So you are looking for a dashboard camera, but aren’t quite sure yet which model is best for you? This site will help you make your decision, no matter whether your budget is big or small. We’ve got reviews of the top rated dashboard cameras available in any price range. If you’re wondering where to start, have a look at our constantly updated list of the best dash cams for 2016.
Dashboard cameras are also known as dash cams, dashcams, car cameras, car DVRs, or even accident recorders (although they do record a lot more than just accidents — see below). They are becoming ever more popular, and there is a huge variety of devices on the market, most of them from small or little-known manufacturers.
DashboardCameraReviews.com was launched in June 2013 and features reviews, technical details, and sample videos of more than 50 dashboard camera models. Reviews are being added continually, building a comprehensive database that makes it easy to compare the various dashboard camera brands and models. Check out our huge dash cam comparison table — if you’re looking for the perfect camera for your car, you will find it there!
What Features To Look For In A Dashboard Camera
If you’re not quite familiar with all of the technical terms, deciding which dashboard camera to buy can seem more difficult than it actually is. The following list explains what to look out for when selecting your camera.
Single Or Dual Channel?
The first decision you need to make is whether you want to have your dash camera recording forward through your windshield only (single channel), or whether to get a front and rear facing camera system (dual channel).
The rear camera can either face back into the car’s interior (taxi cams), or it can look through the rear window and record the road behind your car (by far the more popular option).
For trucks and other vehicles that don’t have a rear window, there is also a niche solution with a weatherproof rear camera that can be mounted on the outside of your vehicle.
Due to the added complexity of processing two video streams simultaneously, quality dual channel systems are still quite a bit more expensive than single channel cams. While there are some cheap devices available for less than $100, we don’t necessarily recommend those. High quality dual channel cams currently cost between $200-$400.
A very important factor in a dashboard camera’s video quality is the video resolution it can record. The lowest resolution that any dash camera should support is 720p (1280×720 pixels, also known as HD). However, 720p is considered to be outdated in 2016, except for the rear cameras of some dual channel systems.
The standard today is definitely 1080p or higher. 1080p means a resolution of 1920×1080 pixels, also known as Full HD. Want to be able to keep track of all the details, and to capture your scenic drives in all their glory? No need to settle for anything less, even if you’re on a budget. High quality 1080p cameras are available for way below $100.
Newer cameras support video resolutions like 1296p (2304×1296 pixels) or 2560×1080 wide screen. 1296p is a standard 16:9 format, just like 1080p and 720p, but with more detail.
2560×1080 is wider and flatter than the aforementioned resolutions, with an aspect ratio of 64:27 (so, it’s more than twice as wide as it is high). This format, apart from having more of a cinematic feel to it, is quite useful for dashboard cameras because it puts more focus on your surroundings to the left and right, while showing less of the sky above and of your own car’s dashboard and hood.
For the highest video resolution available today, check out the Dome D201, one of the first dash cams to support 1440p (2560×1440 pixels). It’s the first camera we’ve reviewed that can do this resolution, and its video quality is indeed quite impressive. While it’s not the stealthiest dash cam out there, it can be had for just a little more than $100, so do consider the D201 if you’re interested in top-notch video quality.
The Dome D201 has excellent video quality at the highest resolution (1440p)
Night Video Quality
Most dashboard cameras with a resolution of 1080p or above capture decent video during the daytime. The ability to grab good quality video footage at night is what separates the great camera models from the average.
While true night vision isn’t necessary for a dash cam as you will normally have your headlights on when you drive in the dark, make sure that your camera is able to capture quality footage independent of sunlight if you drive a lot at night.
The DOD-LS460W has excellent night video quality, due to its large aperture
and a technique called WDR (Wide Dynamic Range)
Night Vision LEDs
Some cheaper cameras come with LEDs that are supposed to improve night performance. On dash cams, LEDs are absolutely useless for night vision. They tend to cause reflections on the windshield and can’t hope to illuminate the road in front of you (that’s what you have your headlights for anyways, which are far more powerful). Avoid dash cams with LEDs, or if your cam does have LEDs turn them off.
You probably don’t want your camera to stick out like a sore thumb on your car’s windshield. Dash cams come in various sizes, and smaller (and therefore more discreet) is almost always better. Of course, cramming lots of features into a small device normally comes with a higher price tag.
Also, the color black is definitely preferred for a dashboard camera, as any other color would draw too much attention to it. If you want your camera to be low profile, it doesn’t make sense to get it in any other color than black.
An absolute must in a dashboard camera, to make sure your camera doesn’t just stop recording when it runs out of disc space. Loop recording means that once your storage is full, the camera automatically overwrites the oldest files on the memory card, thus enabling it to record indefinitely.
Of course you have the option to mark those parts of the footage that you would like to keep. If your camera has a G-sensor (see below), files are automatically marked for safekeeping whenever an impact is detected.
A very useful feature. A G-sensor is triggered by a g-force event like an impact or a sudden braking maneuver. Whenever an event is detected, the camera will automatically mark the current footage for safekeeping (so it doesn’t accidentally get deleted by the loop recording).
G-sensors are not to be confused with a feature called motion detection, which is mainly used in parking mode and detects events by analyzing the camera’s video.
Lock File Button
A lock file button, or “emergency” button, is a dedicated button on the camera allowing you to mark the current video footage for safekeeping. Meaning you can save your video file with a single touch of a button instead of potentially having to go through a menu.
Most modern dash cams have a G-sensor, so when an impact is detected the footage will be saved anyways, but a lock file button is convenient in case anything else happens that you would like to keep the video of.
Another must have. This means that your camera automatically starts recording when you turn the ignition key. You don’t want to get into a situation where something happens that you would like to keep the video of, just to find out that you forgot to turn your dash cam on that day.
Parking Mode / Buffered Parking Mode
If someone damages your car in your absence, a dash cam with parking mode will come to life and start recording, so you can see who hit your car. Note that dash cams do take some time to wake up, so unless your device has buffered parking mode, it might already be too late to see what happened by the time your camera starts recording.
In buffered parking mode, the dash cam records continuously while you are parked, but footage will not be saved to the memory card unless an event is detected (either by the G-sensor or by visual motion detection). Typically, footage from 4-10 seconds before until 20-60 seconds after the event will be saved.
Most dash cams’ internal batteries only last for a couple of minutes, so you may want to get a Battery Discharge Prevention device in order to not drain your car’s battery. Some dash cams come with a built-in discharge prevention, such as the BlackVue DR750LW.
Date and Time Stamp
This comes in handy if you ever need to use your video footage as evidence. Make sure you set the date and time correctly when you install your camera.
Optional. While a screen is great to see what your camera recorded right away, it also makes the camera bigger and thus less discreet. The notable exception are rear-view mirror cameras like the HDVR-180, which integrate the screen right into the mirror’s surface.
Optional, but very useful. Allows you to record your exact position and speed, and to blend it into the video feed along with the date and time stamp. The obvious drawback is that the camera will be bigger and more expensive. Some dash cams like the BlackSys CF-100 give you the option to connect an external GPS module, keeping the camera small and discreet. Others like the Mini 080x series integrate their GPS module into the camera’s mount.
External modules tend to pick up the GPS signal faster and more reliably, but the drawback is that you have to install the GPS module somewhere separately. It’s a trade-off, so you should consider how important a good GPS signal is to you as opposed to ease of installation.
Taxi cams are essentially dual channel cams, with the rear camera filming the car’s interior. This is especially useful for taxi drivers and other professional people transporters. At night, the rear camera needs infrared LEDs to be able to “see in the dark”. A great taxi cam that was recently released is the Transcend Drive Pro 520.
Dashboard cameras are usually mounted high on the wind-shield (behind the rear-view mirror), but get their power from the cigarette lighter. So you want a cable that you can neatly tuck away around the windshield rather than having it dangling down the middle.
Therefore, dash cams usually come with a power adapter cable at least 11ft (3.5m) long, in order to allow you to install it in the most discreet way possible.
Of course you can also connect the cable directly to your car’s fuse box or internal wiring if you prefer not to use your cigarette lighter. Check your car’s user manual to find the correct setup.
Dashboard Camera Prices
While you can get dash cams for below $20 already, we don’t recommend that you buy a camera that cheap as it would likely neither have very good video quality, nor would it last very long.
The cheapest decent quality dash cam as of 2016 is the G1W which costs around $40, or if you can spend a bit more we highly recommend the Mini 0805 which is often available for less than $80 (prices tend to vary quite a bit, so be sure to check all the vendors listed in the review for the best deal).
Of course as quality increases, so does the price. Therefore, for your convenience we have divided the cameras on this site into three categories: affordable (up to $100), mid-price (between $100 and $200) and high-end ($200 and up).
Are Dashboard Cameras Legal?
This depends on the country and community where you live, so we cannot give any binding legal advice here. If in doubt, consult with your local authorities.
That said, if it’s legal where you live to take photos and record videos in the street, then dash cams are probably okay too as that’s exactly what they do.
Advantages Of Having A Dash Cam In Your Car
Most people buy a dashboard camera for security reasons. Rightly so, because having a dash cam running when you get involved in an accident or suffer a hit-and-run will give you an invaluable advantage in case you ever need to prove your case in court.
But dashboard cameras also have another quality that is often overlooked: They’re fun!
Think of your next weekend or holiday trip, that scenic route along the island shore or over the mountain pass, rare wildlife along the road, or that celebrity crossing the street right in front of you… The possibilities are endless!
With a dash cam, you will be able to keep reminders of those magical moments, edit them to make a holiday video, and share them with your friends and family.
So the main reasons why you want to have a dashboard camera in your car are:
- Prove your case in the unfortunate event of an accident
- Report aggressive drivers / road rage
- Protection for your parked vehicle
- Protection from insurance fraud
- Record your route and driving speed
- Monitor your employees and vehicle fleet
- Record holiday and weekend trips
- Capture scenic routes
- Share fun or unlikely events with your family, friends, or the world.
Remember that meteor coming down over Siberia in early 2013? If it wouldn’t have been for all those Russian drivers with dash cams, we wouldn’t have so many YouTube videos of that once-in-a-lifetime event. And who knows, maybe you are going to be the next YouTube superstar…
Now go ahead and check out the best dashboard cameras in 2016. We’re sure you’re going to find the one you like!