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
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.
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.
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