If you've ever fallen down the rabbit hole of watching amazing dashcam videos on YouTube, you might have considered the advantages of buying one for your own car. A dashboard camera is still something of a rarity in the US, but major auto electronics brands such as Pioneer and Kenwood have dipped their toes into the market.
And why wouldn't they? Drivers are really starting to come around to the benefits of having dashcam footage available -- after all, who wouldn't want video evidence that they weren't at fault during that fender bender? Some of these devices have both a front camera and a rear-facing camera so that you can capture all angles of what's going on around your car in your video recording. Some also offer night vision, loop recording, a parking mode and wide viewing angle. Many also offer HD video, which comes in clutch when you need to produce a license plate number after a hit-and-run or other vehicular accident. Further, the growing ubiquity of the backup camera and technology that gives drivers a lane departure warning have made advanced technology in cars kind of a no-brainer. Why not attach one more camera to your rearview mirror?
To cut through the noise and get you to what matters most at each dashcam's price and feature level, I've tested most of the five dashboard camera models below, and many more to help you find the best dashcam for your personal situation. All of these options are readily available from Best Buy or Amazon at prices ranging from $45 all the way up to $500. And while I haven't been recording with every model on the market (an impossibility given the flood of often no-name dashcams out there), these are great examples of each tier in the market. Many of these cameras have their own dashcam app, which makes monitoring and saving video a breeze.
By the way, if you're an old hand at dashcams or want to jump into video recording your driving at the cutting edge (like if you want a looping feature, motion sensor, parking monitor, wide dynamic range and more), see our rundown of the best dashcam smart features.
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Here's something you haven't seen until recently: a name-brand dashcam. Its design is also more pleasing, tucking up into the top of the car windshield like an OEM part rather than hanging down on an unsightly mount.
The camera lens does all the basics plus a couple of tricks: It has an odd frame rate of 27.5 frames per second when recording that is tuned to make sure it never misses the state of an LED traffic light, which has a pronounced on/off flicker other cameras might record as no signal at all. Built-in GPS tagging makes sure the footage that you are recording will have time and GPS location embedded.
If you're a Kenwood person, look into recording with a Kenwood DRV-N520 camera (currently about $170 from Amazon), which is a dashcam that only works when connected to a Kenwood double-DIN aftermarket head unit.
Like the Pioneer, this Kenwood high-definition video dashcam comes from a major brand name in-car electronics. The 1080p full HD DRV-A301W camera doesn't fit into a car windshield as cleanly as the Pioneer, but the camera does have a larger 2.7-inch rear LCD screen, a Wi-Fi network connection for image and footage transfer, internal supercapacitors instead of batteries, and a clever magnetic release that makes it easier to hide or transport.
This car camera has no screen; instead you use Wi-Fi and its app on your smartphone as its interface. You can opt to add a wired rear cam, but instead of covering the inside of your vehicle it looks out the rear car windshield.
But the real innovation in the F800PRO is how it uses its forward camera and accelerometers to give you lane departure and forward collision warnings, as well as alerts about upcoming traffic cams for your car thanks to its cloud-connected database. It also has a display GPS, and a good GPS always comes in handy.
The model linked below includes a 32 GB SD card with the camera.
The Thinkware M1 motorsports dashcam combines 1080p full HD front- and rear-facing cameras that record footage simultaneously with a unique remote push-button control pad. It's different from dashcams designed for a car, as the design of the cameras is intended to make it a good dashcam for motorcycles and ATVs.
The M1's electronic image quality stabilization is essential for capturing usable video quality in such rugged applications, as is having an internal supercapacitor instead of a more temperature-sensitive lithium-ion battery.
These tips will apply to most dashcams, so keep them in mind:
- Get a big SD card. Some cameras come with generous storage but, if not, get the largest memory card the camera will support. More camera storage means you're less likely to find that video footage you really need from a week ago has been overwritten.
- Dress the cable. Nothing looks worse than a nasty power cable hanging down from your dashcam, and every car camera uses one. The Vantrue X4 offers a hardwire kit, and the Owl has a slick suction mount and tool to hide its cable. But every dashcam power cable can be "dressed," just take the time to do it.
- Think about audio. Some states have two-party consent laws that can get you in trouble if you use your camera to record the voices of casual carpoolers, Uber or Lyft customers (for the Uber and Lyft drivers out there) or even fractious friends and family in your car who didn't know you were eavesdropping on them.
- Know that dashcams cut both ways. If you get in an accident with another driver, a visible dashcam is a sign that you have footage of it. The other person may tell their insurance company and their attorneys may want a copy of what you recorded on your camera. That could go badly if you were in the wrong, but don't get in the business of destroying evidence.
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