Are You Buying the Right Dash Cam?

Maybe you want to record potential traffic accidents or crimes. Maybe you manage a company vehicle fleet and need to keep an eye on things for liability reasons. Or, maybe you’ve got a new teen driver behind the wheel and are concerned about his or her safety on the road. Whatever the scenario, a dash cam can be extremely helpful.

With so many features, however, how do you know which are right for you? Below, we’re sharing a simple guide to help you learn how to choose a dash cam.

1. Prioritize Great Resolution

Here’s why this is important: most of your footage while be obtained while in motion. If your dash cam is recording at low resolution, and you’re traveling at high speed, there’s a really good chance you’ll miss something important.

Highway footage, in particular, can be very blurry on low-resolution cameras. Since, later, you might need to make out license plates, car makes and models, and even faces, we recommend a minimum of HD 720p recording. Whether you’ll be replaying important details for insurance or just helping your teen review what he or she could have done differently, you can skimp or compromise on other things, but not this.

We do have something to note here, though: as important as good resolution is, the payoff is larger files, and that’s something you have to keep in mind. You don’t want resolution that’s so good that the data becomes unmanageable. Think through how you’ll be handling the video files:

  • Will you be uploading new data frequently? 
  • Are you willing to purchase larger SD cards to handle the larger files?
  • Will you be wirelessly transferring these files?
  • Thinking through these questions will help you make a practical decision. 

2. Choose Something With a Wide Field of View

If you want to capture as many details as possible (and you do, otherwise what’s the point of a dash cam?), you want a dash cam with a front-facing camera that has the widest field of view possible. There’s nothing more frustrating than details that are, ultimately, off-camera and therefore useless as details like other cars, people, and even animals can be completely overlooked.

3. How Much Storage?

We briefly mentioned this above, but it’s worth taking a deeper look at how your dash cam stores data. Most have some kind of integrated storage, but it’s usually minimal, and they’ll rely on an SD card to save your video footage.

You’ll need to consider how frequently you’ll be clearing the card (if you are rewriting the data daily, for example, you can work with a smaller card and lower internal storage) and how much driving time will need to be regularly stored. Fleet vehicles that are on the road daily, for example, will need much more than a teenager who is just driving back and forth from school.

We recommend 64 GB of storage as a good minimum. Keep in mind that more storage tends to cost more, though this can be offset by using an external SD card. Some models even offer wifi capability that will connect to your phone or another device. This costs more, but depending on your needs, might work great and help you mitigate your device storage needs.

4. How Many Cameras, How Big, and Where?

Obviously, you want a camera that’s nimble enough to capture as wide a view as possible. However, you don’t want a camera that’s so large that it serves as a distraction or obstacle while you’re driving. Most people will want only a forward-facing camera, but there are scenarios where you might need a device with two cameras; one that faces forward and one that faces back.

Of course, you also want to consider where and how your dash cam is mounted. Will it dangle from your rearview mirror, mount to your dash, or lie on your dashboard? Is the mount sufficient for the size of the camera?

Also, keep in mind the environment you live in (or will be using the dash cam in). Very hot places like Arizona, or very cold places like Alaska, can wreak havoc on the long term usability of a camera and might need something specifically designed for those climates.

5. How Does Your Camera Handle Emergencies?

If you want audio capabilities in your camera in case of accident, you need to keep that in mind. Most cameras won’t record audio outside the vehicle well, so keep that in mind.

Something else to look for (if accident handling is high on your priority list) is “Emergency Recording,” which is a type of overwrite protection.

This type of feature will use a g-sensor to detect sudden shocks (such as when your vehicle collides with another vehicle) and will do two things: keep your video file from being “looped” or overwritten, and start the recording if it’s been stopped for some reason.

Finally, look for loop recording when you make your dash cam purchase. Typically dash cams handle recordings in two ways: they loop (go back and record over oldest footage) or they just stop recording when they run out of room.

6. Are Extra Features Worth It?

Some dash cams come with GPS tracking, which means the cam will log GPS coordinates. Typically, you’ll pay extra for this feature, but some models even include turn-by-turn direction functionality. If you are driving in remote locations and don’t want to use up the data on your cell phone, you might really appreciate this feature. You also might love the GPS logging if you are operating a fleet and need to keep an eye on vehicle locations.

Dash cams can be incredibly useful, so understanding their key features (and whether or not those features make sense for you) is vital. If you make sure to prioritize great resolution, wide angle viewing, and consider things like storage, emergencies, and extra features such as GPS availability, you’ll buy a dash cam that’s perfect for you.

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