Best Dash Cam Buyer’s Guide: What to Look for in a Dashboard Camera
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What makes a good dash cam?
So without further ado here is the ultimate dash cam buyers guide…
What is a Dashboard Camera?
Dashboard cameras go by many names and are also referred to as dash cams, dashcams, car cams, car cameras, car DVRs, car black boxes, or auto cams are increasing in popularity every year and for good reason.
Dash cams can provide valuable video evidence in the unfortunate event of an accident or insurance fraud and can capture some of life’s extraordinary and funny moments.
Just take a look at this graph that shows the global dashboard camera market size projections in billions of dollars.
As you can see dash cam popularity is growing rather rapidly year over year.
Even though dash cams can help clear up doubt during accidents or insurance fraud schemes, the unfortunate truth is that most drivers aren’t using dash cams.
Why you should own a Dash Cam
Some quick numbers:
- In 2015 there were approximately 6.5 million car crashes in the United States alone.
- This breaks down to a shocking 17,808 car crashes PER DAY.
- The average person gets into 3-4 car crashes in their lifetime!
Accidents are an incredibly common, unfortunate reality that all drivers need to recognize.
Dashboard cameras provide an extra layer of security for you and your family to show exactly what happened during an accident or insurance fraud scheme.
Here is an infographic that shows some of the top reasons to own a dash cam.
What to look for in a dashboard camera
Now that you know what a dash cam is and why they are important here are the most important features to look for in a quality purchase.
Single or Dual Channel
Choosing a single or dual channel dash cam is the first choice you need to make when buying a dashboard camera.
Single channel dash cams only record what happens in front of your vehicle. They generally mount to the top or bottom of your windshield or are mirror replacement cameras.
Single channel car cams tend to be cheaper than dual channel because there is only one camera.
Front and rear dash cams record video from both sides of your vehicle. Most dual channel dashboard cameras have one camera that mounts at the front of the vehicle and another smaller camera that mounts on the inside of the rear windshield.
Some dual channel dash cams may have outdoor rear cameras that mount to the outside of your vehicle.
“Taxi cameras” also exists which mount to the front windshield and record both forwards and backwards and capture video on what happens inside your vehicle as well. These cameras often are mirror replacement dashboard cameras and are of particular use for taxi and Uber drivers.
Loop recording is an essential feature of a modern dashboard camera.
This feature automatically overwrites the oldest files when the memory is full allowing your dash cam to record infinitely. If your dash cam doesn’t offer loop recording it isn’t a dash cam.
A G-sensor inside a dashboard camera triggers if it detects a force greater than a specific g-force level.
This level can be adjusted very low in some dash cams such that going over large bumps can even set it off. In the event of an accident or other event that triggers the G-sensor that video file will be automatically saved and not deleted by loop recording. This provides ease of mind to users who know that in the event of an accident their footage will be automatically saved.
Auto on and off is another vital feature of any dashboard camera worth purchasing. The auto on/off feature means your dash cam will start recording the second you turn your ignition on and will stop when you turn your car off.
This prevents the unfortunate scenario where you forget to start recording footage and later in the day get into an accident.
An important feature for a great dashboard camera. Dash cams come in all kinds of variety in their video quality but you should only consider those at or higher than 720p, aka HD, so you can make out important details in your footage like license plates, signs and faces.
There are 4 tiers of dash cam video quality worth purchasing:
- 720p: Also know as HD, these dash cams record in dimensions of 1280×720 pixels. 720p is the low end of camera resolution you should consider and is more acceptable for dual channel dashboard camera systems because they record 2 simultaneous streams.
- 1080p: Referred to as full HD with pixel dimensions of 1920×1080, this and higher quality video are becoming the standard quality for dash cams. Users can expect clear video from dashboard cameras recording at 1080p.
- 1296p: Another step up on video quality 1296p records in dimensions of 2304×1296 pixels.
- 1440p: For those seeking the highest quality video 1440 records in dimensions of 2560×1440 pixels. Top video quality often comes with a higher price.
Day and night time video
While most dash cams record great daytime footage, make sure to check out the night time video quality by watching user footage or reading reviews. Cheaper cameras often claim to perform just as well at night but in reality will not be the best night vision dash cam.
The lens angle on your dashboard camera determines how wide of a shot the camera will record. We recommend only considering dash cams with a lens angle of 120 degrees or wider so you will have quality video footage.
Most dashboard cameras will have lens that is:
- 120 degrees
- 165 degrees
- 170 degrees
Wider lenses produce wider video streams which are generally useful for dash cams since the area of interest is usually directly in front of the driver or to the sides, not up and down.
Temperatures inside cars during sunny days can be extremely high just take a look at this table…
Make sure your prospective dash cam is temperature resistant to both the heat and the cold.
Most dash cams can operate effectively between -10 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit (about -23 to 70 degrees Celsius.) We recommend only purchasing a dash cam that can withstand at least these temperatures.
Almost all dashboard cameras store memory on micro SD cards. Some will take standard size SD cards. Micro/standard SD cards are what allows loop recording for your dash cam to record indefinitely.
The two major things to look at when choosing an SD card is storage space and the speed class.
- Storage refers to how many gigabytes of memory the SD/micro SD card has.
- The speed class determines how fast files are transcribed onto your micro/standard SD card.
SD card storage sizes:
SD card speed class
If you want your vehicle to remain protected even when you are not present and driving than you should consider a dashboard camera with parking mode.
In parking mode if the G-sensor inside your dash cam is triggered it will start recording to capture what disturbed your vehicle.
Keep in mind that your dash cam will first need to turn on before it starts recording so it won’t capture the accident itself but it will capture the events afterwards.
If you want your dashboard camera to record at all times even when parked look for a dash cam with buffered parking mode. Buffered parking mode causes your dash cam to record nonstop and only save footage if the G-sensor is triggered indicating a disturbance of some kind.
NOTE: Having your dash cam record nonstop for days on end can drain your car battery! If you only have your car parked for short amounts of time, for example if you are a daily commuter, you should be fine. However, if you plan to have your car parked for longer than a day or two we recommend looking into a battery discharge device to prevent the real risk of killing your battery.
Wi-Fi (wifi) connectivity is becoming a more common feature in modern dashboard cameras.
Many dash cams with Wi-Fi offer mobile apps that allow you to view live footage from your camera if your car is parked as well as save your video. Some apps even allow you to quickly upload your footage online for your friends, family, or the world to see.
We think dash cams with Wi-Fi allow you to upload and view your footage faster and easier which gives you a greater ease of use and increased user experience. Make sure you read reviews about the quality of prospective dash cam’s mobile application so that you don’t have headaches in the future.
Dashboard cameras with a GPS allow you to attach your exact location and speed to your video.
This is increadibly useful to show exactly where an accident happened and at what speed you were traveling.
GPS units that are embedded inside dash cams can make them larger. Some smaller units allow you to attach an external GPS usually sold separately.
Date and time stamp
Dash cams with a date and time stamp will add the date and time to your footage. This is incredibly useful if you ever intend to use your footage for evidence in court or anywhere else.
Pressing the lock button on a dashboard camera will save that current video file from being deleted. This feature is useful to quickly and easily save video footage whenever you want.
Stealth is key when looking for a great dashboard camera. We recommend black as the best color because it is both stylish and stealthy.
Dashboard cameras can be installed in a variety of ways:
- Suction cup mounts
- Often used for larger cameras and are good because you can relocate the camera
- Tape mounts
- Reduces vibration for better video, but is harder to relocate
- Mirror mounts
- Attach either behind the rear-view mirror or below it
- Mirror replacements
- Replace your current rear view mirror, can be more stylish, and is a good option for those looking for a taxi cam
Display screen or not
Some dash cams have LCD screens while others do not. This is a matter of personal preference.
Dashboard cameras with screens tend to be larger and can be easier to use due to the added visual ques. However, if you prefer a smaller more discrete dashboard camera you may want to check out dash cams without a display screen.
Ease of Use
We all want our electronics to be easy to use and user friendly. Make sure you check out reviews and videos to observe how to setup and change settings on your dash cam.
Some things we like to look for in easy to use dash cams:
- LED status light so you know when your dashcam is recording
- Have a screen so you can easily view the menu items (if you are ok with a larger dashcam)
- A non-confusing button layout
- Sound effects to notify you of changes
Price Range of dash cams
The cheapest dash cams worth purchasing start at around $40. Higher end dash cams can cost as much as $400. Due to the vast amount of cameras and large price discrepancy it can be quite hard to find an amazing deal for a dash cam with all the right features at a great price.
That’s why we decided to create comparison tables making it easy for you to find the right dashboard camera for you.
Legality of dash cams
Dashboard camera popularity is on the rise but is it legal to record at all times while driving?
This is an important question to ask and laws vary by country and state vastly, so it is important to consult your local law officials.
For more information on the legality of dash cams check out these helpful articles