Dash Cam Buyers Guide

We know the questions that first time Dash Cam buyers ask. Our Dash Cam Buyers Guide provides a filtered summary of the main features that should be considered when purchasing a Dash Cam, and will highlight features that are not necessarily must haves (depending on your needs). If you are looking to update your older Dash Cam it’s good to keep up to date with the latest Dash Cam features and technologies as they are constantly evolving. 

1. Single Channel (1-CH) or Dual Channel (2-CH) Dash Cams

Basically, do you want to record footage from both ends of the car or just out the front?

Front recording (or single channel) Dash Cams record out the front windscreen only. Front and rear recording (or dual channel) Dash Cams record out of both windscreens. Dual Dash Cams can record stupid and dangerous tailgaters and give you extra evidence should you be hit from behind. Front recording models are still the most popular choice, however 2-channel Dash Cams are rapidly becoming popular.

In dual channel Dash Cam systems, the front and rear cameras are attached to the windscreens and connected via cable that can be hidden around the interior trim and door frame weatherstripping. Single channel Dash Cams are easier to DIY whereas dual Dash Cams require some more effort due to the additional front to rear connection cord. Both dual and single channel systems are powered through the vehicle’s accessory socket (cigarette lighter socket) via the included power cord. The Dash Cams in both systems automatically power up and start recording when the car turns on and automatically power down and stop recording when the car turns off (unless you want to use Parking Surveillance Mode which requires hardwiring to the car battery, we’ll discuss this later). All video footage is recorded and saved onto a Micro SD card.

2. Video Quality – Recording Resolution & other Contributing Features

Insist on a minimum 1080P FULL HD Dash Cam. Anything lower and you are compromising on clarity and lowering ability to recognise details easily. Higher resolution becomes especially important when trying to make out finer details. Poor quality, cheap Dash Cams can show very pixelated or blurry images (even at 1080P).  However,  1080P FULL HD resolution is slowly becoming superseded by 1296P Extreme HD and 1440P 2K Ultra HD which record much sharper/clearer images..

Note however, high quality footage and video clarity are not just solely dependant on the recording resolution. Important features that contribute to better video include:

1. Large lens apertures – larger lens apertures allow in more light to enhance video quality

2. High ISO values – the higher the ISO value, the more sensitive the Dash Cam is to picking up light

3. Bit Rate – higher bit rate = sharper, clearer, more detailed footage with less distortion

4. Image sensor brand/type – cheap Dash Cams use cheaper sensors

5. HDR/WDR Technology – high/wide dynamic range to optimize and balance bright and low light conditions

6. Frame rate – faster frame rates like 60FPS can improve video quality by smoothing out fast moving footage. When pausing videos, there can be less distortion and motion blur. 60FPS is the current trend in new Dash Cam releases. It can be a useful feature however some 30FPS Dash Cam video quality still outperform new

3. Screen or No Screen? and Wi-Fi Connectivity

This comes down to personal preference. Some buyers like the mental reassurance that a Dash Cam with a screen offers. Visually seeing the live footage on the camera screen in real time can be assuring to some users, knowing that the Dash Cam is on and recording correctly. Integrated screens can also make it easier and quicker to change settings and review footage. Dash Cams without screens are mainly controlled via Wi-Fi through the manufacturer’s App which is downloaded onto a compatible smartphone or tablet. The Wi-Fi feature requires slightly more tech savvy skills. It can take longer to operate as footage and settings need to be viewed, changed and downloaded from the smartphone app. A live feed in real time from within your car can be viewed on your smartphone via the Dash Cam App. Dash Cams without a screen generally have good flashing LED indicators and/or voice notifications to let you know it is operating and recording or if there are any errors.

If you are not the most tech savvy kind or purchasing a Dash Cam for a non-tech savvy friend/relative, we recommend purchasing a Dash Cam with a screen for easier operation.

Whether you choose a Dash Cam with a screen or not, video files can always be viewed on any computer monitor by inserting the Micro SD card via a SD card reader. To playback video files, the Dash Cam manufacturer software player can be used or the default media player on your computer.  When viewing video files on your computer, ensure you are running the computer screen at the highest resolution. No point watching a 1080P FULL HD video file on a screen set at 480P or 720P.

4. Size, Shape and Colour

The smaller the Dash Cam, the less distracting it will be on the windscreen and less noticeable from outside the vehicle. Most well designed Dash Cams are about the size of a credit card if not smaller. You want the Dash Cam to fit behind your rear view mirror as much as possible. Installation as close to top and center is best. If this is not possible, the unit should be installed to the left of the rear view mirror on the passenger side.  A matt black finish is the best choice as it blends in with the car interior and looks more discreet from the outside. Opt for Dash Cams without shiny accents as these can reflect light off the windscreen and cause distraction to the driver or obstruction in the video footage. Generally, suction mounts protrude more and are more bulky than lower profile adhesive mounts. 

The cylindrical shape of the BlackVue and Lukas QVIA Dash Cams and the slim BlackSys Dash Cams we find are the most stealthy, classy and neat.

The Lukas QVIA AR790  Dash Cams are our smallest and most compact Dash Cams.

5. Night time/Low Light Recording Quality

This is an important feature to consider as low light conditions can hide number plate detail and the surrounding road environment. Night time and country drivers should especially consider this features as country roads are not lit up as well as city roads. DOD Dash Cams offer excellent night time video quality. These cameras utilise HDR/WDR (high/wide dynamic range) technology among other features.

With HDR technology, strong glare from streetlights and car headlights is reduced while low light areas are lit up. This technology enhances details normally washed out by strong light or hidden in low light.

Another feature to be mindful of in relation to night time quality is the Dash Cam’s ISO sensitivity. Dash Cams with higher ISO values are excellent for low light conditions as they capture and enhance low light at night. Most DOD Dash Cams have ISO values as high as 12800 which is unmatched in the Dash Cam market.

The Dash Cam’s lens aperture size is also important to consider. The larger the lens aperture (smaller f/ value), the more light is able to reach the sensor, therefore enhancing the clarity of the footage. Most DOD Dash Cams have some of the largest lens apertures on the Dash Cam market at f/1.6. 

Most new models coming out have the latest Sony STARVIS sensor which is designed for low light enhancement, however the STARVIS sensor alone does not mean you get excellent night time video quality. Our BlackVue DR750SLukas QVIA QR790 and the LS/RC Series DOD Dash Cams all have the Sony Starvis sensor.

IR (infra-red lights) are generally marketing gimmicks and do not usually enhance night time recording details. IR lights usually cause glare and reflection off the windscreen and back into the lens, hampering the footage. IR lights do come in handy however on in-cabin recording Dash Cams like the BlackVue DR750S-2CH IR or the Transcend DrivePro 550. These Dash Cams are designed for the passenger transport (Taxi and Uber) and fleet industry that allow additional in-cabin recording of passengers and drivers. The integrated IR lights on the in-cabin facing camera assists in brightening up dim cabin conditions.

6. Angle of View

The wider the recording angle of view means more road lanes and more of your surroundings will be captured and recorded in the footage. This helps to capture driver behaviour earlier in the incident and will show more of the lead up to the incident (for example a driver cutting in front of your car will come into view earlier on the footage). The BlackVue DR900S boasts a 162° Angle of View which is impressive. The recorded footage from adjacent road lanes or the footpath is covered in much more depth. The narrower the angle of view, the less coverage you have on the road.

7. Temperature Resistance

This feature is not considered as much as others and is commonly disregarded by buyers. We feel it is important especially in our climate. All Dash Cams should specify an OPERATIONAL temperature range. Generally all mid to high range Dash Cams will have an inbuilt temperature prevention cut off to protect itself in a hot car. The higher the temperature resistance generally means higher quality components are used and a longer lasting Dash Cam. Dash Cams are generally left in a car permanently, especially if you choose to utilize the parking mode/motion detection feature. A Dash Cam that has a high temperature resistance will operate for longer in parking mode as the car internal temperature warms up. They will also power up faster when a hot, parked car is switched on. Dash Cams with a low temperature resistance will cut off earlier in parking mode and will take longer to startup. You have to wait longer until the camera cools down enough before it starts up. Lower temperature resistant Dash Cams can also be prone to freezing up, restarting or malfunctioning in warmer weather. They also degrade much faster over time. 

**When comparing temperature resistance, be careful as some manufacturers and sellers specify the storage temperature resistance which is always higher than the operational temperature. You want to know the operational temperature resistance as this is what is important in a hot car. The higher the operational temperature resistance, the longer it will stay recording in a hot car and the longer your Dash Cam will last.

8. Supercapacitor vs Battery

Dash Cams are not designed to run off internal batteries like a smartphone does. Dash Cams need to run for hours on end while driving so require constant power through a cig lighter socket to operate. It would be silly if a Dash Cam ran off a battery that died mid way through your journey. Dash Cam batteries are only designed to last a short period of time to safely save the last file when power to the camera cuts off. You will notice when you turn your engine off, the Dash Cam will stay on for around 5-10 seconds. This is the internal battery working to save the last file to the Micro SD card. Cheap Dash Cams use cheap batteries that are prone to swell and leak in hot cars, thereby damaging the camera. Also, over time, the amount of power they hold decreases and eventually die, causing power failures, freezing up, not saving settings or the correct date and time. 

Cheap Dash Cams, use cheap batteries which give high quality Dash Cam batteries a bad wrap.

High quality supercapacitors are used in most higher end Dash Cams. They can withstand more heat and have basically an unlimited lifetime. We highly recommend Dash Cams that run off supercapacitors over batteries. Having said this, if we supply a Dash Cam with an internal lithium ion battery, we strenuously heat test it ourselves for Israel’s conditions.

9. Loop Recording

This feature is pretty much standard across all Dash Cams. Dash Cams record footage in short video files which can be customised on most cameras (generally 1, 3 & 5 minute video files). Once the Micro SD card memory fills up with files, rather than automatically deleting everything to free up space or asking you to free up space, the Dash Cam writes over the oldest files one at a time. Therefore you always have the most recent footage on the SD card. This is a great feature because it gives the driver time to backup any files before being looped over. If you are not involved in an incident on any particular day, then just keep the Dash Cam looping over – set & forget. If you are involved in an incident, then you should either download the files off the SD card, or lock that particular file in the menu which makes it un-writable (model dependant).

10. Hazard/Emergency Record Button

This is a great feature which generally allows you to separately earmark or lock an important file from being overwritten by loop recording. This means the important video file can easily be located on the SD card at a later time. We like the Hazard/Emergency button to be tactile and easily accessible on the Dash Cam. Vicovation have thought this through and coloured their hazard button orange for quick identification and use. If you are involved in an incident or see something occur on the road but will continue driving for some time before being able to download the file, this feature comes in handy. Vicovation, BlackSys, DOD and Lukas QVIA Dash Cams all have tactile, easy access, one-touch Emergency Record buttons.

11. Maximum Storage Capacity

Dash Cam brands and models support different Micro SD card capacities. A higher storage capacity SD card will record for longer before looping the footage over. The capacity of the SD card you require depends on the recording time you require.  For general driving (say 2-4 hours per day) a 32 GB Micro SD card should be sufficient. Should you be in an incident at the start of the day, you will have time to download the file when you get home in the evening (it would be better to lock the incident file after it occurs as a fail safe).

Please note that the higher resolution you are recording at, the less recording time you get out of an SD card (larger video files). Therefore we recommend larger SD cards for higher resolution Dash Cams and those drivers who spend a lot of time on the road. Always check the maximum Micro SD card capacity of the Dash Cam before you purchase to ensure it is suitable for your needs.

The Lukas QVIA Dash Cams have the largest 256GB Micro SD card compatibility for longer recording times which is double the storage capabilities of most 128GB capacity Dash Cams on the market.

12. Audio Recording

This is a handy feature that records audio in sync with the video. It comes in handy if you have an altercation with another driver. Angry drivers generally back off if they know their words are being recorded.

An easy to access mute button is handy should you want to turn audio off and not record your shower singing voice!

13. Startup time

You want a Dash Cam that has a quick startup time when you turn your car on. Some Dash Cams can take up to 40 seconds to start up which doesn’t help when you have already driven for 30 seconds. 

14. Audible Notifications/Warnings

This is usually a feature on Dash Cams that do not have a screen. If something is not functioning, like the camera is not recording, you want to be alerted promptly via audio alerts as there are no visual warnings. Dash Cams with screens will generally show visual warnings while higher quality cameras will have both audible and visual notifications.

BlackVueBlackSys and Lukas QVIA Dash Cams have great audible notifications.

15. Parking Mode with Motion Detection and Impact Detection

This is a useful feature and is rapidly becoming more important. It does require some additional equipment & installation to operate correctly. Most higher end Dash Cams have a Parking Surveillance Mode feature. Essentially when your car is turned off, the Dash Cam stays awake. When motion is detected from either a moving car or pedestrian, the Dash Cam starts recording that motion for a set amount of time. The same happens if an impact is detected through the inbuilt G-sensor. We all know what car parks are like!

This feature provides evidence of any hit and run activity or vandalism while you are away from your car. The footage can be used to prove to your insurance company that any damage caused while parked was not your fault. If a number plate is captured, the driver can be tracked down. Any deliberate or malicious damage to your car while parked can be reported to the police and the footage used to assist them in the investigation. Hit and run drivers, if caught via their number plate, can be charged with leaving the scene of an incident if they haven’t left authentic contact details.

Generally files recorded in parking mode will be locked (model dependant) or marked differently so you can easily find them on the SD card. Larger SD card sizes are preferable if you are parking for long periods of time to give you the maximum file storage.

We prefer Dash cams that have “Pre-Buffered” Parking Mode recording. This feature records a short time prior to the motion/impact trigger and also records after the trigger. This means if someone quickly drives/walks past your car and damages it, you will capture the lead-up to the incident. You won’t miss it. Some Dash Cams only record after a trigger. This means that by the time the culprit has moved on, the Dash Cam just starts recording. You can lose the very important lead up circumstances before an incident.

Our best pre-buffered parking mode Dash Cams are the BlackSys CH-200 and Lukas QVIA Dash Cams. They record an important 10 second pre-recording prior to the trigger and they have advanced parking mode features and customisable settings to give you confidence while you are away from your vehicle. The BlackSys CH-200 and Lukas QVIA range offers 2 x Parking Mode recording options: Pre-buffered motion and impact detection or a time-lapse feature for continuous recording at a low frame rate. The BlackVue DR750S range also offers a shorter 5 seconds pre-buffered motion and impact parking mode recording along with time-lapse feature.

Have a read of our dedicated “Parking Surveillance Mode” Article – click here

An essential tool that must be used to utilise parking mode is the installation of a Hardwire Kit. Hardwire Kits are Battery Discharge Prevention Devices. The Dash Cam requires a constant supply of power to record while the engine is off (when parked). A hardwire kit is connected between the car battery (via the fusebox) and your Dash Cam. When the engine is off, the hardwire kit draws power from the car battery to the Dash Cam. Hardwire kits will have, as a minimum, a low voltage prevention cut off. This means that when the hardwire kit detects the car battery is getting too low, it will switch power off to the camera to avoid draining the battery & jump starting. Cheap hardwire kits can fail and you will have to jump start your battery. Quality hardwire kits are more voltage sensitive and reliable and will have other prevention monitors like temperature, surge and a timer off function. The Power Plus Hardwire Kit is our recommendation for any Dash Cam that has parking mode because of its quality build, reliability, wide range of cut off voltages and added protection features. We always recommend using a qualified auto electrician with Dash Cam installation experience to install your hard-wired Dash Cam system.

ENSURE THE PARKING MODE FEATURE IS AUTOMATICALLY ACTIVATED & DEACTIVATED. Some Dash Cams have a parking mode feature, however, it is must be manually switched on & off. This can be very annoying for the user as they must remember to switch it on every time they park the car. It is even more important to remember to turn it off when they start driving otherwise motion detection will permanently be activated (due to the car moving) and can  fill up the SD card with locked files. Again to avoid this hassle, ensure the Dash Cam has AUTO parking mode. A Dash Cam with auto parking mode senses when you have parked and when you start driving again and will automatically and seamlessly switch between parking mode recording and normal driving mode.

If hardwiring the Dash Cam to your car battery is not favourable, a DIY battery pack can be purchased. They simply plug into your accessory socket, charge up as you drive, and provide constant power to your camera when the car is switched off, no hardwiring required. We recommend the tried and proven Cellink NEO Battery Pack. Battery packs are very important for new car owners. Installation of a hardwire kit into a car under new car warranty could potentially void your warranty. Always check with your dealer/car manufacturer before installing anything into your car’s electrical system. To be safe, the Cellink-B is recommended as no hardwiring into the fusbox is necessary.

**DO NOT CUT OR ALTER the power cord that comes with the Dash Cam for direct hardwiring** Dash Cams take 5V power so feeding 12V/24V direct will fry the Dash Cam and VOID your warranty. Always use the included power cord and a hardwire kit or Cellink NEO Battery Pack.

16. Rotatable Mounting Bracket

Having a rotatable mounting bracket means that you can turn the Dash Cam to face either the driver or passenger windows. This comes in handy if you wish record a conversation if somebody approaches your car. Angry drivers generally back off if you can record them at your side windows.

If you wish to use your Dash Cam in multiple vehicles then opt for a suction mount as they make transferring fuss free. Adhesive mounts can be pulled off the windscreen however you will need to reapply the adhesive tapes whenever you transfer the Dash Cam. A second adhesive mount can always be purchased for an additional car. This way you only need to transfer the camera between cars. Adhesive mounts are generally lower profile than suction mounts and stick out less.

17. Custom Text

This is a handy feature that allows the user to imprint custom text onto the footage. The text could be the license plate number of the vehicle the Dash Cam is in, the car model, the driver’s name, or even the road trip you are going on. This feature allows easy identification of either which car the footage was recorded in, who was driving or where you were driving. Fleet users find the custom text feature valuable as they deal with multiple cars so identification of the footage is much easier.

18. Micro SD Cards

Micro SD cards can cause alot of confusion amongst buyers. All Dash Cams require use of a Micro SD Card. Some Dash Cams come with one included and some don’t. All the recorded footage is saved onto the SD card. Micro SD Cards come in 16GB, 32GB, 64GB and 128GB sizes generally for Dash Cams. Ensure your Micro SD card has a minimum Speed Rating of Class 10 so it can keep up with the constant recording.

SanDisk branded cards are not recommended for use in Dash Cams due to compatibility issues and other problems eg. freezing, restarting etc. SanDisk branded cards are known to cause both functional and physical damage to Dash Cams. They struggle to keep up with the stresses of the constant loop recording and rapidly degrade and fail. Manufacturer warranties can be void if any SanDisk Micro SD card is used.

We supply genuine, high quality Samsung EVO+ Micro SD cards for use in most of our Dash Cams.

Micro SD cards do require regular monthly formatting (instructions here). This ensures the card and Dash Cam are working together correctly and rectifies any corruption in the SD card. Formatting can easily be done via the Dash Cam menu and only takes 5 – 10 seconds. Formatting in the camera menu is the recommended method. Alternatively the Micro SD Cards can be formatted on the computer via the computer formatting tool but the correct format must be used. You should also format your Micro SD card at first use via the Dash Cam menu. Note that formatting deletes all files from the card so back up any files up you may need. Ensure that you check the Dash Cam maximum SD card capacity. You don’t want to be putting a 128GB card in a Dash Cam that supports a maximum 64GB card, it won’t work.

Have a read of our dedicated “Formatting Your Micro SD Card” Guide – click here

Don’t swap your Micro SD card between multiple devices, keep one Micro SD card dedicated to your Dash Cam.

**WE DON’t RECOMMEND purchasing a Micro SD Card off places like eBay, Amazon or the like as many fake, rebranded and/or refurbished cards are floating around and sold as “new/genuine”. Using a bad/fake Micro SD card can cause functional (freezing, restarting, not recording)  AND physical damage to your Dash Cam. We have seen Dash Cams and SD cards quickly heat up & melt infront of our eyes when dodgy Micro SD cards were used. Always purchase your Micro SD card from a trusted supplier like us.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *