In this ultimate dash cam guide, we’re going to talk about the features and hardware you need to consider when buying your next dash camera in UK. We want to separate what’s important from marketing jazz. So let’s get into it.
Types Of Dash Cam
There are three types of dash cameras, which are a combination of two of the following qualities, cheap, reliable, and high performance which is great video quality features and ease of use.
Here’s what it means; the AUTO-VOX A118C Dash Cam costs £58.87 and has great video and build quality. But the failure rate is much higher.
The Transcend 200 dash cam is reliable and cheap priced around £66.23. It has great long-term reviews. Transcend 200 is heat resistant and has an outstanding two year warranty. Unfortunately, the video quality is bad at night, compared to most cameras.
Finally, you can get performance and reliability, but now the cameras cost a lot. I love the black BlackVue DR650. It has great design and features, but it costs £257.57. Many people think BlackVue is not worth the price. I can understand why.
Important Features Of Dash Cam You Should Look For
Keeping these top level types of dash cams in mind. Let’s move on and talk about three most important features in a dash cam.
First up is dash cam notifications. These are the messages and sounds, that will let you know when your camera is working and when there are problems. For me, notifications are more important than video quality. Many manufacturers do a poor job by letting drivers know when their cameras failed. Their audible notifications can trick you into thinking your camera’s working. They have warning messages that quickly disappear and are difficult to see.
Better dash cameras have persistent and highly visible written messages. They can also use audible. Your camera will eventually fail as it’s an electronic item, which is exposed to rapidly changing temperatures and humidity. Your SD card, which saved your videos eventually wears out some sooner than others. When the inevitable happens, you want to find out before you get into an accident.
Dash Cam Video Quality
Next let’s get into video quality, which is the sharpness and clarity of the recorded video. Getting a camera with higher video quality improves your protection. You have a better chance to capture details like license plates or a driver’s face after a hit and run or assault. Video quality of dash cam is not a simple matter of spending more.
Which is the best dash cam for video quality?
For example, the £73.59 Dome D201 has some of the best video quality we have seen while more expensive cameras could fall behind. Starting with day dash cam video quality, most cameras do a good job. Generally, cameras are fairly similar except where the bit rate has been drastically lowered.
The A118C Dash Cam has two and a half times the bit rate and has much better details in the trees and license plates compared to the black BlackVue DR650.
At night, the difference in quality is more noticeable. Better hardware is more expensive and harder to implement. I look closely at two factors.
Legibility while moving: Better cameras can capture license plates where other cameras are blurry.
Dynamic range: which is how well a camera captures a scene with widely contrasting light. One benefit of dynamic range is to capture dimly lit pedestrians, which could be missed by poor performing cameras. It’s important if there’s an accident to show the entirety of what happened.
Lithium Ion Batteries And Capacitors Of Dash Cam
Lithium ion batteries and capacitors of dash cam provide energy to save videos after camera loses power from your vehicle. Lithium ion batteries are used in the majority of budget dash cameras because they’re cheaper.
They store a larger charge, which you can typically give you 15 minutes of use. Great for recording police encounters or accident scenes if you don’t have a smartphone. Unfortunately, Lithium ion batteries are prone to failing under hot weather and could swell or leak, damaging the camera.
Capacitors are far more heat resistant and generally lasts several times longer than Lithium ion batteries. The downside is the added cost and capacitors last only long enough to shut down your camera, think seconds, not minutes in general.
We prefer capacitor das cam, but that may limit your options for budget units.
So those were our major three features we look at when reviewing our dash cam, but there’s many other important dash cam features such as; video hardware which turns lights into video files.
Dash Cam Lens
Let’s begin with the lens which focuses light and is critical for a sharp image. Better lenses are made of glass not plastic. The f-number represents the size of the aperture. A lower number means a wider aperture. This lets in more light and improves clarity.
Inside the camera, there are two components that greatly matter for video quality. One is the image processor. The other is the image sensor. The image sensor collects light and turns it into a digital signal for the processor.
Better sensors are clear under low light situations. You may see Sony Exmor or Omni Vision sensors advertised for their clarity. The image processor takes the digital information from the sensor and turns it into a video file. Till June 2016, you often saw umbrella A7 or A12 chips mentioned which record in resolutions above 1080P.
Stealthy Dash Cameras
Next let’s look at the overall appearance. Specifically it’s discreteness. Many users are concerned that a large and colorful camera could attract thieves. We look at three attributes, its size, shape, and color.
Size Of Dash Cam
A smaller camera is harder to see. The matchbox size Mobius camera is difficult to spot compared to the much larger MG380G
Shape Of Dash Cam
If it looks like a point and shoot camera, like the Yi Smart Cam, it will be more tempting to steal compared to the wedge shaped A118 which could be confused for a rain sensor.
Dash Cam Colour
We find anything other than black is noticeable. Even the pale gray on the Yi smart cam. Lighter colors do reflect more heat, which could increase reliability over time. Some manufacturers will add metallic accents, which sparkle and attract attention.
We think a more discreet camera is better, but go with what you enjoy. Some people want something flashier or the one with a cooler design. You can also put away your camera in worst parts of vehicle.
How To Install Dash Cam?
Let’s talk about dash cam installation. There are two general categories, one type attaches to your rear view mirror. More commonly your cameras is attached to your windshield using an adhesive or suction mount. Adhesive mounts use a tap pad to keep the camera in place. They are secure and reduce vibration compared to suction mounts. They’re also more compact. The downside is that they aren’t reusable. You have to use a new pad. If you’re moving to another vehicle.
Suction mounts use vacuum to hold your camera in place and are easily reusable. The downside is that they may fall off when the weather changes or the rubber hardens. Vibration has also increased. On some weaker designs, the shaking is quite noticeable.
If there’s an option, I prefer using a tape mount dash cam installation. It’s a hassle-free solution. You can always buy a second mount. Looking closer at their freedom of movement, some mounts can turn and fill in the side windows. This is useful if you need to film a police interaction, or if something interesting happens on the side of the road.
The cameras that attach to your rear view mirror come in three distinct styles. The first straps clip onto your existing rear view mirror with the camera poking out from the bottom. This will completely cover your mirror so you lose any anti-glare functionality. Personally, I’m not a fan of the style, but some people love them.
There is another design from Papago where the mount grips the top and bottom of your rear view mirror and hangs out on the back.
The last design clamps onto your mirror arm and the dash camera hangs below it. I’ve only seen this as an optional accessory.
So I’ve heard two reasons why someone would use a mirror attachment camera. One is that they don’t want anything hanging on their windshield. Second reason is they think the design is stealthier.
Why You Should Remote Dash Cam Or Second Camera?
Some models have a second camera. This can be internal, like the Transcend 520, or is a remote unit connected using a coaxial or USB cable.
Remote cameras are generally mounted under rear windshield and adds context to what the front camera captured. If someone was aggressively tailgating or swerving before causing an accident, you’ll have additional evidence that their actions affected your driving.
Why You Shouldn’t Use Remote Dash Cam Or Second Camera?
Due to the complexities of a dual camera system. Video quality is often sacrificed. If you prioritize video quality, you may want to go with installing two separate cameras, but that can be more difficult to install and maintain.
The other dual camera style has a camera which faces inside your passenger cabin. They will often have infrared lights for night vision.
This is useful if you’re a professional driver to capture any problems that may come up. If you’re a regular driver it’s often more liability than help. Do you drive with perfect focus?
Speaking of infrared lights. If it points towards a windshield, it’s useless on older cameras, it was used as a night vision feature, but all it did was increased glare as it reflected off the windshield.
How To Setup Dash Cam?
Next, we look at setup when you first received your camera. In most cases, you install it right away and it’ll work, but many drivers want to customize settings like the time and date first. Most cameras have an LCD screen and buttons. Well, we’d like to see something intuitive, like onscreen descriptions and a clear menu.
It’s not necessary. It’s is often something you do only once. Other cameras like the Blackvuew Dr650 have no LCD screen. You’ll need a smartphone or computer to change options. If it doesn’t have Wi-Fi, you probably need to pull out the MicroSD and load a computer program to change settings. Some cameras like the Mobius require you to connect it directly to your computer.
How Is Wi-Fi Dash Cam Feature?
Another popular feature is Wi-Fi, which you can connect directly to your smartphone through dash cam app. You can often stream and download recorded videos. This can be useful if you get into an accident, you can discretely preview your video without making it obvious that a dash camera is installed.
You can then make a more informed decision on how to proceed some cameras like the Yi Smart cam have a one-touch connection and can detect and update the firmware over the air for convenience.
Wi-Fi is a useful feature for drivers with a smartphone, but not all apps are as good as the ones shown today.
GPS Dash Cam
Moving on GPS is another frequently advertised feature. It’s used to log your speed and position, not to give you instructions on where to go. This data can be seen in a special app where you can visualize your route, speed and more. Many drivers hope that GPS can be used in courts to prove they weren’t speeding.
I haven’t seen a successful case yet. You could be the first. If you have teenagers, employees or lend your vehicle, you can use this information to check if your vehicle was properly used. Personally, I think GPS isn’t as useful as everyone thinks, except in a few situations. As well if you’re in court, you may need an expert to testify that your GPS unit is all right.
The G sensor is a one popular item, which is a way to detect forces and movement. Now, many manufacturers sell it as something where you can detect an accident and lock the file to prevent it from being overwritten. The reality is much different.
First off, it’s not a perfect system. In most dash cameras, you can adjust how much force is required to lock a file. If it’s too sensitive, driving over a bump can trigger the G-sensor and eventually fill your memory card with locked files. Too low sensitive and it doesn’t do anything. So far, I haven’t seen any manufacturer get it right.
Besides, after an accident, you’ll have hours before the moment is lost. Are you really gonna forget?
Parked Recordings With Dash Cam
This is a special setting, which only records when movement or sometimes a shock is detected. This is used to save space on your memory card, as you don’t want to record when nothing is happening.
Now, many people want to use this to catch hit and runs or vandalism in the parking lot. Some cameras will also record the 5 to 10 seconds once the system is triggered, this can be called buffered parked recording, and helps you capture not only the event, but the seconds leading up to it.
In cheaper cameras, you have to manually enable parked recording through the menu. It’s not practical and if you forgot to disable it, you could lose footage while driving as emotion detection algorithm is not perfect. Better cameras automatically activate parked recordings using a combination of GPS and the G-sensor to detect you have moved.
How To Do Installation For Parked Recording In Dash Cam?
Keep in mind parked dash cam recording can require additional installation. You will need to connect your camera to your vehicles battery. Most often through the fuse box if the socket isn’t constantly powered.
There are also dash cam battery solutions like the Cellink B, but they can be expensive. If you’re recording while parked, even in mild weather, you need a heat resistant camera due to the greenhouse effect.
I would first prioritize a capacitor camera, next a higher operational temperature. Most cameras are rated for six degree Celsius. The Transcend 200 is rated for 65 degrees Celsius and other cameras all the way up to 80 degrees Celsius, but you really shouldn’t be recording anywhere close to that temperature.
These manufacturer specs aren’t third-party verified, but it’s not a bad indicator of their confidence in their designs.
What Are Emergency Lock Buttons Of Dash Cam?
Next, let’s look at the emergency lock button. When pressed that locks the current video from being overwritten. This is helpful if you have accident footage, or if you need to save an interesting scene for later.
Ideally, creates a new video file that’s distinct both in the app and the file name as well. It should record the time before and after the button was pressed, not just whatever was currently recording. I use the emergency lock feature quite frequently. I’m looking for a button that’s easy to find even in the dark and located away from important features. I don’t want to accidentally turn off recording like I have with other cameras.
A microphone is included on nearly every dash camera and helps pick up conversations or sounds, which can be used for evidence. And every camera I’ve seen, you can disable the microphone in the menu. Some have a hardware button to make it easy to turn off.
We recommend all users look up their local laws as some jurisdictions, prohibit audio recordings, or require the consent of all involved parties.
ADAS (Advanced Driving Assistance System)
We also have ADAS which stands for Advanced Driving Assistance Systems. This is tech to help drivers stay safe. You will often see lane departure and forward collision warning systems and dash cameras.
Ideally, they should help prevent accidents, but in regular use, it produces a lot of false alarms and annoys more than it helps.
In the current state of development, ADAS for dash cameras is not a useful feature to consider. In fact, most cameras require you to load the resolution before activating.
Video Processing Settings
Now let’s look at some video processing settings, which are supposed to improve video quality, but are useless at best.
Let’s start with 60 frames a second or 60 FPS. This is marketed to reduce motion blur by doubling the video frames captured from 30 to 60 per second. However, you have to greatly reduce the resolution, which dramatically lowers video quality as well this doesn’t improve blurriness at all that’s determined by shutter speed.
Dash Cam HDR
One of the most marketed features is the high dynamic range processing or HDR. It’s a processing algorithm that’s used to improve clarity under contrasting light. You have to manually enable this feature in the settings. Just like 60 FPS, it needs more processing power. So you lose video quality as well. HDR doesn’t significantly improve clarity. It’s best to just leave it off.