well with many vehicles and is the only affordable solution for thermal imaging. We like that we can mount the camera on the exterior which gives us flexibility to hide it in the front grills. If you’ve ever been in a night time car crash where visibility was low, you know how quickly an accident can unfold. Get the assist you need whether it be a thermal dash cam or otherwise.