It was on a road trip to southern France where I realized I should have filmed some of the spectacular sceneries along the route that went over and through the Alps. After that trip, I began testing different types of dash cams (small cameras that are attached to the car’s dashboard or windshield). To my own surprise, I finally settled for an old camera phone that got a new life as my dash cam, but this article features recommendations for ordinary types of dash cams as well.
The reason why an old faithful Samsung Galaxy II smartphone got the job of a dash cam was that I wanted an extremely easy way to remove it from the dashboard every time we stopped. The phone is attached to a mini tripod, and I simply stash it under bench when we stop. Another reason for using a camera phone as a dash cam was its good audio quality. I sometimes record video clips where I tell to the folks back home where we are and what we have done. The audio quality is really good when a headset is attached to the phone.
The drawbacks of using a smartphone as a dash cam are finding the right tripod for a phone. It is a balancing act. The phone can’t be large because a heavy device makes the setup unstable and images shaky. My Samsung II has a 4.3-inch screen and it is light. A heavy, solid mini tripod and a light phone is the best combination. The phone camera lacks some driving specific features, like loop recording and alerts available in some dash cams. Wide angle view is not usually available in camera phones either, but it depends on the lens.
In any case, it is easy to try out if the camera phone as a dash cam solution works for you. You only have to invest in a low-cost mini tripod that comes with a phone holder.
The best dash cams for different types of needs have been reviewed by Digital Trends. Here are the recommended models.
The best overall dash cam
Garmin Dash Cam 55 records high-quality video, comes with voice control, and can alert of possible problems on the road. Especially voice control is a truly smart feature in a dash cam. Another useful feature is the possibility record a timelapse (a series of images merged into a video that compresses hours of driving into a few minutes of exciting video). The price of Garmin Dash Cam 55 is around 200 dollars/euros.
The best low-cost dash cam
Mobius ActionCam is a popular choice for people looking for a small low cost action camera or dashboard camera. It records full HD video and can also create series of images for timelapse videos. The basic product package costs about 60 euros/dollars, but for use it as a dash cam, an accessory package is required.
The best front and rear recording dash cam
Thinkware Dash Cam X500 can record both the road ahead and the road behind. The product comes with a viewing application for Windows and Mac computers that lets you view the images of the front and rear camera with a map indicating the location of the vehicle all at the same time.
The front camera is installed on the rearview mirror, and the rear camera at the rear window. A cable must be installed for the rear camera. The product price is about 250 dollars/euros.
The future of dash cams and action cams
Inevitably, images of all dash cams and action cameras suffer from constant movement. Video recording is not steady because camera is moving in all directions. Solutions, however, are available.
A gimbal used in many drone cameras and handheld monopods keeps the camera steady, but it is a relatively costly solution, and requires power.
Another solution that may universally solve the problem of shaking images is a piece of software that can balance the images recorded by the camera on the fly. Google Pixel 2 smartphone and Rylo camera are already in the market with software-based image stabilization, and the videos are amazing.