Seeking opinions on action cams for Mapillary

With the implementation of a new law in Georgia about using electronic devices while driving a vehicle, I’m faced with the choice of either ceasing contributions to Mapillary altogether, or buying an action camera to use as a dashcam, which the law provides an exception for when shooting video (but who’s going to know if I have it in photo mode, right?).

After reading through pretty much all of the current forum threads on the subject (most of which are fairly old, actually), it appear that there has been a wide range of experiences with various models. All of the available forum information has my head spinning, so I wanted to see if I could get some condensed answers from people with experience with various models in one place. I’ll outline what I’m looking for, some of the Mapillary-related features as I understand them, and see if anyone has any recommendations or at least can tell me if his/her camera does or doesn’t fit. There is a lot of brainpower in this forum, and quite a few people have done many experiments and tests with different models. I’m counting on y’all to help me figure this out.

Wants:

  • Inexpensive. Which is probably the least-achievable one in the list, but I can hope
  • Usable while connected to vehicle power (i.e., not dependent on battery power to operate)
  • 12MP photos minimum
  • Car mountable
  • Integrated GPS
  • Camera logs GPS data to photos (i.e., doesn’t require merging GPS data later using an app)**
  • Remote control or voice control (to comply with the law which prohibits touching the camera to operate it)
  • Screensaver or screen-off operation (to help comply with the law, which prohibits watching on-screen video when operating a motor vehicle)
  • 128GB SD card supported at a minimum; bigger would be better
  • Produces high-quality (not just high-resolution) pictures with appropriate ISO & other settings
  • Produces reasonable pictures in low-light conditions
  • If in time-based capture mode, will pause taking pictures when stopped (I don’t think I found any that would do this, but asking in case someone knows of one)

Don’t care:

  • 360 degrees. I’ll be mounting it inside a car. 360 is useless there. But, if the camera meets what I need, and can be used in a non-360 mode, then it’s a contender.

As best I can tell, none of the cameras that would work with Mapillary will do distance-based capture, like the phone app does, but if someone knows of a reliable, compatible camera that does, speak up!

Also, unless something has changed and I just missed the post, the Mapillary Android app still doesn’t have any camera integration/control capability, correct? Only the iPhone app does that?

At the moment, the GoPro Hero5 seems to be the lowest-cost camera that fits everything and is reliable. But I’m open to other opinions, especially if they cost less!

And I’m sure I’ve forgotten an item or two from my lists, but they’ll probably come up in the ensuing discussion.

** If someone has after-imaging GPS merging working super seamlessly, easily, and that requires minimal manual intervention, then it might be something I’d consider.

Oh, and an additional “want” is that there is a car mount available that has a quick-disconnect function, rather than requiring that it be unscrewed or something as unwieldy.

Wow that is a big wish list that we would all love!

My setup goes some way towards fulfilling the list. I run two Garmin Virb XE (dont use the lower spec Virb models), one pointing forwards and one to the right (0 and 90 degrees). They are mounted on external aerial mounts and the Garmin quick connect mounts. They are also connected to power cables under the bonnet.

I control them from an ipad mounted in a holder in the car. The workflow is stop on the side of the road, setup the cameras, start them on the ipad, move the screen away from field of view…then drive off. at regular intervals I pull over, swing the ipad around, stop the cameras. Repeat as required.

I have asked friends in the police force if this is legal and they are confident that it is, but it will likely always be up to the individual officer to assess the situation. The only doubts are if I need to turn off the car and remove keys before swinging the ipad back into view (This is in Australia). In my case everything is mounted legally.

I only run 64Gb cards and I am not sure if Garmin will take bigger. Its not a cheap solution but works for me. I upload via the python scripts. I will grab some images and post them up soon.

Having said all this - the images are not always good in low light, the devices do lose GPS occasionally and I have found its better to do short runs (20 mins or so) rather than hours. You could always just mount the cameras and turn them on manually and then start driving with no remote control.

I am not aware of any voice activated systems at the moment…hopefully other will make some suggestions

Hi @tastrax, thanks for the feedback and very descriptive information! In particular, it is very useful to know that those cameras can be run from continuous power. That’s high on my point scale. Quick connect mounts are also pretty important to me, maybe 5 out of 10. However, I plan to keep my camera inside the vehicle most of the time, as it is insect-spat season where I live. (Some of my rural drives could probably benefit from external mounts when I know I’ll be at low speed–I’d love to see pics and details of your configuration!)

I should describe my use cases; I omitted that from my original post, which was probably a mistake.

For me, most of the time I do “local” drives around town. In those situations, your setup would probably work pretty well. But, I also do periodic rural drives for enjoyment and relaxation, and take Mapillary along for the ride. I also do semi-regular long-distance drives to another state, where the drive is 7-8 hours with only one or two stops as necessary. Having to stop every 20 minutes (or even once an hour) to reset things would add tremendously to that…

For now, I’m only interested in a single-camera setup, facing forward. (I have run the Mapillary app on 2 phones at the same time, one facing forward and one to one side or the other, as you describe, but only on specific rural drives.) Also, I don’t own any iThings, so using an Apple device to control multiple cameras (which I’m aware that Mapillary is supposed to be able to do) isn’t an option for me. I have to stick to what I can control manually or via Android.

With respect to those long-distance drives, I would like (although isn’t required) a way to stop and start sequences at a reasonable spot to break them up. I usually use county lines, city limits, or semi-major junctions for that purpose. For this reason, I would like to be able to hit a button to do that (such as how I use the phone app right now). A remote control or voice command would work equally well for me.

On the subject of voice control, supposedly the GoPro Hero5 and other models actually have that, although I have never seen it used myself. Voice itself isn’t required, just a way to remotely command the camera without moving out of driving position or touching the device itself. (The specific wording in our new law seems to allow such indirect control, as long as I don’t touch the camera physically. For this reason, I intend to mount it on the passenger side.
And like you, we have officer discretion about whether or not to write a citation for something.
It’s our common legal heritage.)

Again, thank you for your response, and as I said, very useful feedback. This is exactly the type of information I was looking for.

No worries @JackTheRipper - You can do the stop/start anytime you like but its the legality of doing it whilst on the move that is debatable. Its only two presses of a button on the app to stop and start again - no resetting of cameras. The irony in all this is that its legal for you to touch your radio, change stations, insert a cd etc which is much more distracting than a press of a button on the Mapillary app!!

Plus, I have found when you do that on the move (illegally) there can be a lag before the images catch up. In other words I suspect it takes time once you press the stop button for the camera to process any remaining images onto the SD card and then get ready to start up again. The units put the images into directories of 150 images.

Remember that you are asking the processor in the camera to take a 12MP image, write it to the card and get ready for the next image at a new GPS location every second (although you can stretch that out). I have even taken a few runs at 1/2 second intervals. A single camera setup would be a bit easier as dual cameras require one to be the master and the second a slave so the master needs to be the faster of the two cameras. I had much less success with a Virb XE master and a Virb X as the slave - that fell over regularly. There is also a Garmin remote control at the usual Garmin extortionate price tag https://buy.garmin.com/en-AU/AU/p/146077

I have done several hour drives but again, I prefer to stop and start at major intersections etc. Over about 80kmh you start and get bug splats!

Have fun - but it will cost a few buck to get a reliable system, both in equipment and internet time to upload all the images.

PS - make sure that the camera can capture images whilst also be plugged in - some camera descriptions use weasel words to make you think they can but they cant OR they can only do so with their own proprietary cables - check carefully.