Optional filter further degrades nighttime captures
We like the E1’s small size, excellent screen, GPS and voice remote. But the best daytime captures require an optional filter, which you must remove for acceptable nighttime captures – a switch most users won’t like or remember.
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One of the reasons we rate Garmin’s small dash cams so highly is their minimal interference with your vision. Welcome $150 Vantrue Element 1, we love you for the same reasons. We also like the voice command and the app.
Alas, daytime capture quality only really comes through with an optional $20 polarizing filter that we had to remove at night to get usable low-light captures. A process that quickly became inconvenient – when we remembered to do it.
This review is part of our roundup of the best dash cams. Go there for more reviews and shopping tips.
Design and features
The Element 1 is easily one of the smallest dash cams we’ve tested. As noted, it rivals the Gamin series in this regard, except for that company’s super-small Dash Cam Mini 2. While the E1 isn’t the smallest, it’s still small enough to hide behind the mirror and offers the LCD display (1.54-inch) that the Mini 2 lacks.
Actual measurements are 1.6 inches wide/height and 1.75 inches deep to which you can add approximately 0.25 inches for the optional filter. On top of the camera is the sliding adapter that mates with the semi-permanent adhesive mount. On the right are the power port and Type-C microphone, while on the left are the power button and micro SD card slot.
The microphone is used to capture both audio and voice commands. The E1 includes several of these including: “Take photo”, “Start video”, “Stop audio”, etc.
The bottom of the device houses three multi-function buttons that allow you to navigate menus, change video modes, and more. There is sufficient ventilation via slots at the bottom, top and left side of the device.
Video capture is a Sony IMX335 sensor with a maximum resolution of 2592 x 1944P (default is 1440p) and Vanture opted for a wide 160-degree field of view. GPS is also on board and with an app, voice control and Bluetooth backup/capture remote (Vantrue-speak hotkey) the E1 is nearly a full house in terms of modern features.
The unit uses a super capacitor rather than a battery, so it will only save the last video if it loses power. But it will also provide many more on/off cycles than a battery.
Although the E1 has an SD card slot and you can read card data with a reader, you can also connect the E1 to your computer and read it directly. A slightly more practical way in my book. Nice touch.
Connecting to the app is via Wi-Fi and said app lets you offload, organize and even edit videos. Once unloaded, you can read them with GPS mapping. Since the E1 connects to your phone via Wi-Fi, you can’t get internet while it’s connected. Reading the GPS map (Google/Baidu) requires Internet. Yes, you need to switch networks for these features.
Note that you may need to restart the app after changing networks for the GPS travel map to show up.
You of course also have access to all settings and can even control the dash cam. Phone call !
Setup and Setup
The semi-permanent support of Element 1 is horizontally static, i.e. it only articulates up and down. This makes it very stable once installed, but you have to be careful to align it before pressing it to the windshield. For help with this, check out How to Install a Dash Cam to learn from my countless mistakes.
Setting up Element 1 was very easy, once I set the correct time zone. I was a bit surprised that this was necessary given that GPS is on board. However, once I scrolled down to Pacific Time, everything else, like date format and MPH, was automatically selected. I guess it was time zone based. Anyway, it was quick and easy. He even proactively offered to format the SD card, which needed it.
Beyond that, I had to adjust the g-sensor sensitivity a bit for my Miata with its rather stiff racing suspension. But it is better to be too sensitive than not sensitive enough. The latter may cause incident videos not to be recorded. (Unsaved videos will eventually be overwritten.)
While the Element 1 isn’t the best dash cam I’ve tested in terms of daytime capture quality, it’s above average, but only with the optional $20, 40mm polarizing filter . Detail is decent in dark areas but lost in brighter areas without the optional filter which pretty much solves the latter problem.
The difference is significant enough that I actually consider the Element 1 a $170 dash cam (camera plus filter).
The capture of the day above using the filter shown is quite good. Again, the one below without the filter noticeably blows out the brightest areas, making it difficult to discern detail. There is an exposure setting that can fix some of this, but we’re testing with the defaults. In addition, the reduction in exposure negatively affects the already low night catches.
On the other hand, if our tests are to be believed, you absolutely do not want the filter to be on at night. With this feature, night shots went from the two slightly grainy but colorful and actionable shots shown below, to dull colors with much worse detail, as you’ll see in the third image. Basically, the E1 isn’t a high-end night camera, despite the bold claims on the website.
If you look closely at the image below, you’ll see one of San Francisco’s incredibly optimistic pedestrians striding past moving traffic, expecting everyone to stop for them. Most of the time, it’s the drivers who do it, but “they had the right of way!” is a terrible cape for a tombstone. It’s early evening without the filter. With even minimal light available, the E1 does a passable job of capturing the action.
However, the darker (unfiltered) nighttime capture below with the even murkier San Francisco marine layer shows how the captures deteriorate as the light dims.
Below you can see the negative effect of the filter on night shots. It’s only two minutes after the capture above was taken under the same lighting conditions. The only difference is that the filter has been screwed on.
Note that all captures are in 1440p, not the 1944p the camera is actually capable of. We took a few, but there really weren’t any upgrades worth the extra storage space. I should also point out that I am judging by the current standard of video.
Filter on/filter off
The Element 1 has a lot going for it in terms of ease of use, form factor, as well as phone app. But nightly removal of the polarizing filter recommended for daytime use or constant exposure adjustment is not something most users will ever want or forget to do. Clear that Vantrue puzzle, earn another half star. As it stands, only buy for daytime use.