The Ultimate Dash Cam Buying Guide
Features to Look for Before Buying a Dash Cam
The very fact that you are thinking about buying a dash cam means you know what a dash cam is all about. But, let’s take a step back and take a closer look at what a dash cam is all about.
A dash cam or a dashboard camera or a car DVR, as the name suggests, is a camera affixed inside the car that keeps recording the view through your car’s front windscreen.
Some cameras also record the view through the rear and other car windows. If you feel the need to record the inside of your car on a continuous basis, there are dash cams satisfying this need as well.
The Usefulness of Dash Cams
So clearly there are people out there who think buying a dash cam is a good idea, and the number of such people will keep on growing.
But, if you are one of those, who think buying a dash cam isn’t that great an idea, you will need a bit of convincing to go for one.
Yes, you need a dash cam, because they bring a whole lot of benefits to the table. In a nutshell, they will get rid of a number of worries and can provide an answer if you are in a bad situation.
Here are some of the critical reasons why installing dash cams makes perfect sense:
Protection from Insurance Frauds
The Parent or Protective Car Owners Angle
Dangerous Drivers Alert
1. Protection from Insurance Frauds
One of the biggest benefits of dash cams is they play the role of extremely reliable witnesses during insurance claims.
‘Crash for cash’ claims are a common type of insurance scam and in Britain, fraudsters made £2m worth of bogus claims, which were unearthed after a 5-year investigation.
So how do some of these fraud insurance claims work? Here’s an e.g., a driver will swoop in front of another vehicle and apply a ‘short brake’ to stop in front of the vehicle.
As can be imagined, this can result in fender bender damage and this driver won’t be held responsible for this damage, and the driver behind the ‘swoop and squat’ driver will typically be held responsible for this accident.
But not if this driver has a dash cam installed that offers footage that he/she wasn’t at fault.
As a driver, you need to be wary of three kinds of accidents:
wherein two vehicles are purposely damaged or crashed.
The Ghost Accident
wherein an accident never took place, but a claim is made.
The Induced Accident (e.g. swoop and squat)
wherein circumstances are created that it's an innocent driver's fault.
Dash cams can protect you from such scams because they are recording all the time and can prove your innocence.
2. The Parent or Protective Car Owners Angle
2,433, teens aged between 16 and 19 were killed in motor vehicle crashes and 292, 742 were treated for injuries, in 2016.These figures tell you parents are justified in worrying about the safety of their kids (teen drivers), especially when these teens do not have much driving experience.
If you as a parent want to ensure that your child is driving responsibly and want proof then there is nothing better than a dash cam to provide that proof. Think of a situation wherein your child has a penchant for over-speeding or frequently hands over keys to a less accomplished driver.
In case you don’t have a dash cam, you might have no way of knowing this is happening.
Here’s another scenario - your friends have a habit of borrowing your car; how do you ensure you know whether they are driving your car safely? Rather than asking awkward questions, a dash cam can provide you with all the answers you want.
3. Dangerous Drivers Alert
Dangerous or reckless driving has resulted in deadly accidents and is a matter of concern. The problem with dangerous drivers is that they cause accidents and at times walk away from such accidents without a scratch on their body.
Innocent and safety conscious drivers have to pay the price both in terms of physical injury and monetary loss for the folly of reckless drivers.
Some instances of dangerous driving include:
With dash cams, you can play your part in reporting dangerous drivers and keeping the roads safe. What you can also do with a dash cam camera is focus on the road ahead of you and not the dangerous drivers around you.
4. Accident Record
God forbid you end up in an accident!
In such cases, there are different memories and descriptions of the accident. At times, you don’t really remember much because of shock. But it is imperative you are able to prove you were not at fault (that is, if you were not actually at fault).
In such cases, a dash cam and its recording come in to give a clear idea of what happened, what did not, and whether you are in the clear or not.
The ability to take a video recording of accidents is one of the common reasons why drivers prefer to install a dash cam.
5. Capture Memories
Think of a road trip wherein you can capture memories not only outside your car but also record the happenings inside the car.
Also, a road trip is all about the road and the not the stops you make; there might be a few beautiful picture-perfect towns you pass by, but have not time to stop.
So, what if you don’t stop. You can record these towns as you go by them, as your dash cam is always recording. You have memories for life and that too without making a lot of effort.
Once you are home, you can edit your dash cam footage to create an interesting video montage of the towns you passed and the lovely scenery you saw.
History of Dash Cams
Like any other, disruptive product, the early dash cams were large and ungainly, unrecognizable from their counterparts today. The earliest use of dash cams was seen in law enforcement in the United States, in the 80s and 90s.
However, the use of onboard cameras in sports such as motor racing preceded their use as a law enforcement tool.
These cameras were analog in nature and were a far cry from the digital cameras that are fitted in cars today; their recordings could be seen via VHS cassettes.
These cameras were not affixed to the dashboard in any way or form but were placed on tripods on the front and back windows.
They were costly
If you think today’s high-res advanced cameras are expensive, you will be shocked to hear the prices of dashboard cameras back in the day. They were not just very expensive but also bulky. This is the reason why only government departments such as police could actually afford them and find a use for them.
What’s more, the video clarity was not top-notch, and their output was not very clear, wherein the police found it difficult to identify vehicle license plates and even models from their recordings.
Here’s a video that captures the history of dash cams from the law enforcement perspective:
As is the case with any new technology, it takes time for it to find its feet, but if it is good, it will find traction.
While earlier, the cameras in police vehicles were used to record police action and ensure their safety, by the 90s, these cameras were being used by civilians to record police officers and ensure they are not held liable for the driving offenses they did not commit.
Yes, this happens on more occasions than you care to imagine, and dash cams can be a good way of protecting yourself and your rights.
The Sales Cycle
When civilians started to install onboard cameras in their cars, the police started increasing their use of dashboard cameras, in order to ensure their own interests remains protected, and they weren’t falsely accused of wrongful arrests.
As can be imagined, this “tit for tat”, started driving the sales of dashcams upwards and they slowly started becoming a meaningful addition to car interiors.
As the sales began increasing, so did the evolution of dash cam technology. Companies manufacturing dash cams saw sense in investing money in developing better, more convenient and simpler to user dash cams that were also much cheaper than the available options.
You also had shows like the World’s Wildest Police Videos that captured police chases and arrests through dash cams in police cars, driving up the popularity of dash cams.
The Russian Connection
We are sure you must have come across at least some Russian dash cam videos and you might be wondering why almost everyone in Russia installs dash cams?
Well, back in 2009, Russia’s Interior Ministry passed regulations, which made it easier for Russians to install dashboard cameras in their cars.
Couple this with falling prices of dashboard cameras, a huge number of car accidents and the availability of technically advanced cameras and you had a situation wherein Russians increasingly started using dash cams, so much so that it is a ubiquitous part of their cars today.
The Dash Cam Evolution
The dash cam evolution began when companies realized that the need of the hour was to bring down costs, make these cameras smaller and ensure they deliver high resolution recordings.
But this wasn’t enough; the evolution of various technologies means more tech is now being embedded in dash cams than ever before. Today, you have dash cams that provide a GPS stamp of your location at any given point of time, to ensure help can reach you when you need it most.
The onboard camera can be controlled remotely and can also store many hours of footage, and the features really depend on what are your expectations from the camera. There are cameras that can meet each and every requirement.
This is the reason why dashboard cameras are now being used not only in law enforcement and civilian vehicles but also in public transport, taxis and more. Their user-friendly design, easy installation and varied benefits mean just about everyone is seeing sense in installing dash cams.
If this has convinced you to install a dash cam c, here are some of the features you need to look for in them:
This is a super-critical parameter when you are choosing dash cams.
There are onboard cameras that offer 4K resolution like the ROVE R2-4k dash camera. Such displays offer better clarity with a resolution of 2160p (Ultra-HD), which is better than even some of the TVs available on the market.
Typically, such cameras record at a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels, which makes for superior video quality.
It is imperative that you choose a camera wide lens (preferably, an Ultra-Wide A+ lens) that offers you a better and more enhanced viewing angle so that your 4K resolution camera can capture even the most minute details.
What’s more, it’s also important that your dash camera’s resolution is not limited to just one resolution but offers you a choice of multiple resolutions including:
- 2.7K 1440P @30fps
- 2K 1296P@30fps
- FHD 1080P @30 & 60fps
- Slow-Mo 720P @12Ofps
- HD 720P @30 & 60fps
So why do you need to install high-resolution dashboard cameras?
The one-word answer is – clarity. If you want to use the dash cam footage in a court of law or to prove your innocence in a matter, a high-definition camera ensures there is no doubt in the viewers’ minds about what happened.
You can zoom in to focus on some critical details, which otherwise might be missed e.g. road signs and number plates that are some distance away from your vehicle, passenger details etc.
Something else that a high-resolution camera allows you to do is help you make really engaging videos of an amazing place you passed or something that happened on the road while you were driving.
Remember, those Russian road videos and what we said about capturing those moments on the road? Well, if it meets the highest standards of quality, this footage can help you earn some easy money (if it is interesting) and you sell it to television channels.
A dash cam with WiFi is the norm these days, as it helps you send/download all the captured video footage directly onto your phone/tablet/laptop. You don’t have to stick to the long-winded process of removing the micro-SD card from the dash cam and then copying the files to your computer.
WiFi embedded in the dashboard camera, you can share video footage with either concerned authorities or even your friends and family, and even share the videos on social media, easily and quickly.
Think of a situation wherein you are involved in an accident and you are some way away from your home (in another State for instance), and you need to immediately share footage of the accident with concerned people.
Time is of the essence.
In such cases, you leverage the WiFi dash cam connectivity and send footage immediately without wasting time.
Another benefit of a car dash cam with WiFi is that all firmware updates can be pushed easily to the camera. There is very little chance that your camera doesn’t have the latest features and functionalities pushed out by the vendor.
Think of a situation wherein you have to prove to law enforcement that you weren’t over-speeding or were at a particular location at a given point of time.
This is where a dash cam GPS comes handy.
The GPS on your dash cam keeps track of your vehicle’s location and contemporary dashboard cameras with GPS systems are so advanced that they not only track the route your vehicles are travelling but also their speed.
This is displayed when you playback the recorded video footage.
So why do you need dash cam with GPS tracking? Here are a few reasons:
In case of an accident, the GPS helps show the exact location of the accident.
Provides other details such as the name of the road and also the location of other vehicles
GPS helps give a clear idea of the speed of the vehicle, thus giving clarity on whether your vehicle was within or over the speed limit.
As can be imagined, the information provided by a dash cam with GPS tracker can prove to be critical if you want to claim insurance in case of accidents and also in court proceedings.
Typically, the motion detection feature is found in the ‘parking mode’ section in a dash cam with a motion sensor. When you enable motion detection the front view camera or G-Sensor starts looking out for motion or vibration and once detected, the camera turns on automatically and beings recording.
The dash cam with motion sensor stops recording automatically, usually some seconds after it cannot pick up motion/vibration.
It is easy to confuse between parking mode and motion detection but these are two very different things. You must be aware of the difference so that you can choose the right dashboard camera with the right features.
Motion detection should only be chosen when the car is parked (not when you are parking), and will record happenings in front of/around the car when you are not in the car or using the car.
The problem with keeping the ‘parking mode’ on is that the recording will capture everything even if there is no real movement around your car.
Think of a scenario wherein you have parked your car in a parking lot and all that the camera records is, the cars parked opposite your car; your memory card will quickly lose space in the bargain.
However, ‘motion detection’ mode is a subset of ‘parking mode’.
The camera starts recording only if there is a movement in its field of view. A motion detection dash cam will prove to be helpful if someone damages your parked car, or someone tries to steal the license plate or a miscreant choose to have a little bit of fun (paints it) while you are away.
Even when you get the best dash cam with motion detection, it is still important to know when and where to use its motion detection capabilities.
It is important that you choose a dash cam with parking mode with an internal battery that has a long life because the camera will keep recording as long as you have chosen the parking mode.
Now there are two ways you can go about it.
Firstly, you can choose the parking mode wherein the dash cam parking mode will keep recording everything once the car is parked, irrespective of whether there is any danger to the car or not.
Secondly, and like we have already discussed, the best dash cam with parking mode also has a motion detection feature that will only start recording once motion is detected by the camera or the G-Sensor in the camera.
Ideally, you should have both a front and rear dash cam with parking mode to ensure you can capture video footage from both sides of the vehicle. Accidents can happen from both the front and back or vandals could damage your vehicle from the front and/or back.
What happens if you choose to keep your parking mode overnight when you park your car, without switching to the motion detection feature? What this will do is fill up the SD memory card quickly as the dash cam is recording continuously.
The solution to this lies in choosing a looping camera for your needs, wherein the loop recording enables continuous recording wherein older files are overwritten by the newer files when the memory card reaches its full capacity.
But what happens in the case of an incident? Say another vehicle hits your vehicle, this results in the activation of the G-Sensor, that ensures the recording will not be overwritten.
You can also press the ‘file protect’ button to ensure that a particular file recording is not overwritten.
Loop recording dash cams typically record for 3 minutes/file but this could be a 5 minutes file if you make a few adjustments. The total loop recording time can be increased by adjusting the resolution - the lower the resolution the more the recording. So, it is really your choice.
Wide Angle Recording
Another feature you must have in your dash cam is wide-angle recording. The best wide angle dash cams use the best wide angle lens with a short focal length and a wider view than other camera lenses.
Advanced dash cams sport a wide lens to deliver more depth of field, which essentially means there are plenty of things that can be seen through the frame in focus. So, what you get is a wider view of the scene in front of you.
The idea behind wide-angle recording is to ensure the camera not only captures the subject (in this case the vehicle), but also the background. You can also zoom into a particular part of the recording to get more clarity on a particular incident that was recorded.
The core purpose of wide angle recording is to give more clarity and purpose to dash cam records.
What is a G sensor?
They are also known as an accelerometer.
These are present in your phones and dash cams too. The job of the dash cam G sensor is to monitor the G force and assigns proper value to impact force.
If and when this force reaches a pre-determined/pre-set value on the dash cam, the recorded footage of the impact is protected and moved to another folder. This ensures it is not overwritten (remember, loop recording).
The G sensor dash cam isn’t just triggered by the vehicular impact but can be triggered if your vehicle hits a bump on the road or during sudden acceleration and braking. If you want to calibrate or even switch off the G sensor function you can do so through the controls of the dash cam.
The dash cam G sensor needs to be of very high quality, and you therefore shouldn’t make any compromises on its quality.
Another quality that your dash cam must absolutely have is a long-lasting battery.
You don’t want the dash cam to give up on you when you need it most. Think of a situation wherein you have left the dash cam in parking mode, when you park your car outside your home at night; the next morning you find someone has damaged your front dashboard.
You think your dash cam must have recorded the incident, but you find that it ran out of battery life. Result – you have no way of knowing how your car got damaged and who was responsible.
There are dash cams that can record conversations taking place inside the car, through their audio recording feature. This comes handy when you are off on a long road trip, and want to record all the fun happenings inside the car; this won’t be fun to watch if there is no audio!
Also, you might want to “eavesdrop” on conversations when you aren’t actually driving your car and someone else is or for that matter when you have sent it to the garage etc.
Also, there are some dash cams whose audio recording is so powerful that they can pick up conversation happening outside the car; this can be of great benefit in the case of accidents or road rage incidents.
Low Light Clarity
Make sure your dash cam can capture footage even in low light. This feature shouldn’t be confused with night-vision capability. The low light feature is handy when you are driving in low-light conditions such as stormy weather, fog, rain or snow.
This is the time when you are more susceptible to accidents, and your dash cam should be capable of recording footage that is clear, even in such difficult conditions.
There is no doubt that comparatively the recording won’t be as clear as the one shot when the light was better, but the clarity must be enough to help the viewer make sense of what is being shown.
A huge 50% of deaths due to accidents occur at night. The reason can be drowsy driving, fatigue, limited visibility or something else, but this means you need your dash cam for night driving. You must pick the best dash cam with the best night vision, which has the kind of features that help it deliver great picture quality even at night.
Even if someone bangs into your car on a really dark night, the car cam with night vision will still grab the license plate information and record every instance of the accident with clear picture quality.
Also, it would be a good idea to focus on choosing a dash cam with GPS and night vision to ensure you are able to say with surety when and where the recording was taken.
Wide Dynamic Range (WDR)
What is WDR?
WDR has the ability to process images to ensure recording clarity, irrespective of whether you have shot it in bright or dark light.
It creates one extremely clear high-quality image by combining various images at diverse brightness levels. This is done by grabbing multiple frames at different contrast levels and bringing all of them together to create the best possible image.
With WDR, you have the ability to make out specific detailing in images that might not be available otherwise. It is of great benefit when the camera records in areas that have dynamic light with different light range at various intervals.
One example of this is to drive into a small foggy area and emerging into a brighter, sunnier area. A WDR dash cam is built with advanced sensors that help it deliver a large number of lighting options, enabling the image recording with a higher light depth. A critical element of wide dynamic range cameras is a light-sensitive sensor that is faster than other sensors.
So make sure you keep this particular feature in mind, when you pick a dash cam with WRD technology.
Even the most advanced cameras can be installed easily, without any technical expertise. The dash cam you choose should be such that you can install the dash cam without outside help.
Make sure that the dash cam you choose can be updated easily. This is necessary because the vendor is going to push firmware updates regularly and you need to be able to download the latest updates onto your dashcam.
There is no doubt dash cam brings a truck load of benefits to the table. But, it is imperative you are able to choose the right dash cam with the kind of features that will ensure superior quality recording.