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Cameras are in your phonecomputer, doorbell and even in your car -- they're pretty much ubiquitous. Many cars now come standard with a backup camera and technology that gives drivers a lane departure warning, but if you get into an accident, you can't access the footage to prove that you weren't at fault. That alone is a solid reason to consider buying a dash cam.

After all, there are certain things you should always have in your car: jumper cables, a tire pressure gauge, an emergency kit and, these days, a dash cam. These little cameras can be attached to your dashboard or rearview mirror in minutes, are relatively inexpensive and can save you a boatload of money with video evidence in the event of an accident. There are lots of benefits of having dash cam footage on hand, such as getting a picture of the license plate of that car that side-swiped you on the highway or proving to your insurance provider that you weren't responsible for that fender bender. 

Despite their growing profile and the number of great video quality options available on the market, dashboard cameras are still pretty rare in the US, but major auto electronics brands such as Pioneer and Kenwood have dipped their toes into the market. Some of these devices have both a rear camera and a front camera so you can capture every angle in your video recording. Others have parking mode, loop recording, night vision and a wide viewing angle. Many also offer HD video, which comes in handy when you need to produce a license plate number or other minute details after a vehicular accident. 

To help you find the best dashboard camera for your personal situation, I've tested most of the five models below and many more, taking into consideration each dash cam's price and feature level. Nearly 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 dash cams out there), these are great examples of the best dash cam models for each tier in the market. Many of these cameras have their own dash cam app, which makes monitoring and saving video a breeze (no need to invest in a microSD card).

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By the way, if you're an old hand at dash cams 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 dash cam smart features.

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Pioneer

Here's something you haven't seen until recently: a name-brand dash cam. 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 suction mount or from your rearview mirror.

The camera lens does all the basics (driving and parking mode, ultra-wide viewing angle and 1080p recording) 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 ever need video evidence.


If you're a Kenwood person, look into recording with a Kenwood DRV-N520 camera (currently around $200 from Amazon), which is a dash cam that only works when connected to a Kenwood double-DIN aftermarket head unit.

Pioneer

Like the Pioneer, this Kenwood high-definition video dash cam 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.

Thinkware

The Thinkware M1 motorsports dash cam 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 dash cams designed for a car, as the design of the cameras is intended to make it a good dash cam 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.

Vantrue

4K is becoming the new recording standard for the video cameras around us and this dash cam reflects that. The Vantrue X4 has night vision and a true 4K sensor for full 4K UHD capture of footage at up to 30 fps. That's excellent video quality on the footage, and video quality can make a real difference when reviewing video later and trying to make out a face or a license plate. On the other hand, it makes for bulkier file sizes. So you'll probably want a 256GB memory card while recording, and this camera seems to be picky about which microSD card brand: Avoid popular SanDisk cards with this camera, Vantrue advises.

The X4 camera uses exotic battery technology in the form of an internal supercapacitor instead of a built-in lithium-ion battery. Vantrue says that makes an internal power source more durable, especially in the baking heat that your car dash is subject to.

Thinkware

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 the rear dash cam looks out the rear car windshield.

But the real innovation in the F800PRO is how it uses its forward camera and accelerometers to give the driver lane departure and forward collision warnings, as well as alerts about upcoming traffic cams for your car thanks to its cloud-connected database. The dash cam also has a display GPS, and a good GPS always comes in handy.

The model linked below includes a 32GB SD card with the camera.

Apeman

This oddly named car dashboard camera covers all the basics and is our pick for best dash cam option under $50. The camera lens records 1080p video footage (which makes for good video quality if you need to capture someone's license plate) and audio in a continuous loop recording on a 32GB microSD card, which you supply. The dash cam's ultrawide angle lens gives a great viewing angle and its motion image sensor detects and saves footage of car collisions automatically. It uses that same motion detection sensor recording tech when the car is parked to detect if someone backs into or tampers with your vehicle, and will start recording footage of that event as well.

The 3-inch LCD on the back is used for aiming the camera's field of view, reviewing camera footage and navigating the fairly simple menus with buttons around the edge. This wide-angle lens camera can be easily mounted on your car windshield with its suction cup. Don't expect an HD video quality interface on the dash cam at this price, but you'll hardly use the menus after initial setup and you'll have video evidence of anything that happens on the road.

Dash cam tips

These tips will apply to most dash cams, 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 dash cam 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 dash cam 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 interior camera to record the voices of casual carpoolers, Uber or Lyft customers (for the Uber and Lyft rideshare drivers out there) or even fractious friends and family in your car who didn't know you were eavesdropping on them.
  • Know that dash cams cut both ways. If you get in an accident with another driver, a visible dash cam 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 recorded footage evidence of driver behavior.

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