Your journeys captured, from all angles.
Another entry in our rolling series of dash cam reviews. We previously reviewed a pair of Vantrue dash cams: the app-driven ‘smart cube’ E1 and the two-channel, large-screen-equipped S2.
As it happens, a three-channel version of the S2 was also available (the S2 3CH), but the Element 3 marks an evolved iteration of Vantrue’s three-cam concept.
The Element 3 builds on the stylish design of the E1, with the same large circular lens for the front-facing camera, pleasingly reminiscent of analogue film or DSLR cameras.
While other cams from other companies have adopted almost every conceivable shape (oblong, anyone? Rectangle?), there is something undeniably stylish about Vantrue’s Element cams. No wonder they’ve won iF design awards.
The Element 3 is a three-channel, voice-controlled, smart dash cam, with options for front, interior and rear cams. You don’t have to install all three cams for any aspect of the system to work, although cheaper options are obviously available if you don’t want to use all three cameras.
However, if you are in the market for all-angles cam coverage of your vehicle – ahead, inside and behind – the Element 3 is a solid total package for under £250.
The cameras shoot at resolutions of 1,944P (front) and 1,080P (interior and rear), all at 30FPS with 160° wide angle F1.8 aperture lenses for the front and rear cams and a 165° view for the interior. Together, the three cameras add up to a monitoring view of almost 360° around a vehicle. The angle of view of the front camera lens can also be adjusted in the horizontal and vertical axes, to help you find the perfect POV.
There is also a higher-resolution 2,592×1,944P super-HD option for the front-facing camera, although in all honesty the difference in image quality captured seems minimal, given the file-size trade-off required of the SD card. It’s there as an option, at least, so you’re free to experiment and fine-tune the system until it’s as you like it. On the subject of SD cards, there’s the standard support for suitably fast cards up to a maximum of 512GB. A card of that size can accommodate approximately 40 hours of loop recording from all three cameras before it cycles and starts to overwrite.
While the Element 3 is a three-camera system, there are actually only two hardware sections. The independent rear-facing camera runs off the long cable supplied, which you can tuck neatly into your car interior’s finish, while the interior camera lens is actually an integral part of the rear of the front-facing camera housing, which also hosts the 2.45in IPS screen (cited by Vantrue as being both drop and scratch-proof: we opted not to wilfully verify this). Vantrue also says that its dash cam shells are made of fireproof materials, for greater protection in the event of a vehicle fire. Again, we did not test this claim, for obvious reasons.
The Element 3’s two-unit approach helps keep the setup neat and the screen can be used in a number of ways, such as monitoring live recording and the cam feeds or reviewing captured footage. It’s not a touchscreen, though. Menu choices and adjustments are made via the physical button array on the underside of the main housing. Control and review can also be performed via the accompanying Vantrue app. Like most of it’s high-end dash cam competition, the Element 3 has 5GHz Wi-Fi, making video review and data transfer fast.
Both physical units attach to the front and rear windshields using the included grippy-as-heck 3M adhesive mounts. A nice touch is that the front unit has a neat magnetic design, which allows you to remove the camera any time you like – either to review or transfer footage, or for security reasons – and then easily slot it back into place when you’re ready to record your next road trip.
In the box, Vantrue also includes a small wireless control as standard, which can be situated somewhere instantly accessible (e.g. near the steering wheel) for instant capture of important videos and snapshots or to toggle key functions on/off, which is a nice bonus. Other dash cam companies only offer this useful satellite unit as an optional additional purchase. The Element 3’s reflection-killing CPL filter still remains an optional purchase, however, as does the hardwire kit, which is required for 24/7 monitoring, parking protection and G-sensor collision detection auto-recording.
The Element 3 cameras – like much of its high-end competition, such as the Viofo A229 Duo we reviewed recently – use the Sony Starvis IMX335 500M CMOS image processor, which performs admirably in all light conditions, pretty much 24 hours a day. The WDR ‘wide dynamic range’ front cam nails the most important fine detail in objects outside the vehicle, such as number plates and people, by automagically balancing exposure to compensate for overly light or dark areas to capture greater detail in the lowest light conditions.
The footage from the HDR (high dynamic range) rear camera is especially pleasing, being more richly coloured and well defined than we expected from a ‘supplementary’ camera. The interior camera also delivers strongly on its promise, with the four infra-red lights working exceptionally well in the dark to reveal ample detail of the vehicle’s occupants. Naturally, these night-time images are rendered in black and white.
The GPS aspect (actually a dual-satellite aspect) of the Element pinpoints your location and tracks your entire journey, so you’ll always have a clear record of who, what, when and where (the why of a journey is more of a subjective abstract). All these data are logged and watermarked with videos and can be saved, viewed and reviewed either on the camera itself or via the Vantrue app.
Vantrue’s dash cams also have voice control for core functions. Now that many of us have become sufficiently comfortable with the notion of asking our gadgets to help us, it’s almost second nature. You do have to learn the right way to phrase the commands, but the Element 3 – with its built-in sensitive microphone – responds well, for example, to ‘Take photo’ or ‘Video start’ (not ‘Start video’, you’ll notice). Languages supported for this feature – which also give you an idea of Vantrue’s primary markets at time of writing – are English, Japanese, Russian and Chinese. For those who prefer some sort of physical interface by which to issue instructions to the system, there’s the bundled wireless control, as described above.
The Element 3, like the E1, also uses supercapacitor batteries rather than the standard lithium-ion type. This is a deliberate design choice by Vantrue to enable the camera to better withstand a greater range of extreme temperatures, from icy cold to intense heat. Given the location of its primary markets, as indicated above, this would appear to make good business sense. Certainly, we haven’t experienced any overheating issues with our test unit, although England’s weather lately has barely ventured into any kind of extremes, being mostly the annual spring blanket of wind and rain.
There is also a ‘Time Lapse’ function, whereby the cameras will take photos at specified intervals, then edit them together to a video clip, which is designed to save space on your SD card. We wonder how many people will actually choose this approach, given that the Element 3 is really set up to be a premium continuous video capture system. Time Lapse is there as an option all the same.
The dash cam will also go into parking mode if no movement is detected over a period of five minutes, dropping recording down to 720P at 15FPS. This makes sense whenever you’re stuck in a major traffic jam. The cameras are still recording the nothing that’s happening on the road around you, just to be on the safe side, but they’re not burning through SD card space to do it.
There’s also a super-low-frame-rate recording mode, wherein the cameras continuously record at 1FPS (playback is at 30FPS) without sound. In this way, each one-minute video captures a real-time period of 30 minutes. It’s a useful and smart feature, another neat trick which the Element has up its sleeve, and it requires no intervention from you, the driver, to initiate.
As mentioned above, the Element 3 system also triggers auto-recording for any G-sensor collision detection. This sensor – again, as seen in competing cams – is quite sensitive by default, although you can dial it down if you prefer. In the event of any bumps, the dash cam locks the footage to the ‘Event’ folder to secure it against being overwritten.
There’s also a buffered ‘Motion Detection’ mode, which triggers an auto-capture from all three cameras starting five seconds before and 30 seconds after a detected event has occurred. Again, the system can be quite sensitive, so you may find it capturing and locking more videos than are absolutely necessary. The system overprotectively errs on the side of ‘better safe than sorry’, although its settings can be tweaked if you’re feeling suitably cavalier.
Overall, the Element 3 is an excellent triple-camera solution, offering near-total protective oversight of your vehicle and its occupants. Some people might bemoan the lack of support for 4K capture, although raw numbers alone are no guarantee of image quality. The Starvis sensor used here is highly regarded for its image quality – hence its use in so many competing products across the dash cam sector – and the quality of the output from the Element 3’s cameras is hard to seriously fault. This is dash cam footage, after all, not photographic art.
The price of the Element 3 has also been reduced of late by Vantrue, plus further online offers abound. You’ll still have to budget for paying somewhere between £220 and £250, but what you get for that outlay should last you well. There would be no serious reason to upgrade a system like the Element 3 for a good few years to come. While some would argue that a three-cam system may be overkill for many private car owners, for owners of high-end, expensive vehicles and for professional drivers – those who routinely cover thousands of miles and carry strangers as passengers – this represents one of the best-value comprehensive dash cam solutions for total peace of mind on the road.
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