If you've ever fallen down the rabbit hole of watching amazing dashcam videos on YouTube, you might have considered the advantages of buying one for your own car. A dashboard camera is still something of a rarity in the US, but major auto electronics brands such as Pioneer and Kenwood have dipped their toes into the market.
And why wouldn't they? Drivers are really starting to come around to the benefits of having dashcam footage available -- after all, who wouldn't want video evidence that they weren't at fault during that fender bender? Some of these devices have both a front camera and a rear-facing camera so that you can capture all angles of what's going on around your car in your video recording. Some also offer night vision, loop recording, a parking mode and wide viewing angle. Many also offer HD video, which comes in clutch when you need to produce a license plate number after a hit-and-run or other vehicular accident. Further, the growing ubiquity of the backup camera and technology that gives drivers a lane departure warning have made advanced technology in cars kind of a no-brainer. Why not attach one more camera to your rearview mirror?
Now playing: Watch this: Dashcams: Is it time for you to get one?
For more like this
Subscribe to the Roadshow newsletter, receive notifications and see related stories on CNET.
To cut through the noise and get you to what matters most at each dashcam's price and feature level, I've tested most of the five dashboard camera models below, and many more to help you find the best dashcam for your personal situation. 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 dashcams out there), these are great examples of each tier in the market. Many of these cameras have their own dash cam app, which makes monitoring and saving video a breeze.
By the way, if you're an old hand at dashcams 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 dashcam smart features.
Read more: 10 best car waxes in 2020
This oddly named car dashcam covers all the basics and is our pick for best dashcam 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 micro SD card, which you supply. The dash camera's ultra-wide angle lens gives a great viewing angle and 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 camera 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.
Here's something you haven't seen until recently: a name-brand dashcam. 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 mount.
The camera lens does all the basics 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're a Kenwood person, look into recording with a Kenwood DRV-N520 camera (currently about $170 from Amazon), which is a dashcam that only works when connected to a Kenwood double-DIN aftermarket head unit.
Like the Pioneer, this Kenwood high-definition video dashcam 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.
4K is becoming the new recording standard for the video cameras around us and this dashcam reflects that. The Vantrue X4 has night vision and a true 4K sensor for full 4K 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.
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 it looks out the rear car windshield.
But the real innovation in the F800PRO is how it uses its forward camera and accelerometers to give you lane departure and forward collision warnings, as well as alerts about upcoming traffic cams for your car thanks to its cloud-connected database. It also has a display GPS, and a good GPS always comes in handy.
The model linked below includes a 32 GB SD card with the camera.
The Thinkware M1 motorsports dashcam 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 dashcams designed for a car, as the design of the cameras is intended to make it a good dashcam 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.
These tips will apply to most dashcams, 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 dashcam, 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 dashcam 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 camera to record the voices of casual carpoolers, Uber or Lyft customers (for the Uber and Lyft drivers out there) or even fractious friends and family in your car who didn't know you were eavesdropping on them.
Know that dashcams cut both ways. If you get in an accident with another driver, a visible dashcam 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 evidence.
More camera and security recommendationsBest action cameras of 2020: GoPro, DJI and more comparedHow do you choose the right dashcam?
Best vlogging camera of 2020: Sony, Canon and more compared for YouTubeOur favorite home security cameras of 2020The best facial recognition cameras of 2020Best home security systems of 2020The best indoor home security cameras of 2020Top 6 cheap home security devices in 2020Our favorite video doorbells of 2020New Ring doorbells claim better motion detectionBest camera gear and cameras in 2020: Canon, Nikon and more