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Dash-mounted cameras have become a popular way to provide extra security for a vehicle or record road-trips, track days, and other automotive adventures. This is still relatively new technology, so many people are unfamiliar with them. What features do they offer? How are they different from a regular camera? Why not just use a smartphone? You’ll find the answers here.

Why A Dashcam?

As you browse dashcams you may wonder why one would be desirable. One of our authors, Christian Cawley, wrote an extensive piece on how to turn your smartphone into a dashcam How to Make Your Own Dashcam For Your Car or Bike How to Make Your Own Dashcam For Your Car or Bike There are so many awesome uses for an old smartphone – but have you considered setting it up as a dashcam? Read More . Why buy a separate camera when you can just use your phone?

There are several reasons. Putting your smartphone on your dash will expose it to sunlight and excess heat, which may degrade battery life and cause reliability issues over time. Smartphones usually don’t have enough storage or last long enough on a charge to record high-resolution video for hours on end. And, if you actually need to use your phone for navigation or a call, your smartphone-dashcam setup may prove inconvenient.

True dashcams are durable, can be hard-wired to your car’s battery, and can record many hours of video, making them the superior choice. If you want to record a half-hour of footage on occasion, a smartphone can work, but a dashcam is the better choice for recording every time you drive.

Dashcam Basics

Video quality is important in a dashcam, as it’ll be tasked with capturing detail some distance away from the camera and will need to handle motion well. This means you’ll want to look at a 1080p camera that can capture at 30 FPS or more. While 720p can work out fine, 1080p models aren’t hard to find, and the difference in video quality is obvious.

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The size of the camera can be critical. Some models, like the Mobius dash cam, are small and discreet. Others, like the Amberella S1000, are large and virtually impossible to hide. Whether you should care about size depends on the size of your windshield. Most minivans have a large forward view, so size isn’t a concern, but if you drive a sports car with a small windshield, you may hate a dashcam that’s too large.

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Another choice you must make is whether or not you’d like a dashcam with a display. Some models come with LCD displays that allow for easier adjustment of options on-the-fly. However, the screen may be distracting, and it will limit mounting options (since the display will need to be visible and within reach). Finally, cameras with a display are more expensive.

Storage capacity is an issue you may be concerned about, but it’s actually not relevant to the camera. Virtually all models use an SD card, so the amount of video you can record depends on the SD card you use. You’ll generally be able to get 8 to 10 hours of HD video from a 32GB SD card. If you plan to record more than that at once, either bring more cards, or pick a model that automatically overwrite previously recorded video once the card if full.

Advanced Features

Most people only need the basics, but there are some less common extras that may interest you.

GPS: This makes it possible to record speed and coordinates, which can help you keep tabs on your travel. Parents who want a dashcam for their teenager driver will be interested in this. Drivers who want a dash cam for track days will also like this, since it provides extra data to help them improve their technique.

Motion detection: Buyers paranoid about someone hitting or vandalizing their car while it’s in a parking lot should consider a to be a must-have.

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Night vision: All dashcams can record at night, of course, but some have a night vision mode. This is usually offered via a High Dynamic Range feature that brightens details. Consider this a must-have if you do most of your driving after dark, but beware not all cameras work equally well. Check YouTube to see if anyone has posted an example of after-dark video with the model of dashcam you’re interested in.

Internal Battery: A battery isn’t usually included, as most dashcams use a 12-volt connection or can be hardwired to your car. However, some models do have a battery. This is useful if you’d like to occasionally use the camera to monitor your car when it’s not running, but are concerned about draining your car’s battery.

How Should I Mount It?

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Most dashcams will come with a mount that’s tailored to the device. In most cases it’s just a suction cup. If your camera doesn’t come with one, it’s probably designed to simply lay on your dash. A Velcro strip can help secure it. Alternatively, you can try using a universal mount like the Aduro U-Grip or the RAM Portable Friction Dashboard Base (Amazon link).

What The Heck Is A Mobius?

Besides the GoPro Extreme Sports Revealed With Amazing GoPro Videos Extreme Sports Revealed With Amazing GoPro Videos GoPro cameras are designed to be worn or held while doing adventurous activities. They're tough and waterproof, meaning they can survive along with you (hopefully) whether you're jumping out of a plane, diving in the... Read More , which can be adapted for dashcam use without trouble, and an upcoming model from Garmin, there’s no big brand name in the dashcam market. Most models are made by companies you’ve never heard of.

This can cause some problems. Documentation is often poor or non-existent, bugs are common, and support is rarely available. There’s not a lot you can do about this except mentally prepare yourself for it – or spend $200-$300 on a brand name model.

Okay, What Should I Buy?

This article presents a lot of information so you can pick what is best for you, but maybe you just want to buy a camera without over-thinking it. If so, here are three picks that will work for most people.

Mobius Action Camera: Tiny, yet capable of 1080p video, the Mobius is perfect for anyone who wants a discreet dashcam. This model can record 1080p video and offers good video quality. Loop recording is supported, too. You’ll have to pay $85 for this pint-sized powerhouse.

Timetec Road Hawk HD: The Timetec supports 1080p video at up to 60 frames per second, a very rare feature. Other features include loop recording, GPS with Google Maps support, a motion sensor, and much more. You pay for all this, however; the Road Hawk is $299.

Vicocation Vico TF2+: A nice mid-range choice, the TF2 offers high-quality 1080p video, a G-force sensor, a compact form-factor, decent quality at night and a durable mount. You can expect to pay $199 to $219, but you’ll probably have to turn to eBay or a lesser-known retailer. Amazon rarely lists this model.

Conclusion

Dashcams are still young, which is why so few major brands are in the market. As they mature, we’ll no doubt see them improve; better frame-rate, better video quality, more features. Still, what’s on the market today isn’t bad. Even the $85 Mobius can capture video that’s plenty clear for 90 per cent of owners.

Do you have a dashcam? Tell us how you like it (or don’t) in the comments.

  1. Yazan A
    March 12, 2014 at 11:43 am

    is recording with 1080p is really a good idea? as I checked the reviews I stumbled over this one:

    "± A 5-minute 1080p video with sound generates around 560 MB."

    that's 6.5 gigs per hour!

    and I was wondering what if something interesting happened during a long ride, can I save the recording so it won't loop and record over it without stopping the camera recording?

    • dave
      March 12, 2014 at 8:37 pm

      So a 64 gb sd card will record about 9.8 hours of video. Alternatively pack an extra card and switch out. Not while driving of course.

    • Kristopher
      March 12, 2014 at 9:41 pm

      Yes it is about 6.0 GB a hour if you have a 32 GB Card you can record up to 4-5 hours. Most DashCams have a option to Lock in a recording - Sometimes even automatic based on "G-Motion" if you are involved in an accident etc. The higher the quality the better the video - it can make all the difference to read a license plate...

    • Matt S
      March 20, 2014 at 10:39 pm

      I think it's a good idea. It would suck to miss an important detail (like someone's license plate number) because you recorded at a lower resolution. Especially when the only inconvenience is switching the SD card a bit more often if you buy a dashcam that doesn't automatically loop.

  2. Rob H
    March 12, 2014 at 10:31 am

    Mine was off ebay (new), cost GBP60 , front and rear cameras, monitor (small), separate GPS module (a black blob I stick to a corner of the windscreen). The instruction book is a bit of a challenge but it does everything I need for not much cash.

  3. Lola
    March 12, 2014 at 2:06 am

    I would like a dashcam, but I don't see much use, only a lot of money involved. However, I usually charge my ipod touch and I use a regular gps holder for phones and it does pretty much the same! It's my alterative for cheap people like moi.

  4. dragonmouth
    March 11, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    I noticed you did not mention any negatives other than the size of some dashcams.
    1. Unless you unmount it every time you leave your car, because dashcams are new, it will be car break-in bait. CBs, radar detectors and EZ Pass Transponders all went through a period when they were highly desired by car thieves.

    2. Big Brother can access the dashcam and not only track you but also see everything you are recording.

    • Matt S
      March 20, 2014 at 10:40 pm

      How is big brother going to access your webcam if it's not connected to Internet?

    • dragonmouth
      March 20, 2014 at 11:05 pm

      I believe you mentioned GPS as one of the advanced features.

      • duhhh
        November 20, 2015 at 11:49 pm

        and im sure you carry around a smartphone? You think they arent trackable even with the Location settings off?

        • fcd76218
          November 21, 2015 at 12:08 am

          duhhh, that is why I do not own a smartphone.

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