After a lifetime of hard graft in the motor industry I’m fortunate enough to run a couple of nice cars in retirement. The first, a current-model Golf GTI, delivers an impressive blend of performance, economy and practicality in equal measure. The second is a pure indulgence – a six-year-old Porsche 911, bought to satisfy a long-held ambition to own one of these automotive icons.
The problem, though, with having nice cars is that some folk seem to feel the need to prove their driving superiority to you by insane overtaking or other hairy manoeuvres.
“After one particularly scary incident, I decided it was time to invest in a dash camera”
After one particular scary incident I decided that it was time to invest in a dash cam, so that if the worst happened, we would at least have hard evidence of what had taken place. Much research time later, an RAC 05 unit was ordered through ProofCam, who market the RAC camera range on behalf of the RAC. Why this particular camera? Simply because it offered all the features which seemed essential, namely extremely good “Super HD” 2340x1296pp resolution, large memory capacity, and, critically, GPS to identify the exact location of any incident. Unlike many competitors however, it also had a number of unique extra features, including speed camera warnings, courtesy of the regularly updated PocketGPSWorld database.
“the few queries …….were speedily dealt with by ProofCam’s customer support team”
The RAC 05 proved to be easy to set up, and the few queries I had were speedily dealt with by ProofCam’s customer support team. I was particularly impressed by how quickly they took on board a couple of comments from users, promptly issuing revised software to update both the camera and its viewing software. Indeed, this gave me confidence to buy a second unit, so that both our cars were soon dashcam-equipped.
Let’s fast-forward over the trials and tribulations of arranging ignition-switched permanent power supplies for the cameras in both cars, as this has nothing whatsoever to do with the merits of individual dashcams, and everything to do with the user-friendliness of individual car designs. Let’s just say that I’d like a few minutes alone in a soundproofed room with the clown of a designer who felt that burying the Golf fuse panel behind the almost-impossible-to-remove glove box was a good idea! The 911, in contrast, was simplicity itself to wire up, exactly the opposite of what had been expected.
ProofCam recently launched the RAC 03 model, featuring identical performance to my cameras, but integrated into a rear view mirror. Although this sounds like a good idea in theory, making for a much tidier installation than with a separate camera, my questions and indeed apprehension began even before I saw the product. Could the unit really replace any reasonably modern interior mirror, which invariably has at least a manual and often an automatic anti-dazzle system incorporated? Also, would the image in the mirror be big enough to be useful, or maybe even so big that it compromised using the mirror for its intended purpose?
When the test unit arrived, opening the box soon provided some of the answers. The RAC 03 does not replace the existing mirror, it fits over it and is held firmly in place by a couple of rubber straps. Now I’m old enough to remember the bigger interior mirrors which were often marketed as bolt-on goodies, usually being held in place by a couple of spring clips which rarely succeeded in keeping the new mirror in place for any length of time. Whilst the RAC 03 unit is indeed bigger than the cars own mirror, being about 325mm wide against the Golfs 250mm, its size is not excessive. Interior mirrors on many cars tend to be quite thick, as they have to include the aforementioned dimming systems, and the fixing systems coped quite happily with the mirrors on both our cars. The fixings on the new mirror/camera were also sensibly spaced, with a gap of just over 100mm between them, thus they are very unlikely to interfere with the chunky mirror mountings of some cars which incorporate the likes of traffic sign cameras into the mounting.
In a nice touch, the camera came with a couple of spare rubber straps, just in case the originals were lost or damaged, although they appear fairly robust and unlikely to be damaged in service. The back of the new mirror also incorporates a couple of soft pads which bear on to the glass of the existing mirror and prevent it being scratched when you fit the RAC 03.
“It’s a good idea ……to update the software before using it”
Although the supplied instructions don’t mention it, it’s a good idea with any computer-based gadget these days to update the software before using it, provided of course that the manufacturer is far-sighted enough to let you do so. In many of the RAC camera range this is particularly important, to ensure that the most up-to-date speed camera locations are stored in the camera. These, incidentally, are updated fortnightly As well as the speed camera update, we opted to also update the camera’s firmware, as we know from previous experience that ProofCam update their firmware regularly to improve the functionality of the product. Downloading updates is a very straightforward procedure for anyone who is at all computer literate, involving downloading the relevant update from the Product Resources section of the www.ProofCam.com website to a micro-SD card, then popping the card into the camera and following the on-screen instructions.
It would be useful, though, if the firmware and speed camera updates gave an indication of their version levels, just for peace of mind to be sure that the updates had worked properly.
“Setting up the camera is straightforward”
Setting up the camera is straightforward, using the four buttons located along the bottom of the camera, in fact it is much easier than on the standalone cameras, which have much smaller buttons and also are usually positioned behind the car’s interior mirror, often making the buttons tricky to access. A simple menu system allows the basic features to be set up, such as image quality (the higher the quality, the less video can be stored on any given capacity of micro-SD card). Usefully, date and time, together with driver or vehicle identity can be set to be embedded in the video file if desired. It’s easier, by the way, to set this information up before you fit the camera into the car, although it can still be done in situ if necessary.
Unlike most dashcams, the RAC cameras, including the 03, are ready to use straight out of the box, as they are supplied with an 8GB micro-SD card, which will give around an hour of recording at the highest level. This duration can be extended if the resolution or video quality settings are reduced, however given the ever-falling cost of memory cards, it makes sense to keep the highest quality recording settings and just buy a higher capacity card if more recording time is needed. Unusually, cards of up to 64GB can also be used: many competitors have a 32GB limit.
The RAC 03 camera is set apart from competitors by incorporating a number of potentially useful additional features. Chief amongst these is the aforementioned speed camera warning system, however an adjustable maximum speed warning alert is also provided, as is a drive time warning, reminding the driver when it’s time to take a break. Even more unusual are the incorporation of forward collision warning and lane departure warning systems. Both of these need the camera to be set fairly precisely in order that it can monitor a number of critical points in its field of view, specifically the end of the bonnet, and the horizon. The type of road being driven must also be set, from a choice of motorway, urban or rural.
Fitting the camera is straightforward. The rubber straps hook over the existing mirror and clamp the RAC 03 firmly to it, meaning that the mirror can easily be adjusted, say to suit a different driver, without slipping. Although the camera lens is mounted right at the edge of the RAC 03, it may be necessary to mount the new mirror slightly offset from the existing one if the existing one is particularly wide, although this should not present too much of a problem.
We expected the increased size of the new mirror could mean it would catch the sun visors when they were lowered. Pleasingly, this proved not to be the case: the mirror cleared both visors in the Porsche with room to spare, whilst it just touched one visor on the Golf, this was not a problem as the visor by then was fully lowered.
The camera contains a lithium-ion battery, however this is for emergency use only and discharges after only a few minutes of recording. The mirror is therefore normally powered either from the supplied 12 volt cigarette lighter adaptor, or plugged in to a USB socket. Even better, of course, is to hard wire the camera into the car. Suitable bits and pieces in the form of a piggyback fuse holder and a USB female converter can be obtained on the internet for literally a couple of pounds. A word of warning – depending on the car, arranging a hard-wired feed to the camera can either be a doddle or pretty tricky. If in doubt, use an auto-electrician – that will be far cheaper than either destroying the camera or damaging your car by incorrect wiring!. The power feed can either be permanently live or ignition controlled. If a permanently live source is used, beware of the camera draining the battery if the car is not used for some time, as it will switch on every time it senses movement. I opted for an ignition-controlled supply in both cases for that reason. Even if the camera is only live when the ignition is switched on, it can still be set to start recording briefly in the event of a parking or other impact.
On some cars, the micro-USB connection on the power cable may catch on the mounting stem of the original mirror. It was extremely close on the Golf, however by sliding the RAC 03 sideways slightly, there was just enough clearance for the cable. The Porsche, however, was a different matter, as the interior light housing fouled the connector and initially prevented the mirror from being fitted. Swapping the power cable for one with a 90-degree connection would however easily resolve this issue.
Once mounted and the mirror position adjusted to suit the driver, the aim of the camera lens needs to be set to achieve the best field of view – easily done just by pushing the lens to an appropriate position. Next up is setting the horizon and bonnet lines, using the settings menu.
Like most people, our cars are driven by both my wife and I. Being of quite different heights, this normally involves much mirror-adjusting to switch between drivers, and we fully expected to have to readjust the camera lens as well each time. So far however, this has not been necessary, and the camera’s field of view does not, surprisingly, vary too much between the two mirror positions
Once the ignition is switched on – if a switched power supply is fitted – the camera starts recording, and continues in small segments until the card is full, then successively over-writing the previously recorded video. The default segment period is 3 minutes, although this can be increased if required via the menu settings. Once the ignition is switched off, the camera then stops recording after a few seconds and goes into sleep mode.
Up to this point, you might well wonder how on earth you are going to be able to use the interior mirror for its rightful purpose, as a large section in the middle appears to be taken up by displaying the image being recorded by the camera. However, after a few seconds this disappears, allowing the mirror to be used as normal. The camera image can easily be recalled for a few seconds, though, by using any of the buttons along the base of the RAC 03. A display also returns briefly if you are within range of a speed camera, whether fixed, variable speed, or portable. In this mode the display shows the prevailing speed limit as well as your actual speed. Although the mirror initially seems heavily tinted, this did not cause a problem in either daytime or after-dark driving, and the degree of tint was finely-enough judged to prevent being dazzled at night.
If the camera senses an impact, the recording should lock automatically, to prevent being over-written. Alternatively, the recording can be locked manually by pressing one of the buttons on the base of the mirror. Beware, however, that a locked recording only covers the 30 second period immediately before and after the event, which may not cover everything you want to retain. It makes sense therefore to fit a bigger card to avoid events being overwritten quickly – memory is cheap! Locked recordings are however protected, and can only be deleted manually via the on-screen menu system.
Viewing your recordings can be carried out in a number of ways. Firstly, they can be viewed on the camera itself. The relatively small image size obviously makes it hard to see fine detail although it is in fact quite a bit bigger than the image size of most standalone cameras, including the RAC 05.
Secondly, as the files are in industry-standard .MOV format, they can be viewed using any compatible PC software.
Thirdly, and of most use, dedicated viewing software can be downloaded from the ProofCam website. This provides a screen image which, as well as the recorded video, plots the location and route of the vehicle on a map and provides relevant data such as speed, map co-ordinates and even G-forces etc.
“the RAC 03 ……..is an impressive and easy-to-use bit of kit”
Summing up, the RAC 03 rear mirror integrated camera is an impressive and easy to use bit of kit, ticking all the boxes of very high resolution, excellent low-level light performance, and inbuilt GPS, with the added benefits of speed camera warnings and other features. It is far more discreet than having a separate and visible conventional camera, minimising if not eliminating the risk of a light-fingered opportunist making off with the camera with a bit of smashing and grabbing.
Best of all, it’s highly competitively priced, currently retailing at £159.99.
Interested? Find out more on the ProofCam website here: http://proofcam.com/
Lens 150˚ field of view
Resolution: Super HD 2304×1296
Display: LCD 4.3” TFT
Video format: h.264
card support: ≥ class 4
Battery3.7v 250mAh Li-ion
Dimensions: 33 x 3 x 8.5 cm