Choosing A Dash Cam:
How does a Dash Cam work?
A dash cam is a small digital video recorder that attaches to your vehicles windscreen. As standard, the camera will plug into your vehicles 12v Socket and will automatically turn on and record when this socket gets power and turn off when the socket loses power. For most vehicles on the market the 12v socket is powered when the engine is turned on, however some vehicles leave the socket powered at all times so it is important to check. If your vehicles 12v socket is always powered you may need to have the camera hardwired for your vehicle so it doesn’t record 24/7 or drain the vehicles battery.
Dash cameras record to removable memory cards, in most cases a Micro SD card, these cards are available in sizes up to 512gb, however not all cameras support such large capacities. The larger the memory card the more footage your camera will store. Cameras record in blocks of videos (Commonly 1, 3 or 5 minutes) this means that if you do a 30 minute drive and your camera records in 5 minute blocks you will have 6 X 5 minute videos. Once the memory card is totally full, the camera will automatically delete the oldest video and start again from the beginning.
The average recording time of a 32GB memory card in a camera recording at 1080P HD will be roughly 4-5 hours, this means you will always have the last 4-5 hours of footage on the memory card at all times. There is no need to manually delete files, however we do recommend formatting the memory cards after each time you use them in a Computer or every 1-2 months to keep them in good order.
It is important to note that like a video tape, memory cards have a limited amount of times they can be recorded over and are considered a consumable item. Eventually they will fail with extended use.
Recording when parked / Parking mode
Many people wish for their cameras to record while their vehicle is parked and they are away from it. Some cameras support “Parking mode” which means the camera will record if the camera detects motion / bump while parked, Parking mode is not as simple as plug and play and requires a more in depth installation as well as a few things you need to be aware of.
As we mentioned above, Most vehicles only provide power to the 12v socket when the engine is running, so in order to record while the vehicle is parked you will need to have the camera hardwired, Hardwire kits are designed to provide power to the dash cam while also preventing the camera from draining your battery too much, Some models of hardwire kits also have other safety features such as temperature cut offs and timers.
Another consideration that needs to be made is the climate. Dash cams have a safe operating temperature, and this temperature can be exceeded on hot days in a parked vehicle. Leaving a child or animal in a closed vehicle can have deadly consequences and that same temperature can be enough to damage a camera in the right conditions. If you intend on leaving a camera recording in parking mode on hot days you may need to consider a hardwire kit with a temperature cut off.
Purchasing A Dashcam – What to Consider
Budget – How much do you wish to spend?
Straight off the bat this is going to determine what you will end up with, Cameras can be had for anywhere between $50 all the way up to $500+ depending on features. Set yourself a limit for spending and shop around. Be aware that cheap and cheerful is not always a good idea when it comes to a camera. We constantly have people telling us how their cheap camera wasn’t recording when something happened. We usually suggest if you are buying a camera that you should always go for something decent, We have many people buy a cheaper ebay / no name model and 3 months down the track wan’t to buy a higher end model because they weren’t happy with the cheap one they bought.
Coverage – Front facing only or Front and Rear camera.
There are a few different styles of these cameras around, the First being a unit with a forward facing camera that has a secondary camera that records the vehicle cabin. These can be useful for clearing yourself of accusations of using a mobile while driving but usually don’t offer much of a view out the back of the car. The second style of camera has the standard front facing camera but also a rear mounted camera, usually attached by a length of cable that allows it to be placed on the vehicles rear window. This offers a useful view out the rear of the car in case of a rear end accident) These camera can be quite expensive and many people have turned to buying 2 individual cameras and having 1 front and 1 rear as it can be cheaper depending on what you buy. However the convenience of only needing 1 Memory card and power cable may be more appealing to some. Installing a dual camera can be more tricky than a front only camera and in many cases professional installation is recommended as the video cables can be easily damaged.
Battery or Capacitor – How the camera saves if power is lost.
Many people new to dash cams do not understand that the inbuilt batteries are NOT designed to run the cameras. All dash cams require constant 12 volt power from the supplied charging cable to work properly. The in built batteries or capacitor are there to ensure that if the camera loses power due to an accident it can still save the footage safely and shut the camera off without losing the file. Batteries are more common in the cheaper models of dash cams, while they do the job they are susceptible to issues relating to the constant charging and discharging of the battery, which can lead to them dying, Also batteries are less resilient to heat and we often see cases where they “Pop” during summer, this is where capacitors are more effective, although they keep less of a charge they still shut the camera off safely and are far more resilient to heat, something to bear in mind if you live in a very hot area.
Do I want GPS/ Speed overlay
This feature can be a double edged sword so beware. It is nice to be able to prove where an incident happened and the speed you were doing but this can shoot you in the foot if you are speeding yourself. Something to keep in mind. GPS / Speed data is usually hardcoded onto the video by some cameras and others require the use of Computer software to show.
Resolution – 720P, 1080P, 1296P, Higher?
Most cameras are now 1080P Full HD, With some even higher resolutions, However it is important to note that not all 1080P is the same and just because a camera is full HD does not mean it will be good quality. There are a number of factors which can affect the quality ranging from the Image sensor used, the camera lens and the bitrate of the recording. For the average consumer telling the difference based off of specifications alone will be near impossible so it is important to look at sample videos for any cameras you are interested in to ensure that the quality stand up to your expectations. Higher resolution does not equal higher quality. A 4k camera with a average bitrate will not necessarily be clearer than a 1080P camera with a high bitrate.
Memory Card – Picking a size and brand
O.K, Lovely. You have bought a camera, but have you put any thought into a memory card? This is where things can get a bit confusing. Many cameras do not come with a memory card included when you buy them, and as such it comes down to you the consumer to pick the right card, this can be difficult as many cameras have different requirements for memory cards. Some cameras only support cards up to 32gb in size, where others can support over 128gb memory cards. The other important factor here is the class rating of the memory card. Not all memory cards are suitable for use in recording high definition video as they cannot keep up. Be sure to check what class rating is required with your camera before purchasing a card. We recommend Lexar, Kingston, Transcend and Samsung EVO cards for all models we stock. If you are unsure about what memory card is suitable for your camera, you are always better off asking first to save disappointment later.
Size – What will suit my vehicle best
Another consideration that you need to make is the size of the camera. There are many different sizes on the market to suit a wide array of vehicle types. At the end of the day this is entirely personal preference but some people may prefer to be subtle and hidden. Where as others may prefer theirs to be larger and easier to operate (Heavy Vehicles or Large 4X4’s)
How to Install A Dash Cam
A dash cam does not require any special tools or skills to install, it is achievable in a matter of minutes depending on the vehicle and the cleanliness of the install desired. Cameras can be hard wired to achieve a very discreet install, I highly suggest the use of an Auto Electrician for this path.
Parking Mode – Is it worth it
One of the most common questions we get asked is “What is the best parking mode camera?” There is no real easy answer to this question, as many people are not aware of what is required for parking mode and the potential drawbacks to using it. Before I get too in depth, lets cover what Parking mode is, Parking mode (also referred to as motion detection on some units) is a feature on certain dash cams that will keep the dash cam in a state of hibernation while the vehicle is parked, and depending on the model of camera will start recording when motion is detected in front of the lens or a shock is detected. In theory this sounds like a great feature, and it is, but it does come with a number of drawbacks which you will need to weigh up before going ahead.
Pretty simple one, Dash cams need power to run and they get their power (in most cases) via the 12v socket in your vehicle, In 90% of cars that 12v socket will only get power when the car is turned on, meaning when the car turns, the camera turns off. Easy you might say, “I will buy a dash cam that has a battery”. Not quite so, Dash cams that use batteries are not designed to really run on said batteries, the battery is only there for an emergency backup in case of an accident to save the footage and will be lucky to last more than a minute, Capacitor based cameras will only get you a second or two before shutting down.
So what do you do? Basically, you need a hardwire kit, a hardwire kit is a device that can be connected to your vehicles fuse box or battery in order to supply the camera with 24/7 power. There are quite a number of hardwire kits on the market with varying degrees of features, many have a built in voltage detector which will monitor the battery voltage and shut off power to the camera when the car battery starts getting too low. Others like the Vico Power Plus have other sensors such as Temperature and time cut offs which we will go further into depth on later.
So the cost of the hardwire kit (and installation) is something you need to take into account when making your purchase. Also be sure to take into account that having a Dash Cam running is not too dissimilar from leaving an interior light on in your vehicle each day and over time the constant discharging may result in a shorter lifespan of your car battery.
Most of us Australians have experienced this more often than we care to admit, getting into our car after a long day of work during summer to find out that it is likely cooler in the earths core than inside our car, Now think about exactly how hot it is inside that car. On a hot day, it is possible for a vehicles interior to reach 40 degrees Celsius ABOVE the ambient temp, This means a car interior can hit 80 degrees+ on a hot day, During summer we often receive pictures of cheaper cameras with batteries that have popped due to the heat, and these cameras aren’t even turned on. Most quality brand cameras will have an operating range of up to 70/75 degrees, and this is often the limit for any memory card also so if you intend to run a camera in parking mode you really need to be aware that one day you may come back to a melted camera, It doesn’t matter how good or what brand the camera is there is a significant chance that in the right conditions you can cook the camera if you leave it running inside a parked car on a hot day,
This obviously depends on your memory card size but it is another thing to take into account, On average a 32gb Memory card will record about 4-5 hours of HD footage, Now if you are parked in a busy area it would not be difficult to use up that 4 hours in the time you are at work or even miss any important footage if it were to happen early in the day, We occasionally get people telling us they want parking mode so they can record in front of their house at night as a form of CCTV so be sure to consider your potential recording time needs as well.