4 Reasons Why You Need A Dash Cam
A dashboard camera (or dash cam for short), is a small digital video recorder that is designed to be mounted on the dashboard or front windscreen of your vehicle. While they’re often used for recording accidents, they are also a great way to record your adventures and improve your off-roading skills.
1. Capture your adventures while travelling
Most people buy a dash cam for ‘worst case scenarios’, like filming any accidents that may happen. However, they have a great many uses beyond that. From recording your road trip to capturing those spectacular moments in your 4WD when you are off-roading, a dash cam gives you another way to record your holiday memories from your vehicle.
Since road travelling is such a huge part of a caravanner’s adventure, many use a dash cam to record their journey to show their friends and family. Likewise, a dash cam is a great tool for 4WDers who want to record track conditions.
2. Improve your driving skills
Being able to review an incident or situation that has just happened can make you a better driver. This can be especially helpful when towing your caravan or to hone your techniques when off-roading. In the case of 4WDing, you are able to look back on your footage and spot what went wrong or right. You can then see how your technique worked on the track and what you could improve on next time. It also allows you to compare your driving to other drivers who are using dash cams, to see what they did differently.
Caravanners can use dash cams to watch how they reverse park, overtake other vehicles and monitor their lane position. Some road travellers like to use a dual camera setup so they can have a live feed watching their trailer. This is especially helpful when reversing, or on a windy day when your caravan might be swaying on the road.
A dash cam is the easiest way to record your travels.
3. Capture incidents while driving
Whether it’s your fault or someone else’s, a dash cam allows you to record an accident that has happened within the camera’s field of view. This can be especially helpful when it comes to explaining the events of an incident, as it is hard to refute ‘hard evidence’ like a video, compared to one person’s word against another’s.
4. Record incidents while your vehicle is unattended
Most recent model dash cams feature a ‘park mode’ which allows the camera to record while the car is off. This is useful when leaving your vehicle unattended at a caravan park, it will be able to record any accidental bumps and knocks that may happen to your car.
What To Look For In A Dash Cam?
Most dash cams come ‘universal’ – meaning they will fit all vehicles. However, they do come in many different types, styles and sizes so it is important to know what to consider before choosing a device.
Single Camera or Dual Camera System
Commonly, dash cams feature a single camera that faces towards the front of the vehicle. Single camera units are extremely easy to set up, often just requiring you to mount them then plug them into your USB or 12V cigarette lighter. However, it is also possible to have dual cameras operating on the same system.
As the name suggests, a dual camera system uses two different cameras to record footage from the front and rear of the vehicle. This is particularly helpful if you are towing a caravan or wanting to use the dash cam as a makeshift parking camera.
However, most buyers will opt for a single camera system due to the simplicity and ease of installation, as a dual camera system generally requires professional installation.
Top: 1080p, Bottom: 720p. Compare the writing you see on the sign between the two resolutions to see the difference in quality.
Camera Resolution and Frame Rate
When you’re choosing which dash cam to buy, try to find the one with the highest resolution within your budget. Most come at a minimum 720p, which is okay for general road trip video recording, but when you need to see the fine details of an offending vehicle’s number plate, you’ll be wishing you had a camera that has a higher resolution.
We recommend finding a dash cam that outputs at minimum 1080p. This resolution will easily be able to record specific details and could be the difference between the difference between an ‘O’ and ‘D’ in a number plate, or whether or not an indicator was flashing on another vehicle during the day.
Much like resolution, frame rate is an important factor in video quality. Most standard units record at 30 frames per second (fps) which is roughly what the human eye can see normally. Choosing a unit that records at a higher frame rate, such as at 60fps, allows the video to be slowed down in playback mode without skipping frames and losing clarity. This is especially helpful in insurance claims where investigators will be looking for specific occurrences in the footage.
You can see why they call is at ‘micro SD card’ now…
Memory Card Size
Most current model dash cams use a micro SD or SD card to store the recorded video on. When recording at ideal settings of 1080p at 30fps, each 3 minutes of video will require 300mb or so of space. Therefore, one hour of continuous footage stored onto the card will require 6gb of space. We recommend selecting a card with a minimum of 8gb of space, with 16gb or more being even better.
Memory cards are also divided up into processing classes. Each class represents their processing speed, with class one, equaling one megabyte of data being processed per second, up to class ten, equalling ten megabytes of data being processed per second. For video recording, you will need class ten, as anything less will not be able to process your video fast enough.
Discover More: the great Australian road trip
Battery vs. External Power Supply
Choosing how your dash cam is powered will affect how it can be used. Most inexpensive dash cams will be battery powered, while more premium units will need to be plugged into your vehicle’s 12V power adapter or hardwired to your car battery.
If you choose a battery-powered dash cam, you will need to monitor the battery level. Battery systems typically don’t feature a ‘park’ mode as the unit would lose charge very quickly from being constantly on. However, if your car does lose power in an accident, the battery may allow the dash cam to run longer.
Units that are hardwired into your car’s battery or a 12V adaptor are seen as more stable than their battery-powered counterparts. Most people opt for this type of unit as they can be run while the car is left unattended, and require less management when installed correctly.
It’s no secret that the Australian summer can get seriously hot. This extreme heat can leave the inside of your car scorching hot – sometimes up to 20 or 30 degrees hotter than the outside temperature. This can be problematic for dash cams with internal power storage, as most batteries lose charge and become damaged when exposed to extreme heat.
The build quality of a dash cam will greatly affect its heat resistance too. The case and lens housing in lower-quality dash cams are known to melt under extreme temperatures. Best way to find out it if a dash cam is heat resistant is to read other user reviews of people using them in hot climates.
If you plan on leaving your dash cam in your car in hot climates, choose an external power supply model that hard wires to your car’s battery. Parking in the shade, putting a windshield reflector over your car, or running an external fan to cool the dash cam will also help to prolong the life of your device in the heat.
This option allows a dash cam to be continually recording but will re-write over old footage if it hasn’t been saved. Most dash cams with this feature allow for manual and automatic video ‘flagging’. If a video is flagged, most dash cams will save any footage 30 seconds before the flag and will keep recording until prompted to stop.
A dash cam with a screen allows you to see what is being recorded at any moment.
Screen or no screen
Most dash cams feature an inbuilt screen making it easier to position the camera and making possible to review the footage from the device. However, an inbuilt screen will make the dash cam bulkier.
If you require a more subtle or streamlined device, choose one that does not have a screen. This will make it harder to set up and will require being plugged into a computer to review the footage.
WiFi and Bluetooth Connectivity
Some devices, in particular dash cams that don’t feature inbuilt screens, are able to sync to a mobile app via Bluetooth or WiFi. This allows you to watch and save footage to your phone. This feature generally doesn’t come cheap and is only found on a few high-end models.
Road tripping and dash cams go hand-in-hand...
Speed and GPS Overlays
Some dash cams are able to track your speed and location through an inbuilt GPS. This feature can be both a blessing and a curse. If you are doing nothing wrong then there is no problem, however, if your dash cam records you speeding before an incident, you could be in trouble.
This feature allows a dash cam to operate while the car is turned off and unattended. This mode will vary from model to model, but most dash cams go into standby mode when the car is off and is activated through a motion sensor or impact detector. This mode is great in caravan parks where incidents often occur when drivers are reversing their trailers in tight spots.
If you plan on using your dash cam while driving at night, you’ll need to choose one that has a ‘low-light mode’. This feature allows more light to enter the camera’s lens which increases the clarity of the recording in dark situations.
As you can see, the wider the field of view, the further objects appear away but the more the camera can see.
Field of View
A dash cam’s field of view angle will determine how much a camera’s lens is able to see. The larger the angle, the more a camera can see. Most dash cams typically range from 90 to 170 degrees, with 120 degrees is seen as the ‘standard’ field of view for most devices.
However, bigger isn’t always better, as a wide field of view will lead to a warped sense of distance, often creating a ‘fish-eye’ effect. A car that is recorded on a 90-degree lens from ten metres away will appear true to scale, while the same car recorded at the same distance from a 170-degree lens will appear warped and over 20 metres away.
Audio recording is a feature on most dash cams. However, most users tend to not enable this feature as it increases the file size significantly which leads to less space on the SD card for video footage.
For a dash cam to be legal, it can’t obstruct the view of the driver.
The shape and size of the dash cam will often determine how it is mounted. Some are able to be mounted near your rear-view mirror similar to a toll-tag, while others may be mounted on the base of your windscreen. Keep this in mind if you have existing devices on your windscreen, as you may need to relocate them for the dash cam.
Most are mounted with either a suction cup (like a GPS) or adhesive patch (like a toll tag). Adhesive mounts tend to be stronger, but are semi-permanent, making them difficult to remove without force.
Video Playback Software or Application
Some models feature specially designed playback software that comes with the device for your computer. Other models are designed to be used in conjunction with a mobile application where you can review the footage and save it to your phone. However, these features don’t come cheap and are often only found with high-end dash cams.
After Service Support
Warranties, installation guides and the company’s customer support are all aspects worth considering when you're choosing a dash cam. If a dash cam comes without an installation guide, it can be assumed its customer support may be lacking too.
Although most people use their dash cams to film accidents, we feel they are an underused method of recording your adventures. They can be used to create spectacular time lapses of your road trip through video editing software, and provide a fresh perspective to record your adventurers from. Friends, family and other adventurers will envy your ability to record your whole journey with the press of the button!
Got any recommendations for others looking to buy a dash cam? Let us know in the comments below!