Accidents, road rage incidents or some freak viral-ready occurrence can happen anywhere and at any time; even to the most experienced drivers. Eyewitness testimonies aren’t always reliable. Three eyewitnesses can narrate three different versions of the same incident.
Innocent drivers often find themselves paying the price for accidents that weren’t entirely their faults. The dash cam is often the only reliable witness on our roads. Accidents and other road incidents often happen in such a flash that other road users won’t even have the quick reaction time to flash out their smartphones and snap the event.
Fortunately for the modern driver, dashboard cameras or dash cams are there for us to capture the irrefutable footage of events as they happen. The dash cam is your first line of defense in case the unexpected happens and the police or insurance company is struggling to piece together an accurate version of events.
Dash cams are the quintessential car accessories. No serious modern driver fails to equip their vehicle with one. They serve as your backup fourth eye and will come in handy when you are on a back and forth with your insurance company or police. They can capture road incidents, crime and be an effective policing tool to make our roads and highways safer.
We also happen to live in the era of crowdsourcing so it is only logical that motorists also do their part in making our roads safe and crime-free for all road users through their dash cams.
Dash cam footage is, however, only as good as the camera used in capturing them. For the sharpest dash cam footage, you need a dashboard camera with excellent high-definition resolution and sets of handy features that will allow you to operate the camera with relative ease. The industry-leading dash cams have functions that you can extend into ever more innovative uses.
Buying the Best Dash Cams for Your Car
There are potentially hundreds of dash cam brands in the market. These include the top brands such as Garmin, Nextbase, Thinkware, Vantrue, Kenwood and BlackVue among others. Then there are the generic dash cam brands. With such a constellation of options to pick from, it might be a daunting task sifting through the maze to find the best dashboard camera for your car.
Most of these dashboard cameras will record new footage over the oldest footage that is stored in the memory card. However, when the dashcam senses some impact or movement, it should automatically preserve this section to protect it from being overwritten when the dash camera captures new footage.
Alternatively, you can simply download this video from your memory card and save it on your laptop or smartphone. There exists huge differences in the various dash cam models. These differences are centered around the following features and specifications: –
- Video quality
- Viewing angle
- GPS tracking functionality
- Size/ how compact the dash cam is
- Ease of installation
- Integrated Amazon Alexa functionality
- Amount of trailing wires
- Night vision
- Built-in displays
- Wi-Fi connectivity
- Ease of use
- Ease of navigation
- Ease of rotation
- Digital image stabilization
This is, no doubt, the key consideration when shopping for a good dash cam for a car. At the end of the day, no matter the range and breadth of the dashcam features, you’d want to capture very crisp footage. The dash cam should capture sharp videos that allow you to make out the license plates of the other cars and other finer details on the road.
You will obtain the sharpest videos from the high-res dash cam models or the 4K models which record in 1440p. At the minimum, go for a dashcam with at least 1080p. Below this, you will see a drastic drop in the quality of footage that you capture.
You certainly shouldn’t go for a 720p dash cam model. They come cheap but the image quality will be hazy and you won’t be able to see the key details that you would want to glean out of a dash cam footage in case of an accident or road incident.
Dash cams that record at 4K with some decent frame rate will give you something very close to cinematic footage. You will get very high-definition recordings with a good deal of detail even when you are driving in poorly-lit conditions. With such a dash cam, the registration numbers along with the other hard-to-see road features and incidents are clearly captured.
Generally, a minimum of 1080p resolution allows you to capture sharp and well-defined footage whether you are recording in light or dark environments. When using a dashcam, you will want footage that is distinct enough that the details such as license plates will be clearly discernible to an insurance company, law enforcement officer or a lawyer. If you can afford it, always go for the much higher resolution dash cams.
Ease of Installation
Some dash cams involve intricate cable work when it comes to the installation process. Ideally, you should go for dash cams that are easy to install and easy to remove.
Dash cams come with multiple mounting options depending on the model nor brand. The simplest models are designed with powered magnetic mounts and can easily be popped on and off without fiddling with cords.
The ease of use is also determined by mechanism by which the mount will attach to your car windshield.
There are dash cams whose mounting mechanism is an adhesive pad. While this provides for a secure attachment, it is harder to reposition or even use in different vehicles.
Some dash cam camera mounts use suction cups. These are not only easy to attach but are also easy to reposition. On the flipside, this mounting mechanism takes up too much space on your windshield. Most of the dash cam models in the market will have this mounting mechanism.
Some drivers are ok with the larger and more visible dashboard cameras. Others, on the other hand, prefer dash cameras that are less conspicuous. There are dash cams that are so tiny and discreet that people won’t even notice them. They will virtually disappear on your car windshields. We expect smaller car dash cams to pack less than optimal specs and performance but some still capture surprisingly good video quality.
Some dash cameras can be as small as a key fob. Like the larger dash cams, these tiny cameras are also designed with multiple mounting options such as adhesive pads and magnets.
Ease of Use
Your dashboard camera is pretty much useless if you can’t access the footage or use the controls to achieve a desired action. The dash controls shouldn’t just have clear labeling, they should also be easy to reach. The dash camera should, particularly, have an easy-to-reach video-lock button. They camera should also have buttons that you can easily identify and access even in the dark. The menus should be intuitive and manipulable even by a non-tech savvy person. Ideally, you should also go for a dash cam with a companion smartphone app.
A Larger Field of View
Most buyers aren’t aware of the importance of the field of view (FOV) on the eventual footage. Go for dashcams that have a wider field of view that ranges from 140 to 160 degrees. The FOV should be sufficient to capture large intersections or an entire view of multi-lane highways without experiencing a wide-angle effect whereby the cars in front you will appear as if they are farther away than they really are which makes the details more difficult to pick out.
Is the Mounting System Effective?
Go for dashcams that can securely hold the cameras in place and enable you to aim with ease. The mounting system should also be easy to operate. You should be able to mount it and remove it with ease.
The easiest dashcam mounts to use are the suction-cup mounts but they occupy too much space. On the other hand, the adhesive pads don’t give you much wiggle room but they provide a secure and compact attachment on your windscreen.
Adhesive pads don’t give you much flexibility when mounting. You can’t remove them easily for repositioning or when you want to swap them between vehicles. When shopping for a dash cam, you should be cognizant of the fact that some models can have options for multiple mount types. Some brands also sell different mount options separately, allowing you to choose what will work best for you.
Are the Displays Easy to Read?
The ease of reading your dash cam displays depends on the screen size. The majority of dash cam screens will have a size that varies from 1 ½ inches to 3 ½ inches. If a dash cam display has a size of at least 2 inches, it will be easier for you to adjust its settings. You can also preview its footage on the fly. The fob-sized dash cameras don’t score highly on this front.
There are also dash cams without a display but we doubt these will be a top preference for the modern savvy gadget shopper. To use those, you will need a smartphone or computer to view your footage and to even set up the camera.
Night Vision Capability
Modern dash cams are also built with night vision capabilities. Accidents and other road incidents can occur at any time and you will need a dash camera that you can use either during the day or at night. A dash cam with night vision allows you to record crisp footage even when you are driving at night or in low light conditions.
Wi-Fi and a Companion App
Some dash cam models have Wi-Fi functionality for seamlessly connecting the dashboard camera to a compatible companion app that you can use to watch, download or even share the dashboard footage. These apps can be richly detailed, furnishing you with information on your location, speed and much more.
A GPS receiver is something of an extra frill in your dash cam. It isn’t often a priority but it is a good feature in a dash camera. It enables the camera to record the car’s location, its direction of travel, speed and even the trip history. In case of an accident or incident, the GPS receiver provides an extra and accurate layer of information that can help investigators to quickly piece up how an event occurred.
Some of the top-end dashcams have the GPS receiver built into the mount or the dash cam itself so you won’t have to install it as a plug-in device.
The GPS receiver is still limited on the amount of location information that it can provide. For instance, it won’t give you a turn-by-turn detail on your driving. For that, you should use a mapping app, a smartphone car mount, or purchase a dedicated GPS navigator.
A lot of dashcams are now designed with a parking mode which kicks the dash cam into gear whenever there is an impact or even some movement around your car. However, the parking mode of the device is limited by the power supply when the vehicle isn’t running and will have to be connected to an external battery or hardwired into the fuse box of your car.
There are dash cam models that come with dual cameras, enabling you to record the proceedings in front and on the rear of your vehicle. The rear camera is usually smaller and can be mounted on the rear window of the vehicle. Having dual cameras can be helpful as it gives you a more complete picture of what happens on the road. It will be an invaluable piece of evidence if someone hits your car from behind.
Driver Assistance Features
The more advanced dash cams can have driver assistance features such as lane-departure warnings, forward collision warnings or driver fatigue reminders. These actively contribute to your driving safety.