Last updated: August 27, 2019
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.
Technology has progressed a lot since we started this site six years ago, in June 2013. Over the years, we’ve built a comprehensive archive of all major car cameras. Below, we’ll show you what you should be looking for in a dash cam, and which brands and models are worth considering.
If you’d like to see which cameras are the most reliable and record high quality video, see our constantly updated ranking of the best dash cams of 2019. To compare specs, features, and prices of all the latest dash cams side by side, go to our overview tables (this used to be one huge table, but it grew so big we had to split it up).
What to Look for When Selecting a Dash Cam
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.
If you’re not quite familiar with all of the technical terms, deciding which dash cam is best for you can seem more difficult than it actually is. The following sections explain what features to look out for when making your choice.
Single or Dual Channel?
The first decision you need to make is whether you want a single channel dash cam that records forward through your windshield only, or a dual channel system (front and rear dash cam).
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).
Due to the complexity of processing two video streams simultaneously, the best dual dash cams often cost more than twice as much as comparable single channel cams. High-end devices with all the latest bells and whistles are currently valued up to $500.
Yes, some cheap dual channel cams cost below $100, but we haven’t found any yet in that price range that satisfy our quality requirements. The cheapest front and rear camera that’s reliable and records acceptable video footage currently is the Mini 0906, valued below $150.
If you’re looking for better quality device but your budget is limited, some cameras such as the SGGCX2PRO or the Nextbase 522GW allow you to buy the main unit now, and add a rear camera later when your finances will allow it.
For a quick overview of the best and most popular dual dash cams available in 2019, be sure to have a look at our dual dash cam comparison table.
You probably don’t want your camera to stick out like a sore thumb on your car’s windshield. Dashboard cameras 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.
Wedge-shaped cameras (like the Street Guardian pictured above) are becoming more and more popular, as they stick directly to the windshield without needing a mount, thus reducing the camera’s bulkiness and visibility.
Also, the color black is usually 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.
Protecting Your Car While Parked
If someone damages your car in your absence, a dashboard camera 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.
Other parking modes include simple (non-buffered) mode, where the camera starts recording just after the event, and time-lapse parking mode, where a the camera records continuously at a low frame rate.
As most dashboard cameras’ internal batteries only last for a couple of seconds or minutes, you may need to get a battery discharge prevention device or alternatively, an extra battery pack in order to protect your car’s battery. Some dash cams, like the Thinkware F800 Pro, monitor the battery’s voltage while in parking mode and will shut down before the battery is depleted (this function is called low voltage cutoff).
For an overview of the best parking mode dash cams, check this article.
An important question you face when shopping for a dashboard camera is whether to go for a cutting-edge 4K camera like the BlackVue DR900S, or go with a lower video resolution such as 1080p or 1440p. Keep reading for our answer to this question, it might surprise you.
4K Dash Cams
In recent years, more and more dash cams capable of recording at 4K resolution hit the market. 4K resolution means 3840×2160 pixels. That’s four times as many pixels as 1080p (which is 1920×1080 pixels).
Some manufacturers have seen fit to label their cameras 4K even though they record at lower resolution and then interpolate or use other tricks to “expand” the video footage to 4K. Beware of such fakes! Just because a camera is advertised as 4K doesn’t mean that’s actually the case, always do some research on web sites like this one.
True 4K devices such as the BlackVue DR900S can indeed produce outstanding video footage during the day time. However, there are also some drawbacks. More pixels on a similar-size sensor mean that the individual pixels are smaller, making them less light sensitive. Therefore, video quality at night is reduced, as compared to lower resolution cameras.
Another drawback is increased file size. With 4 times as much data, your memory card will fill up a lot faster, and good luck if you’re going to try to stream your 4K video over a Wi-Fi connection to view it on your phone — it’s probably going to take a while. Some 4K cameras such as the Nextbase 612GW solve the streaming issue by saving a lower-resolution video together with the 4K footage, specifically for the purpose of viewing it on a phone.
1080p Dash Cams
1080p dash cameras have been around since we started this site in 2013. They record 1920×1080 pixels, a resolution also known as Full HD. At the time of this writing, 1080p dash cams still seem to strike the ideal balance between capturing lots of detail vs. light sensitivity at night.
Night Video Quality
While true night vision isn’t necessary for a dashboard camera 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.
If you’re looking for top quality video at day and at night, check out the Street Guardian SGGCX2PRO which records at 1080p resolution. This is a single channel dash cam by default, but can be enhanced with a rear camera if desired.
So Which Is Better, 4K or 1080p?
4K is a great resolution if you really want the best quality footage of your driving, and you’re going to do most of your driving during the day time. Be sure to get a large memory card though.
if you’ll need high quality footage at night as well, for the time being we recommend you stick with a 1080p camera. These are not only cheaper, they also use up less storage on the memory card.
We’re sure that, in a couple of years, there will be 4K dash cams that record excellent video during the night as well. As of today though, technology just isn’t there yet.
Alternative Video Formats
2560×1080 is an interesting video format for dash cams because it is wider and flatter than other resolutions. Instead of 16:9, it has an aspect ratio of 64:27 (so it’s more than twice as wide as it is high). This ratio, apart from having more of a cinematic feel to it, is great for dashboard cameras because it puts more focus on your surroundings to the left and right, while showing less of the sky above.
There are also some cameras out there that record at 1440p. At 2560×1440 pixels, this resolution captures more detail than 1080p. If you’re looking for an excellent quality 1440p dash cam, check out the Vico-Opia2 which was released way back in June of 2016. The Opia2 has since gone out of production, but there are still some units available.
When driving in bright sunlight, you will sometimes see reflections of your dashboard in your windshield. To avoid recording those, use a CPL filter. Not all cameras have a mount for one. Some come with a filter out of the box, others give you the option to buy one separately.
Here’s a short guide on how to install a CPL filter.
Night Vision LEDs
Some cheaper cameras come with LEDs that are supposed to improve night performance. On dashboard cameras, 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.
The one exception were LEDs are actually useful is for taxi cams which, in addition to the road ahead, also record the interior of your car (see below), or for rear cameras that are mounted on the outside of the vehicle like this niche solution for trucks.
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). All modern dash cams have this feature.
G-sensors are not to be confused with a feature called motion detection, which is mainly used in parking mode and detects events optically by analyzing the camera’s video.
A cutting-edge feature, some high-end dashboard cameras are able to connect to the internet and send push notifications to your smart phone when a security event is detected. Some will even let you watch video footage live over the web, from anywhere on the planet!
As of 2019, only a select few dashboard cameras actually support cloud connectivity. BlackVue cameras are leading in this field, and they’re the only ones that can actually live stream video footage over their cloud.
You will also need some sort of internet access point in your car (this is not usually included with the camera itself). To find out more about cloud connectivity, and which dash cams support it, check out our article Cloud Capable Car Cameras Compared.
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.
All cameras reviewed on this site have loop recording. In fact, it’s fair to say that if a camera doesn’t have loop recording, it isn’t a dashboard camera.
Date and Time Stamp
All dash cams have this feature. It 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.
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.
All dash cams reviewed on this site have this feature.
Optional. While a screen is great to see what your camera recorded right away, it also makes the camera bigger and thus less discreet. Rear-view mirror cameras are an exception, but they haven’t been a commercial success as they also make your rear-view mirror bulkier and darker.
A screen makes it easier to set up and configure your camera, but it can also be a distraction while driving. Fortunately, most modern dash cams can be configured to automatically turn the screen off after a minute or so of driving.
Optional, but can be 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 device will be bigger and more expensive.
Some dash cams like the Street Guardian SG9663DC give you the option to connect an external GPS module, keeping the camera small and discreet. Others like the Viofo A119 v3 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.
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.
Taxi cams are essentially dual channel cams, with the rear camera filming the car’s interior. This is especially useful for taxi, Uber, and ride share drivers, and other professional people transporters.
At night, the rear camera needs infrared LEDs to be able to “see in the dark”.
A good taxi cam that was released in late is the Vantrue N2 Pro Uber. Make sure to get the “Pro” version, as the original Vantrue N2 doesn’t have the infrared LEDs for the interior camera.
We’ve just completed a review of the Viofo A129 Duo IR, which was released in 2019. Its rear camera is in a separate casing, so it takes a little more work to install, but the video quality is very good. Viofo have a reputation for making reliable dash cams, so this camera may be your best bet if you’re looking for a taxi cam.
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.
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 — who knows, maybe you are going to be the next YouTube superstar?
Dashboard Camera Prices
While you can get dash cams for below $20 already, we don’t recommend that you buy a device that cheap as it would likely neither have very good video quality, nor would it last very long.
Decent dashboard cameras are available starting below $50. For $100 or a bit above, you can already get pretty good single channel devices. Dual dash cams start around $140, and the high-end cameras with lots of bells and whistles can cost upward of $200, all the way up to $500 depending on the extras you get, the size of memory card you choose, etc.
For recommendations, check out the first question in our FAQ below.
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.
About This Site
DashboardCameraReviews.com was launched in June 2013. We have over one hundred reviews of dash cams, with technical details, sample videos, and links to vendors that make it easy for you to compare prices online.
We’re adding new reviews all the time. Over time, we’ve built a huge archive that allows you to compare all major dash cam brands and models, present and past.
If you buy through one of our links, we may earn a commission, at no extra cost to you. These earnings are what’s keeping this site alive and kicking, and they enable us to stay on top of the technology year after year.
If you really like this site, and would like to support us even further — just spread the word, and tell everyone about us! 😉
Where to Go From Here
We hope we can help you find the perfect dash cam for your car. If you have any questions, suggestions, or feedback, you can reach us through our contact form.
If you’re wondering where to go from here, check out our complete dash cam favorites list, which is updated continually. If you’d like to see the technical details of all the latest dash cams side by side, you can also have a look at our huge dash cam comparison tables.
This page was first published on June 5, 2013 and received its last major update on August 27, 2019.