As with any new purchase it helps to do your research beforehand. Dash cameras are still gaining popularity in South Africa so most people aren’t familiar with the various terms in the feature list. The below is a list of things to look out for to avoid being disappointed with your purchase.
Easy to use/Automatic
A dashcam shouldn’t have to be something that you need to remember to activate every time you get in your car. This is why you should look for something that starts up automatically when you start your car, and rather importantly will continue to manage the storage on the memory card itself, usually by overwriting the oldest files (this is referred to as “Loop recording”).
Any dashcam shouldn’t obscure your view of the road in any way. Some cameras have quite large mounts involving suction cups etc and this is quite noticeable for potential thieves, especially as the suction cup looks like a GPS/phone mount which are often smash and grabbed. These mounts usually can’t be mounted in such a way to not obscure your view through the windscreen. Definitely don’t go for any dashcam that looks like a cellphone, or even use an actual cellphone because a new window or windscreen will cost a lot more than a proper dashcam.
The Mini 0806 fits quite nicely behind your rear view mirror and the base looks permanent (and barely noticeable), deterring thieves from trying to “snatch” it. It doesn’t obscure your view of the road at all.
Plenty of cheaper and older dash cams only record in a very low resolution. At the very low-end are the VGA (640×480 pixels) cameras, where you essentially end up with a small view of what is happening. You wouldn’t be able to see faces or number plates. 720p (1280×720 pixels) is a bit better in that you get a clearer picture but still wouldn’t be able to make out faces or number plates unless they were really close.
Any decent dash camera will record in 1080p (1920×1080 pixels) aka “Full HD” or higher. Also note that recording in higher resolutions will normally require more storage.
Normally a wide angle lens is helpful to capture a wider view of what is happening in front of the car. Around 130-140º is the ideal angle for capturing everything possible to capture through a windscreen without capturing the A pillars of the vehicle.
GPS logging can be very helpful. Not only does this show the exact position of the vehicle adding further support to the evidence but it also shows your speed. This can be very useful when replaying your video as it will make it easier to find the time in the video something happened if you know where something happened. Most dashcam software will show your route on a map.
Simple to watch video
Some cameras require special software to extract/play video from the camera. Sometimes this software isn’t available for the device you want to use or in most cases is just poorly written software that is difficult to use or crashes frequently. This “feature” generally isn’t immediately obvious however any camera showing that it uses “H.264” should produce videos playable in any recent media player applications.
Not every dash cam will record audio so this is something to watch out for before you buy to avoid disappointment. Audio recording can be very helpful, and sometimes even more helpful than video. This applies for being able to hear hooting, crashes etc but also to record conversations at your window. If you see something happen and would like to record a persons number plate it’s a good idea to just read it out loud so the audio is recorded.
Nice to haves:
A screen is generally handy to have for configuration of the camera and some cameras allow you to play back the video however you will normally want to view the video on a nice big computer screen instead. Unlike a GPS, you shouldn’t be looking at your dashcam while driving so the smaller the better.
HDR (High dynamic range) and WDR (wide dynamic range) means that the software controlling the sensor and exposure of the recording does some trickery to ensure that you can make out the detail in the recorded image in the very light zones as well as the very dark zones. This can sometimes be useful however you can usually recover this detail in the video after the fact if needed.
Stamping your GPS position, speed and the date/time onto your video can be useful when reviewing the video however if it gets stamped onto the video by the camera when recording, it can’t be removed later. If the data gets logged by the camera separately to the video then it can be overlaid onto the recorded video at a later stage if required. When the video is viewing using dashcam viewing software this information will be visible anyway.