Last updated: Oct 7, 2020
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 in 2013. Over the years, we’ve built a comprehensive archive of in-depth reviews for all major dash cams. Our reviews include video samples and links to vendors around the world, so you can compare prices easily.
How To Use This Site
If you’re new to dash cams and would like to learn about the technology first, keep reading below. We’ll explain everything you need to know before you buy.
If you’re looking for recommendations, read one of these:
- The Best Dash Cams Of 2021 Overall
- The 5 Best Front And Rear Dash Cams 2021
- The 7 Best Dash Cams With Parking Mode 2021
We also have several comparison tables that show you which camera does what, and for which price.
And of course we’d be happy to hear from you if you have any questions or comments!
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). 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/uber cams), or it can look through the rear window and record the road behind your car (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, you can get a cheap dual channel cam below $100, but the video quality probably won’t be great. Also, you want your dash cam to be reliable, more than anything else: Imagine being in a situation that you need the video footage from, only to find out that your camera decided to take that day off!
For a reliable entry-level front and rear dash cam, get the Viofo A129 Duo (pictured above), which records good quality video both ways. It’s available for less than $150 in its most basic configuration.
For a complete overview of the best and most popular dual dash cams available in 2020, check out our article about the best front and rear dash cams, and have a look at the 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 Viofo model pictured above) are becoming more and more popular. They stick directly to the windshield with one of their sides, 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 color other than black.
Protecting Your Car While Parked
If your dashboard camera has parking mode and someone damages your car in your absence, the camera will wake up and start recording. 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 comes to life.
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 10-20 seconds after the event will be saved.
Other parking modes include simple and time-lapse modes. In simple (non-buffered) mode, the camera starts recording just after the event. This is often also called energy-saving parking mode, because the camera doesn’t need to process video data all the time.
In time-lapse parking mode, the camera records continuously, but at a low frame rate like 1 or 2 frames per second, to save memory on the SD card.
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 a (more expensive) external battery pack in order to protect your car’s battery. Some dash cams, like the Thinkware F800 Pro shown in the image, 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 Thinkware U1000, 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, also known as Ultra High Density or UHD, means 3840×2160 pixels. That’s four times as many pixels as 1080p (which is 1920×1080 pixels).
These cameras can record impressive video footage, but 4K is a relatively new technology and as such, there are still some unresolved issues. For example, higher resolution dash cams often record worse video at night than dash cams with lower resolution. This is because the individual pixels on the sensor are physically smaller, resulting in lower light sensitivity.
Also, 4K cameras use more power and need larger memory cards than lower resolution cams. For an overview of the pros and cons of 4K dash cams, read our article 4K Dash Cams: The Good, The Bad, And The Fake. That article will also point out which 4K cams are worth getting, and which ones you want to stay away from.
Some 4K dash cams are actually fakes: Apparently, many less-than-trustworthy manufacturers have seen fit to label their cameras 4K, even though they record at lower resolutions. These cameras use interpolation or other tricks to artificially “inflate” 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, so always do some research on web sites like this one before buying.
1080p Dash Cams
1080p cameras record 1920×1080 pixels, a resolution also known as Full HD that has become a de-facto standard for dashboard cameras. The technology is tried and tested, and strikes an ideal balance between day and night video quality. 1080p allows you to record high quality video at day, while also giving you the best chance to catch license plates at night (which is something that many dash cams still struggle with).
All modern dash cams support at least 1080p in 2020, so you shouldn’t settle for lower resolutions like 720p.
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 a dash cam that records excellent video quality day and at night, without a lot of bells and whistles otherwise, check out the Street Guardian SGGCX2PRO. The SGGCX2PRO records at 1080p.
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/uber 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.
Dash Cams For Taxi/Uber Drivers
Taxi/uber dash cams are essentially dual channel cams, with the rear camera filming the car’s interior. This is especially useful for taxi and uber drivers, and other professionals in the people transporting business.
At night, the interior camera needs infrared LEDs to be able to “see in the dark”.
Our favorite uber dash cam in 2020 is the Viofo A129 Duo IR. It records great quality video, and also supports both buffered and time-lapse parking modes.
Another interesting uber cam is the Blueskysea B2W, which has lenses that can be swiveled sideways. You can turn the cameras so that they record the driver’s or passenger’s window, and record interactions with law enforcement or with clients.
For a comparison of the 13 most popular uber cams on the market today, check out The Best Taxi/Uber Dash Cams With Infrared.
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. This method detects events visually, by analyzing the camera’s video.
A cutting-edge feature: Some of the more expensive dashboard cameras will let you watch video footage from your car live over the internet, from anywhere on the planet!
They can also send push notifications to your smart phone when a security event is detected.
Currently, few dashboard cameras actually support live-streaming video over the cloud. BlackVue is the leading dash cam brand in this field.
To connect to the cloud, you will 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 (see lock file button below). Also, most cameras will detect impacts with their G-sensor, and automatically mark the relevant files for safekeeping.
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 huge 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.
A lock file button is a must-have in our opinion, however some cheap or older cameras may not have this feature.
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, that celebrity crossing the street right in front of you… with a dash cam, you’ll have video proof that it happened.
You’ll be able to keep reminders of those magical moments, edit them to make a holiday video, and share them with 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?
How Much Is A Dash Cam?
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.
Prices for decent quality dash cams start around $50. For around $100, you can already get really good single channel devices. Acceptable dual (front and rear) dash cams start at $150.
The high-end cameras with lots of bells and whistles can cost upward of $200, all the way up to $500 or even more than that. The final price depends on the size of SD card you choose, and whether you want extras like cloud connectivity, GPS; CPL filter, parking mode, and so on.
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 collection of reviews 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 update on October 7, 2020.