Com­plete guide to dash cams

Learn about the ul­ti­mate tech up­grade for your car: the allsee­ing eye that watches the road for ma­niac driv­ers, pro­tects you in case of an ac­ci­dent, and nags you about your speed

T3 - - Contents - Words: Alex Cox Pho­tog­ra­phy: Neil God­win

Want to buy a dash cam but aren’t sure which one best suits your needs? Our in-depth guide ex­plains ev­ery­thing you need to know about, and which ones to buy

ot too long ago, dash cams were strictly filed in the ‘nice to have’ cat­e­gory, good for cap­tur­ing tit­il­lat­ing footage of Siberian me­te­orite strikes but by no means a nec­es­sary in­clu­sion in cars. But now they’re cheaper, bet­ter, and quickly mov­ing towards be­com­ing an es­sen­tial gad­get for your ve­hi­cle.

For a start, dash cams are pleas­ing to in­sur­ers in a time of in­creas­ing fraud­u­lent ac­ci­dents. Want to re­port a dan­ger­ous driver? If you’re col­lect­ing the proper footage by de­fault, you’ll have what you need to pro­vide to the rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties. Want to keep bet­ter tabs on a car-bor­row­ing teen? A dash cam can record their jour­neys, footage from which you can later scru­ti­nise to en­sure they’re be­hav­ing be­hind the wheel. If you’re em­bark­ing on a scenic road trip, with many dash cams you can not only record footage, but edit the high­lights.

That’s merely the tip of what some can do. Many dash cams in­clude ad­di­tional fea­tures that can truly change your driv­ing for the bet­ter.

NOn the other hand, mak­ing a poor pur­chas­ing de­ci­sion could hurt you more than it helps. You could in­vest £20, or you could drop ten times that amount – a cam­era is only as good as its com­po­nents and soft­ware.

All-see­ing eye

Let’s start with the ob­vi­ous: the most im­por­tant com­po­nent of any dash cam is the cam­era sen­sor, be­cause dash cams have spe­cific and unique re­quire­ments. They need to be able to take in footage that’s mov­ing fast, and they need to cope with a vast range of light lev­els (in­clud­ing, if you’re in a car, us­ing a po­lar­is­ing fil­ter to pick out what’s out­side your wind­screen rather than what’s re­flected in­side). They also need the widest field of view in or­der to take in as much of the road as pos­si­ble, and they need to en­sure that footage is crys­tal clear.

For all its im­por­tance, the cam­era sen­sor doesn’t act alone. Nope, in this in­stance the cam­era’s pro­ces­sor is just as im­por­tant; the stronger the pro­ces­sor, the higher frame rates it’ll be able to pull out of the cam­era, and the less com­pres­sion you’ll end up with on recorded footage, lead­ing to a clearer pic­ture.

The lens can also have a ma­jor im­pact on fi­nal im­age qual­ity. For in­stance, we’ve gen­er­ally found that glass lenses of­fer su­pe­rior footage to plas­tic al­ter­na­tives. Dash cam lenses usu­ally sport a field of view rang­ing be­tween 120 and 140 de­grees. The lat­ter pulls in more of the ve­hi­cle’s sur­round­ings but can lead to a slightly un­re­al­is­tic fish-eye ef­fect on fi­nal footage. This isn’t ideal if you’re more of a pos­ter­ity recorder, but per­fect for ev­i­dence col­lec­tion.

Since you’re un­likely to be record­ing for any­thing more than your own se­cu­rity, that prob­a­bly won’t be a prob­lem.

Res­o­lu­tion co­nun­drum

You may think that opt­ing for a cam­era that claims to cap­ture in 4K is the only sen­si­ble choice, but don’t be so sure. For a start, there’s that word ‘claims’. A de­press­ingly large num­ber of cheaper dash cams (gen­er­ally from no-name Chi­nese man­u­fac­tur­ers) don’t ac­tu­ally

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