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Using a Car Camera at Night Time / in the Dark.

If you do a lot of driving in the dark, or even if you don't do that much, but need to see how a car camera will perform in low light to dark conditions, it may be worth reading this short page to give you a fair idea of what to expect in terms of the brightness of the video recording and the options which are available to you before you make your mind up.

The first point to consider is that cameras need light to function, therefore the less light there is coming into the lens, the darker the resulting picture or video will appear when it is viewed or played back.  Car cameras are, to some extent, fortunate in that even when they are used at night, there is normally some light available from street lights, other car headlamps and rear lights, shops / houses, and the users own headlamps.

Even though there are a number of light sources out and about - none of them really come up to scratch to enable a camera to produce a pin sharp video which you could compare with a bright daytime movie of the same road journey.  However, it must be remembered that the car camera is there to serve the purpose of recording an event in sufficient detail to show the viewer what happened, rather than produce stunning scenic videos of the surrounding countryside!

In general, the cameras come either with or without WDR (wide dynamic range) or a comparable feature.  Those with WDR such as the superior
LS430W and LS460W are able to  create videos which show more detail in the dark than those without.  Naturally, WDR is a technology in its own right, and therefore WDR enabled cameras tend to be a little more expensive than those which do not have the facility.

The following images are stills taken from a Non-WDR car camera video at night.

We have deleted most of the registration plate for privacy reasons, however it is clear from the image that the details have been picked up by the camera from a combination of lighting factors such as the users car headlights, the number plate lights and the braking lights.  In essence, the camera has captured the information required.  Please also consider that this image would more than likely be around 4x larger when being played back on a standard PC video player.

During the video, the same car remains in front throughout, until around 30 seconds or so after the first frame when the driver moves into the left hand lane without indicating and drives straight into the side of the camera owners vehicle.  It is clear that even without WDR - as is the case in these examples, where there are a couple of street lights and headlamps shining, enough detail can be captured to show the event clearly leaving no doubt as to what has taken place.

In the still image taken from a WDR enabled camera (on the right) in almost identical lighting conditions, the effect of the enhancement performed by the WDR camera can be seen instantly.  The areas to note are the double yellow lines along the pavement - they are illuminated by the headlights of the car using the camera, as are the yellow lines in the picture immediately above using non-WDR.  The lines in the image on the right are much clearer, and the pavement is also more clearly visible.  The depth of the video is also greater, with the buildings in the distance being visible, these would not be as clear on a non-WDR unit, as you can see from the office buildings in the very top picture.

Non-WDR enabled car camera still image.
Accident in the dark.
WDR Enabled.

In the above 3 images, the first two show clips from the same non-WDR video.  The last image is from a WDR camera in very similar lighting conditions at night time.  In summary, we would say that WDR enhances the video most noteably around the immediate area of the front of the car, whilst also providing a margin of extra visibility to the sides and also to objects at a distance.

The cameras used in the samples displayed are the Black Bullet (for non-WDR top two stills), and the Mini 0803 - which is the WDR version of a Black Bullet).

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