Nearly two decades ago, police departments started equipping their cruisers with dashboard cameras to create a record of traffic stops. Over the years, video technology improved and camera prices dropped to the point when everyday drivers can use car-mounted cameras for all kinds of personal reasons—from recording what happens in an accident to producing a vacation travelogue.
Most dash cams, which record both audio and video, are designed to automatically start and stop or record in a continuous loop to an SD memory card. Despite their nickname, the majority of dash cam units mount on the windshield (not on the dashboard).
Are you ready to add a video camera and recorder to your ride? Here are the most important things to consider when shopping for the best dashboard camera for your needs.
Video Quality: The top factor when selecting a car camera is the quality of the recorded image. The price for a basic high-definition (HD) dash cam starts as low as $20. A higher-resolution image, while increasing the price, allows you to distinguish more details in a scene—especially at night. To record higher quality, opt for a camera that shoots at least at 1080p and uses a glass lens instead of plastic. An angle of view of at least 125 degrees is adequate for most purposes. As the camera’s view gets wider and more panoramic, distortion can be introduced.
Data Storage: Video cameras generate massive amounts of data. We recommend a dash cam that uses a memory card that’s at least 32 GB. By default, they work in a loop-recording mode: They start recording when the car is running and stop when the car is turned off. When the memory card gets full, the dash cam starts writing over the old recordings. Larger memory cards allow you to record for a longer period at higher resolutions before the old recordings are overwritten (extending the time before you need to transfer the footage to another hard drive).
Size: Smaller is better when it comes to dash cams. A camera that can be discreetly placed on the windshield next to or behind the rearview mirror will escape notice. The size of the camera will likely grow as you add features—such as a built-in display for real-time viewing or a dual lens for recording inside the car as well as the roadway. So you’ll need to consider the relative importance of keeping the unit small versus adding those features. Dash cams can mount with a windshield suction cup or adhesive material. Dash cams that replace a rearview mirror are popular as well.
Wi-Fi: Some dash cams come with Wi-Fi, allowing users to utilize their smartphone or tablet to download footage or change camera settings. It’s a convenient way to manage your dash cam from a mobile device, although it does not necessarily mean that the camera can be connected to the Internet.
GPS Logging: More advanced and expensive dash cams can log your vehicle’s position and speed with built-in GPS. This nifty feature allows you to replay the video on a computer while showing the location with an online map. Recording your location with the image can be very useful if you want to use the footage to fight a driving infraction.
Movement Sensor: Another valuable feature is a G-sensor (or shock sensor) that measures a change in your vehicle’s movement. A sudden movement of your car—for example, in the event of an accident—can trigger a designated response. If the sensor detects an accident, the footage will automatically be saved and the camera locked. Similarly, a G-sensor can trigger the camera to start recording if there’s significant movement when the car is parked—to document an act of vandalism or hit-and-run.
> See eBay’s selection of Dashboard Cameras