Dashboard cameras – or dashcams – are becoming increasingly popular in South Africa.
To find out what you should look for when shopping for a dashcam, we reached out to The Car Dash Cam Shop (TCDCS) and spoke to its director Thomas Wheeler.
The first thing to look at when buying a dashcam is which models fit your budget.
“Our cameras start from R1,575 and go as high as R18,000,” said Wheeler.
Once you have determined which models you can buy, finding the right one for you becomes the next step.
Choosing the right camera
According to Wheeler, when shopping for a dashcam you should ask the following questions.
- What do I want to record?
Decide whether you want to record just the front of the vehicle; the front and inside the cab; the front and rear; or the front, rear, and inside.
- How long must the camera record for?
“Typically a single-channel dash camera with a 32GB card will record for 2 hours and 30 minutes before overwriting old video. 64GB will give you 5 hours recording time,” said Wheeler.
With a 128GB card, you can expect 10 hours of recording time, with this 1:2 ratio continuing as you go up.
- Do I need the dashcam to be Wi-Fi or Cloud enabled?
A Wi-Fi-enabled dashcam allows you to have an app on your phone where you can download the video footage and share it as you please.
A Cloud-enabled dashcam allows you to access the camera remotely and upload important video files to the dashcam cloud services.
Being able to access the camera remotely brings additional benefits, such as sharing the live camera feed – along with microphone and speaker access – as well as sharing your live location on a map as you drive.
For important events, such as a G sensor tripping due to sudden impact, an event file will be created on Cloud-enabled devices.
“The event file will not be overwritten by the camera and will be automatically uploaded to the dash camera’s cloud service. This ensures that footage of the event remains safe and can be reviewed at a later date,” said Wheeler.
- Do I need the dashcam to remain on while my vehicle is parked?
Parking mode keeps the dashcam on when your vehicle is parked.
If any G sensors are tripped, the camera will make a special event file and if it’s not Cloud-enabled it will warn you when you get back to the vehicle that there was an impact during parking mode.
Cloud-enabled dashcams will send a warning to your smartphone with a photo of the impact as it happens, too.
“This is great for protecting your vehicle while parked. Any sudden impacts such as a vehicle bumping into your vehicle, or someone sitting on your vehicle to take a selfie or damaging your vehicle [is logged],” said Wheeler.
When shopping for a dashcam, Wheeler recommends that you look for a device with either a Generation 6 (G6) or Generation 7 (G7) glass lens, as anything below this is plastic that becomes murky over time.
Secondly, you should check whether the dashcam comes with a battery or a super capacitor.
Batteries have metal covers that expand and shrink due to fluctuations of temperatures, which in turn causes the battery to swell and start leaking.
“Super capacitors can handle extreme heat of up to 80°C and as low as -20°C and will not swell up or explode,” he said.
Wheeler provided the photo below of a dashcam with a battery that was sent in to TCDCS for a warranty repair.
In addition, it is recommended to check which image processing chip (CMOS sensor) the dashcam uses.
“Look out for Sony Exmor or Sony Starvis. These are the best for recording in low to almost no light at night.”
Next up, check what frame rate and image resolution the dashcam records at.
It is advised to only go for dashcams with a resolution of 1920×1080 (1080p) or higher, and a recording frame rate of at least 60 frames per second (FPS).
“This will enable you to obtain better video quality and be able to pause the video and easily zoom in on a registration plate should you need to. Anything lower will cause a blurry video,” said Wheeler.
Viewing angle is another important factor to keep in mind.
Wheeler said to look for 139 degrees or more, but not to go higher than 180 degrees.
“More than 180 degrees will distort the image, less than 139 degrees will not give you a full view from side to side of the windscreen.”
Image stabilisation is also something to look for as a feature in a dashcam.
For fitting the dashcam to your window, get a camera with a glue pad rather than a suction cup – as the suction cup’s ability to stick wears off quickly.
Professional installation or DIY?
A dashcam can be professionally installed or done at home by the car owner.
For DIY installations you must clean the patch of windscreen where the adhesives will stick with methylated spirits and a dust-free cloth.
“Use a pry-tool to gently lift the vehicle’s headliner and hide the power cable,” said Wheeler.
If you purchase a dual-channel camera, users will “want to gently run the power cable down the side of your car to the vehicle charge port”.
TCDCS provides an instruction video for DIY installations on its website.
Wheeler also said TCDCS offers professional installation services in major metros. Installation for a single-channel dash camera in a standard vehicle is R750.
Thereafter, pricing increases depending on the complexity of the vehicle and the number of camera channels.
Benefits of dashcams
Dashcams are a great way to record fun trips or important events on the road.
“It is also great for insurance claims. If your dash camera has a GPS module, the GPS module hard codes your location, speed, and G sensor impact levels into the video,” said Wheeler.
“This cannot be easily tampered with and can be handed to the insurance company to assist with your claim.”
It is also advised that you contact your particular insurer to find out whether a dashcam will have an impact on your monthly vehicle insurance premiums.
“A dash camera is an investment, so choose wisely. Choose a dash camera that provides the functions you need and that will last for at least 3-5 years.”