Dash Cam Buyers Guide Feature List 2017
What is a Dash Cam?
A dash cam is a camera that is fixed to the windscreen of your vehicle with the ability to record video continuously on to the micro sd card. Dash cams are an increasingly popular car accessory that acts as a secondary insurance for motorists. Many different types of businesses and individuals use them just because of how cost effective they are. These may include fleet drivers, Uber drivers, taxi drivers, private car owners, and even police officers.
There are many different types of dash cams on the market. You can select a basic dash cam that records footage from the front only, or select a higher end model that records front and rear footage. Some higher end dash cams have built in extras such as GPS and WiFi that allow for tracking speed, routes, and accessing video footage directly on the device.
There are many considerations to factor in when you're ready to make a purchase for a dash cam. For a less experienced customer, some of these might not be that obvious. If you're looking for specific features in a dash cam, we've put together a list of considerations and recommendations to help you with your purchasing decision!
What is The Purpose of a Dash Cam?
The dash cam provides a silent witness onboard the vehicle at all times. It ensures that you have evidence to provide law enforcement or insurance companies to investigate the situation. Here are some examples below:
A $300 Dollar Dash Cam Over a $100 Dash Cam?
The decision between going with a $100 Chinese dash cam over a $300 Korean dash cam can be difficult. However, choosing a Korean dash cam over a Chinese dash cam all comes down to the components inside the dash cam. In general, Korean dash cams are built for around-the-clock protection while Chinese dash cams are built only to run when the driver is getting from point A to point B and nothing beyond that.
Chinese dash cams have many different settings for video quality such as Full HD and even Ultra HD, whereas many Korean devices only have the settings of HD and Full HD. The reason for why Korean dash cam manufacturers prefer a more conservative setting over a more extreme setting is because the higher the video quality the harder it is for the camera to process the footage and the more storage space it takes up. Aiming for reliability over video quality, Korean dash cam companies choose the more conservative setting allowing the device to work under different extremes in temperatures which Chinese dash cams are unable to. In our experience Chinese dash cams have a fraction of the run-time a Korean dash cam has and it's more common for issues to arise after a year. However, many of our customers who have purchased older Blackvue models such as the DR380G or DR400G are still using these cameras three years down the road, despite the fact that they are virtually running all day.
Furthermore, Korean dash cams can store more video footage compared to Chinese dash cams due to the bitrate they use. Thanks to a lower bitrate a dash cam can store more hours of footage on the same size card. Relatively speaking, Chinese dash cams don't need to run a lower bitrate because they are only meant to record while you are driving which for most users is less than 3 hours a day, in which case a 16GB card would suffice. For Korean dash cams that are built to be hardwired and run while the vehicle is parked, storage space becomes a much more important issue and to avoid looping over and deleting an important file, a lower bit rate is necessary.
Most importantly, a dash cam’s job is to be a silent witness in any occurrence of an incident. What is the point of a dash cam if it cannot do its job in recording the most important footage when needed? We aren’t saying that all Chinese dash cams are poorly designed and not reliable. There are many affordable and reliable Chinese dash cams out in the market. If you want Full HD recording going from destination A to B Chinese dash cams are an excellent choice. If you want an excellent silent witness with additional features like WiFi, GPS, and motion detection, Koreans dash cams are the way to go. In the end, the main purpose of a dash cam is to be a reliable source of video evidence in case of any event around the vehicle
This is one of our favorite features and is almost exclusively found on Korean dash cams. It is optimized to protect your vehicle when you're parked in the event of a hit and run or vandalism and has saved many comprehensive insurance deductible including ourselves and our customers.
The design of a dash cam not only has an aesthetic function but a practical one as well. Dash Cams that are free of bright accents and are generally matte black will be the most discreet and offer the best protection from theft. We do not recommend getting a suction cup-equipped dash cam as they are almost always bulkier than adhesive mounted dash cams due to the extra height added by the mount. Not only that, suction cup mounts are much more susceptible to vibration than flat adhesive mounts which can cause blurriness in the video recording. Lastly, screen equipped dash cams will generally be bigger than non-screen equipped ones. With a screen, users can view footage and change settings easily at the cost of a more discreet design and potential reliability issues. We generally recommend low profile adhesive mounted dash cams that are free of screens for the best "out of sight, out of mind" and "set it and forget it" use. They can be easily tucked behind a rear view mirror.
GPS (Built-in or External)
GPS can be built-in or come in the form of an external optional module but the function of GPS is the same either way. It typically provides speed and coordinate data in the form of either a watermark or a file you can access through a dedicated viewer. For most consumers GPS is not particularly useful as many customers would rather avoid any complications that could arise from being shown to go a few clicks above the speed limit. For fleet managers however GPS can be invaluable in monitoring employee driving habits. Note that GPS does not mean the dash cam can navigate to destinations or show real-time map data.
Wi-Fi on dash cams allows users to utilize their smartphone or tablet as a screen to change settings and view/save footage. This can effectively reduce device size and improve discreetness whilst also making it easier to share footage. Wi-Fi does not mean the dash cam can connect to the Internet nor does it mean you can reach the dash cam from your bedroom. Wi-Fi enabled devices are intended to be used within close proximity and do not require an internet connection. Another benefit to using a smartphone connected app over a touchscreen/buttons are the regular upgrades through different app stores. It's much more common to see an app update over a total firmware update on a dash cam and performance should be pretty great.
Storage capacity used to be an area where many customers overlooked as 16GB and 32GB cards were the norm, however nowadays with the increasing affordability of 64GB or even 128GB cards, more and more customers want to maximize the amount of footage they can store. This is particularly useful with parking mode equipped dash cams as they record even when the vehicle is off and overnight a 16GB card could fill up, especially with a 2 channel Full HD dash cam.
Lens viewing angle is a bit of a personal preference and all dash cams will have a considerably wider lens angle than typical consumer cameras or smartphone cameras. The general rule of thumb is that wider lenses capture more in frame but compromise sharpness and introduce more distortion, while narrower lenses tend to be sharper and pick up license plates better. Because these dash cams are mainly used for evidence purposes, capturing more within frame is usually more important for proving fault than overall sharpness and video quality. That being said, our preferred lens angle is within the 125-150 degree range which usually offers a good combination of both.
Nowadays, great video quality can be had at a very affordable price point so it's not as big of a concern and the purely evidential function of the dash cam does not require them to have cinematic production value. A good dash cam will have a balance between video quality and file size as all dash cams are designed to loop video and large video file sizes put your footage at a greater risk of being overwritten than smaller videos. Most 1080P cameras with 30FPS frame rates will be ideal for dash cam use but there are differences in units that use premium sensors and allow for CPL filters. High end sensors like the Sony EXMOR CMOS sensor found in many premium dash cams offers great dynamic range so that night time footage still looks bright and low light details are picked up. This is in contrast to some lower end cameras that only expose the areas under street lights or are illuminated by the vehicle's headlights well. Furthermore the performance drop-off at night time with a high end sensor is considerably less as the better noise control means you don't get that fuzzy look when it gets dark out.