Find The Best Dash Cam
Choosing which type and brand of dash cam to buy can be overwhelming for a first time buyer with limited knowledge on the relatively new tech device become common in many cars across America.
In a 2018 Google Auto Trends Report, they say “we see a consistent trend in consumers searching to bring on-board cameras into their vehicles“.
Many of us often associate dash cameras with crazy insurance scam videos from other countries, but the car camera trend is spreading here to the US, as more and more people want to protect themselves from expensive accident related legal battles and unlawful police encounters, as well as being able to capture road videos worthy of posting on social media sites such as Youtube, Twitter and Instagram.
There are thousands of different dash cameras for sale today, picking which one best fits your needs can be a bit confusing at first. We have put together a list of the all the key features that most dash cams come with to give you a better understanding of what to look for when buying your own car camera and how to pick the best dash cam.
The first thing you should take into consideration is what size and shape of dash camera you would like to install in your car.
Different Sizes and Shapes of Dash Cams
While size plays a large role in a dash cam, it isn’t everything. If a camera is too small then it will have to cut back on some features. If you really want a small camera, you might have to sacrifice some additional features to achieve this, like GPS or an LCD screen.
There are four popular dash cam shapes:
- Wedge Shaped, which usually have a sticky adhesive mount and stick to the very top of your windshield behind your review mirror. The wedge shaped style will typically have a built in LCD screen.
- Tube Shaped, this is commonly the smallest sized dash cams and do not have an LCD screen. Access to camera settings is done through a smartphone app. A tube shaped dash cam is considered the most “stealthy” design and helps prevent car break-ins from thieves who want to steal your dash cam.
- Hanging, typically a square shaped dash cam that hangs down from the mount, often a suction cup mount. This style is the oldest type of dash cam, although it is becoming less common on mid to higher priced dash cams because it takes up more space and is more visible to car prowlers. Hanging dash cams with a suction cup mount can be good for a temporary install, such as a rental car because they are easy to install and take off.
- Rear View Mirror Mounted, the largest dash cam of them all. The mirror mounted dash cam has rubber straps that go around your existing rear view mirror. The camera unit has a built-in mirror with an LCD screen hidden behind the mirror. Some find it hard to get used to the mirror on the dash cam and often complain of the video shaking too much. These are the least popular types of dash cams, so there are only a handful of quality rear view mirror dash cams for sale, checkout our guide on The Best Rear View Mirror Mounted Dash Cams
Dual Channel Dash Cams
The amount of channels you have is one of the most fundamental differences you can get in a dash camera. A single channel dash cam means you only have one camera attached to the front of your car for front footage only, a dual dash cam has two cameras. You install one in the front and one in the back of your vehicle, usually on to the back window. This provides front and rear views of the road. A dual channel dash camera with a 2 in 1 lens can also provide footage of the interior of the car, which might be good for drivers who use rideshare apps like Uber or Lyft and want to use the interior camera to record passengers for security and liability reasons.
Read our guide on The Best Uber and Lyft Dash Cam
Both types of cameras have distinct differences, advantages, and disadvantages. With a single channel camera you usually get higher video quality and a cheaper camera but you lack the security of having your vehicle covered from all angles. A dual dash camera provides protection in more areas but are often more expensive and the rear video quality is usually not as good as front video quality, although the higher end front and rear dash cams provide great rear video quality. If you’re interested in the extra security then it might be a good idea to look into a dual channel camera, but if you’re looking for a cheaper camera then it might be best to start out with a single channel and upgrade later if you want more coverage.
Read our guide on dual dash cams here: Best Front and Rear Dash Cams
A parking guard or parking mode uses a motion sensor or impact detection and pre-buffered recording to protect your car when it is parked and turned off. If it detects motion or an impact around your car or a collision happens, it turns on into full operational mode and begins recording and saving video. Many of the higher end dash cameras that have parking mode use pre buffered video recording, meaning that it continuously records 5-15 second video loops and discards them, but when motion or an impact on your car is detected, it starts saving that video file and continues recording. By doing this, it will record the first 5-15 seconds of an event before it happens. The cheaper dash cams do not provide this, so you will only capture video after the event has been detected.
Parking mode is useful for those who frequent public spaces and often park in cities or less secure areas to have documentation in case of an incident. This feature is great for your average person to have because accidents can happen even while not in motion. People are more likely to flee the scene if an accident happens while the driver isn’t in the vehicle and doesn’t know who they are, so a dash camera with a parking guard feature can be a great way to capture a hit and run in a parking lot, allowing you to get the drivers license plates on video
G Sensor or Impact Sensor
A G Sensor is a tiny feature that most dash cameras have, but it is still a good feature to be aware of. A G-Sensor has a built-in accelerometer, similar to one a smartphone has to keep the image displayed on the phone upright. This G Sensor detects sudden changes in G Force, which usually happens if a car is in a moving road accident or someone hits your car in a parking lot. When the camera detects an impact it locks the current video file, which will prevent it from being recorded over when your memory card is full and the camera begins to overwrite old video files. This feature preserves these older video files where an impact is detected.
The G-Sensor is also used in parking mode, when your car is turned off, but the camera is still discretely monitoring the surrounds. If your camera is in parking mode while left parked and a car hits the side of your car causing it to shake, the G-Sensor will detect this and capture video while you are away from your car.
Loop recording is the process of automatically overwriting old video files to make room for new video files. Your typical digital video camera or GoPro action cam memory card will get full of video files, requiring you to manually delete them in order to make room for more videos.
Dash cameras record lots of small video files, usually 1 to 3 minute video clips. By doing this, it helps preserve more older video footage by not having to overwrite bigger 20+ minute video clips. Instead, it can overwrite old 1 minute video files as it goes. This also helps in case a video file is corrupted and not saved properly, you will not lose 30 minutes of video footage, you will only lose one minute of video footage.
Nearly all dash cams sold today use loop recording, this is what sets dash cams apart from your typical video camera or GoPro.
Frame Rate, Video Quality & Night Quality and Memory Card
The biggest reason anyone buys a dash camera is to record video footage. No matter what type of bells and whistles a dash camera has, the quality of video should be a huge deciding factor. Dash cam video quality has exponentially improved in the past few years, so nowadays it’s relatively easy to get a dash cam with full HD video at 1080p or greater for a reasonable price.
The frame rate of a camera is measured in the amount of frames, or still images, a camera takes per second (known as frames per second, or fps). A higher amount of frames allows for smoother video. Lower end cameras might record at 30fps and medium to higher end cameras will typically record at 60fps. It’s rare that you’ll see a camera record higher or lower than this but it is still a possibility. One of the main reasons people want a high frame rate on a dash cam is to capture the license plate number of a car traveling at higher speeds.
Normal video resolution nowadays is around 1080p for most of the mid range dash cams. 1080 is the number of pixels that the camera is recording. The higher number of pixels, the sharper the image will typically be. Some of the cheaper dash cameras will only go to 720p, but most modern cameras have a full HD option, which is 1920 x 1080p. The more expensive dash cams will record 2K or 4K video. You need to use caution when shopping for a 4K dash cam, as there are many fake 4K dash cams currently for sale. They are advertised as 4K, but the do not actually record 4K, they upscale it to 4K after the video has been captured. In order for a dash cam to truly 4K video, it needs to have at least a 8MP image sensor, so if you see a dash cam that says it 4K, but only has a 4MP image sensor, it is not a true 4K dash cam.
Although this does provide better video quality, it is not necessarily a requirement for most who want to capture a decent video of a car accident for insurance purposes.
Another thing to watch out for is the video quality at nighttime. Almost every camera has great daytime visuals but it’s a lot harder for cameras to provide the same visuals at nighttime due to the lack of light. Usually your headlights will provide a little light for your camera to work with but if you’re concerned with watching your car as it’s parked overnight, make sure it has decent nighttime quality or night vision. Pretty much every camera won’t be able to deliver the same visual quality at night as it does during the day, but you want something that’s decent.
Good video quality is very important for dash cameras because if an accident happens a sharp camera will catch the license plate of an offender easily. The only drawback to high quality video is the large amount of space they take up. While it is nice to have great quality videos, they will ultimately take up more room on a SD card, so you’ll want to make sure that with any dash camera you purchase you have an SD card that has a lot of storage if you want to save lots of driving footage. Each camera will have a limit on the biggest microSD card you can use with their camera.
Read our guide on The Best Memory Card for a Dash Cam
A standard feature on most dash cams is to allow the user to record audio from the camera unit. In most cases audio is not that important to the video being recorded, but having a builtin microphone to record audio is an important feature to have. Many people will disable audio recording on their dash cam, as they don’t like the idea of their personal conversions in their car being recorded.
When can audio recording be useful? Many find it useful to audio record their encounters with police when they have been pulled over, which could later be used in court as evidence. You might also want to have audio recording is someone in a road rage type indecent approaches your car and is confrontational. Make sure you are familiar with your state and local audio recording laws, which might be an issue based on older wire tapping laws and recording people without their permission.
A nice feature on many dash cams is a physical microphone on/off button that let’s you easily start recording audio with a push of a button, rather than having to go into the settings on the menu and turn audio recording on.
Dash cameras are mainly used for cars, and cars are driven on roads. Most roads have multiple lanes, so it’s important to have a camera with a fairly wide lens angle to capture multiple lanes of traffic. Most dash cameras have camera angles from about 120° to 170°. The larger your camera angle is the more it can capture, but if the angle is too big it could also have a fisheye effect (that you might find on an action cam like a GoPro). This is where the image is distorted and instead of getting an image with straight lines of perspective, you get an image with curved lines of perspective, giving it a panoramic or globular look. If you don’t mind the image distortion, a wide angle lens provides more of a view and could help you in case of an accident. A wider lens angle can help capture parts of an accident that happen on the far right or left of your car that might be missed on a smaller lens angle dash cam. We recommend getting a dash cam with at least a 150° lens angle to provide adequate coverage around your car.
Some cameras have an LCD screen that show the driver what they’re recording as they’re driving. Some of the more advanced cameras even have a touchscreen that lets them control settings directly on the camera itself. While this feature is cool, it’s not necessary as you will rarely interact with your dash cam once it’s setup and often makes the unit bigger. While some people may like this feature, others might just want a smaller, less complex camera. The size of the screen usually doesn’t impact the price either so this feature simply comes down to preference.
Date & Timestamp
Nearly all dash cams will allow you to put a date stamp (text of the date on the video footage), while also allowing you to disable this in the settings. Along with a date and timestamp, many dash cams with GPS will let you put text on the video that shows your current GPS coordinates along with your speed. Unfortunately, a dash cam with a speed overlayed on to the video footage usually isn’t enough to get out of a simple speeding ticket, as the dash cam is not a certified device that has to be calibrated to ensure that the speed is accurate.
WiFi integration on dash cams is becoming a sought after feature for those who want to be able to access their car cam with their smartphone. Before WiFi, the user would have to remove the SD card from the camera and put it into a computer to view the files. WiFi provides a way to transfer videos onto a smartphone or tablet for later viewing or sharing. Along with being able to view videos and photos directly on your phone, you can also change the dash cam settings. WiFi features will vary based on the Android or iOS APP provided by the dash cam manufacturer. Another advantage of having WiFi on a dash cam is that the LCD screen can be removed, making the dash cam even smaller. The 2.4 GHz channel connects at farther distances and the 5GHz channel provides faster transfer rates, although without as wide of a range as the 2.4 GHz channel.
Read our guide on The Best WiFi Dash Cams
The two main benefits of having GPS on your dash cam is to provide your GPS location coordinates and the speed at which you are traveling. These can usually be overlayed on to the video footage directly, to show this in the video after it has been recorded. GPS can also be used in some camera APPS to track your cars location.
Dash cams that offer GPS will either be a built in feature or an add-on module you can buy for an extra fee.
Dash Cam Apps
Almost every dash camera with a built-in WiFi connection will also provide a companion smartphone app. This app will usually allow you to view videos taken on the dash camera as well as share files from your smartphone to other devices or to social media. This is an alternate method of transferring your files from your SD card onto your computer. You can change camera settings on the app which can help if the camera’s interface is subpar or it’s just easier to use your smartphone. Smaller dash cams that do not have an LCD screen require an APP to interact with the dash cam. Some apps will even let you watch what your dash camera is recording in real time, allowing your camera double as a security camera. If your dash cam has parking mode, this feature can come in handy when the car is off too.
Along with APPS that integrate with a separate dash cam, there are also APPS that can turn your smartphone into a dash cam itself.
Customer Support and Dash Cam Quality
There are thousands of cheap dash cams that are priced well under $100, you can even find brand new dash cams for $15 on eBay. The problem with many of these low priced dash cams is that they often use cheap components and lower level image sensors that capture poor video quality.
With any new piece of technology you get, it’s important to know how to use it or know someone who does. If you’re less tech savvy, having responsive customer support helps you get the best experience out of your dash camera. Even if you do know your way around technology, if your camera stops working for some reason or something goes wrong good customer support is a plus. You can usually tell if a company has good customer support if a lot of people mention it in the reviews of the product. Most of the time companies are pretty responsive when it comes to expensive products like dash cameras but you might want to avoid a company that has a lot of negative reviews. While this isn’t technically a feature, it’s still something important to watch out for.
For a list of our latest reviews on dash cameras, be sure to visit our Dash Cam Reviews page