Looking for a dash cam but not sure what’s out there? Like with so many electronics, you know that you want one, why you want one, but don’t know enough about the options, brands, and features out there that might be the best for you.
This is how I usually feel when I’m trying to buy a new computer, camera, or TV. Just give me one that works and is in my price range! I know the feeling of being overwhelmed, so I’m hoping to make it easier for you.
This page is going to break down different features of dashboard cameras, and hopefully, help you find the right one for your needs and that fits your budget. Whether you’re looking for the most affordable dash cam for basic needs, or the luxury high tech ones for better filming, and video quality, we’ve got you covered.
- What to look for?
If you want the extra quick cheat sheet, go ahead and just check out the list. We’ll narrow it down to the top 6 for you and you just pick the one that has what you need. This is the best if you’re ready to get one now, or want to get one as a present for someone. Quick and easy.
Dash Cam Features
Dash cams probably do more than you think they can. When you know what all the features are and what all the technical terms mean, it will be much easier to understand the specific model information when choosing your own camera.
Here is a breakdown of what to look for:
Single or Dual Channel?
This is really the first thing you should decide on. You can choose to have your dashboard camera only recording forward, through your windshield (single channel), or to have a front and rear cam (dual channel).
The rear camera can either record through the rear window and records the road and events behind you, or the interior of your car.
If you’re driving a truck or commercial car that doesn’t have rear view mirror, the BlackVue DR 650 GW- 2 CH Truck is a waterproof rear camera that can be attached to the outside of your vehicle.
When making your choice, beware that the dual dash cam will probably be more expensive than a single channel system. There are some that are under $100, but the better quality ones will be within the $200-$400 price range,
Check out and compare the best dual channel cameras here to see your options.
Taxi Cams – For taxi drivers (or if you’re driving for Uber)
Taxi Cams are like dual channel cams, where the rear camera is filming the interior of the car. This is very popular with taxi drivers, Uber, Lyft, and other services where you’re picking up people you might not know very well. One of the best interior cams that is relatively new to the market is the Transcend Drive Pro 520.
This can also be used to monitor your children or pets in the back seat without have to take your eyes off the road for too long.
This is one of the most important factor to look at when deciding on your dash cam. Your video resolution is basically what quality and how clear your recording will be.
Basic models should be able to record at 720p. This is usually considered at the lower end quality. These videos will be a little less clear, the colors less crisp, and not as smooth throughout.
The new standard is 1080p or higher. This means that your camera will have a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, also considered Full HD. When you have a full HD dash board camera, you’ll know that all the details of your trip, beautiful scenery, or unfortunate events will be captured accurately.
The DOD LS460W is the best 1080p camera currently
Going even beyond that, newer cameras are running 1296p video resolutions. In this version, the video appears wider and flatter, usually twice as wide as it is high. This is often used in movies, and is great because it shows more video of what’s happened around your car in detail rather than just the sky that is above your car.
Recorded with the Mini 0807. Small but powerful.
The ultimate resolution standard today is available in dash cams like the Dome D201, which is one of the first to support 1440p (2560 x 1440 pixels). Check out the video below to see the quality, perfect for showing off your cool trips or stunts. This dash cam runs for just over $100, which makes videographers and those of us that appreciate clarity very excited.
Size matters in this case. Most people prefer a smaller, more discrete dashboard camera. They are less noticeable in the event of theft, and they don’t obstruct your view as much while driving. Black is by far the most common color and keeps your gadget low profile.
There might be a slight trade off in size v price. The more features and higher quality you want, while keeping the size small, can be reflected in how much it cost.
Night Video Quality
Capturing things in daylight is easy, the tricky part if still getting the video you want when its night time.
To be fair, usually when you are driving you’ll have your headlights on, so that should provide quite a bit of light for your recording, but if you’re using your car camera for surveillance purposes or in park mode, be sure your camera can take quality video during not daylight hours.
LED Lights for Nighttime Filming
Tip for you here, LEDS on dash cams don’t really do anything to help your quality of the footage. They’re not powerful enough to provide much use lighting up the road (certain not more so than your head lights), and they create more glare on windscreens than anything else in helping your video quality.
Usually, the best advice is not to buy into the extra benefits of LED lights or turn them off if you have a cam with them included.
This sensor is activated by any g-force event, like sudden braking, or a collision. Whenever this happens, the camera will automatically lock the footage so it can’t be accidently deleted.
This is usually used when your car is parked. If there is movement or an impact around your vehicle, the camera can start recording even when your engine isn’t on. This is ideal for capturing hit and runs on the street, or vandalism.
This is a great feature to have. This means what when you start your car; your camera starts recording automatically as well. That way you don’t have to worry about forgetting to turn it on in case something happens. Things happen in seconds, so this can come in super handy.
This is a standard feature in dash cams, but one that is important to understand. Depending on how long you record, the video can take up a lot of space on an SD card. Usually what happens is when the card is full, the recording will loop back to the beginning and start recording over your previous video.
Most cams have a setting where you can mark and save specific portions of your video that you want to keep and cams with the g-sensor are programs to automatically store video that is caused by impact.
Not everything that needs recording happens while you are in the car. If something happens while you are parked, overnight, in the shop, or while at work, your dash cam with parking mode will switch on and record what is happening.
As you can imagine, this is super useful in a hit and run occurrence, if someone vandalizes your vehicle, or if someone is trying to break into it.
This is an optional choice, but can be very useful. The GPS feature records your location and speed, kind of like geo tagging your video, so it shows up when you play back your footage. Again, this adds a little bit of size to your camera.
Other options let you connect an external GPS to your dash cam, like the BlackSys CF-100. Or like with the Mini 080x series, the GPS is already integrated into the camera mount, reducing the need for extra space.
Date and Time Stamp
This is critical in case you need to provide your video as evidence. Always check to see if you’ve set up your date and time correctly when you first install your camera.
It’s all about the screen size or no screen at all. When you have a screen, you can see what is being recorded straight away. The downside is that this makes your cam bigger and less discrete.
If it is important to you to see what’s happening but you don’t want to pull in more attention, rear view mirror cameras, like the HDVR-180, actually integrates the screen right into your rear view mirror.
The most common way to charge your cam is using a cable adapter that plugs into the cigarette lighter in your car. Be sure to check that the power cord is long enough so that you can run it along the edges of your car and not just hang straight down the middle of your windshield.
There are some that can be connected to the fuse box of your car or with internal wiring. Might be worth having it installed by a pro if you’re after this option unless you’re pretty familiar with the electrics of your car.
Finding one to fit your budget
Just like TVs, cameras, and computers, these gadgets come in a wide range of prices. Depending on your budget, and what you’re looking for, you can narrow down your search to find the perfect cam for you.
Keep in mind, while it is possible to get a dash cam for under $30, the quality of your footage probably won’t be fantastic. The best affordable dash cam is the G1W, which runs about $40. If you’re looking to spend a little more, the Mini 0805, which usually is sold around the $90 price.
The saying you get what you pay for does apply at least a little with these electronics. Now, if you’re not using your dash cam for anything super fancy, you don’t have to pick the most expensive models, but usually quality does increase with price.
Here are the three different prices levels divided and grouped for you, so you have a good starting point to make your search more convenient. Affordable cameras (up to $100), mid-range (priced between $100-$200), and high end ($200 and more). Check out any or all of the sections for our dash cam reviews.
Let’s talk about legal rights
The use of dash cams while fine in most places, not legal everywhere. Different countries and states have different rules for what can and can not be recorded. We have a large informational section here for reference, but it is always good to consult your local authorities for specific information.
Having said that, if you’re using your cam mostly around where you live, you probably already know if recording or taking public pictures is illegal. That’s exactly what these cameras do, just in the car, and while you’re driving.
The benefits of having a dash cam
These car cameras were first used by law enforcement in the 1980’s in the United States, but as technology advanced, and they became cheaper, more and more people were able to take advantage of their benefits. Russia was the first country to actually adopt and install the cams on a bigger scale. This was because there were so many cases of fraudulent insurance and accident claims against drivers, car owners needed evidence they weren’t at fault.
Recently in the past few years, everyone seems to be getting one for one reason or another. Though most people still buy dashboard camera because of security reasons, they can also be used for fun stuff.
From documenting your road trip, filming a tailgate or BBQ by a lake, having footage of the amazing scenery on a holiday trip, your dash cam does virtually all the work for you. Pictures are worth a thousand words, but a video can capture all the laughter and moments in-between the pictures.
I love driving, but sometimes, when there is a particularly scenic mountain passage or tricky route I have to concentrate on, there is no time to take my eyes off the road and appreciate my surroundings. With a dash cam, I can see what my passengers are seeing, just at a time when I’m not putting their lives at risk.
The top reasons to get a dashboard cam in your car are:
Protect yourself against insurance fraud
Have realistic proof of events in case you’re in an accident
Capture videos of holidays or weekend excursions
Show off your driving at the track, mountain, or through some difficult terrain
Keep an eye on your company vehicle and employees using it
Protect your parked car in case of hit and run or theft
Get out of a ticket that you don’t deserve
Navigate and save your trip route with built in GPS
There are so many reasons to have a dash cam, not to mention our love of capturing the moment or unique events. Chewbacca mom anyone? Carpool karaoke? The ultimate road trip to Vegas? Who knows what situations you might stumble upon.
Now that you know a little more, hopefully, you feel a bit more confident moving forward with your decision. Find the right one for you in our best dashboard cams of 2017 picks here!