Action / Dash Cameras For Travellers

As anyone who knows me will attest, I'm not really the greatest advocate of video, I've always been a photo kind of guy! That being said, there's a trend for more and more video in the world and it does have some advantages that stills photography just can't compete with.

For my 2016-17 trip to Namibia and Botswana I decided that I would try and do some video. We were going to do quite a bit of off-road travel, including a trip down Van Zyl's Pass, so it seemed like a good opportunity to take some video as we went along.

Choosing a Camera

Now, I'm a bit of a budget buyer, so I wasn't going to spend hundreds of pounds on a GoPro that I might decide to never use again once the trip was over. Neither was I interested in the latest and greatest 4K resolution models to start with. I like to start off simple and work up to something more powerful if I like where things are going.

After a lot of searching on Amazon, I found this camera - Icefox FHD Underwater Camera - It was cheap enough and seemed like it would do a fair job for a bit of testing. When it arrived I was impressed with the accessories, the waterproof housing - that I never intended to use - and the overall quality of the thing considering the price.

I soon discovered that I would need a reliable way of mounting it on the car and settled again on a budget mount from Amazon - DuraGadget Screen Mount. At less than 10UKP it was an absolute steal and worked on the roads of Namibia for 5 weeks without ever falling off.

Storage - Camera and Backup

I have plenty of SD and Micro-SD cards here - I use them in my cameras and/or tablets all the time, but I also knew that I needed a system for recording day after day. After some testing with the camera to see just how much data was created, I decided to buy four 32GB Micro-SD cards to use with the camera. I figured I would have one in the camera, one ready to swap at all times and a couple of spares - I could really have got away with just two, but out in the wilds of the Marienfluss, you can't just buy another.

For permanent storage, I had my laptop and a 500GB external hard drive. I figured that between the two I should have enough to record the driving every day if I needed to.


Although the camera was capable of Full-HD (That's 1080p or 1920x1080 pixels) I decided to record in normal HD (720p or 1280 x 720 pixels). This would give me more recording time per card and I wouldn't have to buy faster cards to guarantee that the recordings worked.

With my settings decided and some testing done, I knew that each 10 minute block of video was around 600MB or about 3.5GB per hour. That works out to about nine hours continuous recording on a 32GB card. In the end this was usually about two days worth of recording for this trip.

Setting It All Up

In order to make it all work successfully, I did lots of testing, driving to jobs around the Island with the setup all plugged into the car and seeing that it worked as expected. I needed a 2m long USB cable to power the camera and a 12V car to USB adapter to provide power whenever the ignition was on.

The camera is designed for multiple uses and it has a Dashcam mode that makes it turn on and start recording when power is applied and switch off again when it is lost. It also has a battery that will record for more than an hour if you want to take it out of the car or for more action based pursuits.

For the first few days in Namibia, I had the camera mounted near to the passenger-side door so that I could check on it, but I found it was better mounted as near to the centre-line of the vehicle and as high up as I could get it. I toyed with the idea of mounting it in the waterproof housing on the outside of the car, but I was worried that, if we hit a branch or something, it would be lost.

A Sensible Workflow

I soon settled into a routine. At the end of every second day, I would take the card out of the camera and swap it for a blank one. The full card would then be plugged into the laptop and downloaded into a folder on the external drive before being wiped ready for re-use. I always simply use the date as the name for my folders when travelling, as that's enough to remind me of where we were when I get home and can manage things more easily.

It is, however, important to remember just how much data you could be dealing with. As I mentioned above, I chose to lower the resolution to get more minutes per gigabyte and even though I only used the camera for about two weeks of driving, I came back with 250GB of data to sort through and store. Full-HD would have needed almost twice as much and 4K would need probably double again. (That's about 1TB for a two-week trip, only taking 3-5 hours per day.)

Putting It All Together - Editing

As I sometimes get asked to do a little work with video, I have a copy of Adobe Premier Pro, but for this sort of editing there are plenty of less expensive software packages available, including free ones available for both Windows and Mac. Actually, editing this type of continuous footage is more about placing things in the right order and deciding on a playback speed than anything else.

On some of the Namibia videos I chose to drop back to actual speed for the interesting bits and then speed up for the longer, more mundane parts. On others I dropped some still images of what we had stopped to look at into the video instead of just letting the camera roll for 30 seconds or more (even at 6x speed) just looking at the car in front.

I added some titles and a couple of comments to the footage then produced the final videos and uploaded them to YouTube. Here's the Van Zyl's Pass video so you can see the results from the budget camera mentioned above.

I'm not sure if I've really got the video bug yet - stills will remain as my main passion I'm sure - but I did enjoy the process and I'm reasonably happy with the results.

Taking Things Further

If I do decide to get more serious about it, I would certainly switch to 1080p Full-HD recording at least. I may even look at some of the budget 4K action cameras now starting to appear.

The biggest thing that I would change is the number of cameras. One simply isn't enough to provide compelling final videos that involve the viewer in the telling of the story. I'd like to have three mounted on that car and then another hand-held or using my DSLR as a video camera to follow the action up close. Of course, that's four times as much data again and four times the storage. don't forget it's also four times as long to back up at the end of the day as well, but you can have a sundowner while you watch the progress bar slowly inch across your computer screen.