Are dash cameras worth it?
December 28, 2011 8:06 PM   Subscribe

Is having a dash camera worthwhile? If so, any recommendations?

I recently saw an article about red light crashes, and that led to watching a few youtube car crash videos. A lot of them seem to be filmed from inside non-police cars, so I'm assuming quite a few people now have dashboard cameras in their cars.

Do these come pre-installed in some new cars, or are people going out and buying them? I searched on Amazon and they sell quite a few models, so clearly at least some people install them themselves. If you've bought one, how much did it cost (really, how little can you get away with)? Is kludging your own a better idea? Has having one been useful? Also - do you have to remove it all the time like you do a GPS to avoid someone breaking into your car to steal it?
posted by vegartanipla to Technology (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I be something from is the way to go for this sort of thing. I haven't done it, but have friends who've filmed plenty of stuff on surf/skate/snow/bikes. And yeah, I'd remove it from the car, just like any other electronic thing - that's just common sense unless you can figure out some super steath way to mount it.
posted by blaneyphoto at 8:10 PM on December 28, 2011

Best answer: I have driven probably nearly half a million miles in the 14 years I've had a driver's license, and never once would this sort of video made any sort of difference beyond being able to do things like show my friends that one time a deer ran in front of my car and I almost hit it.

Do you really want to pull a memory card out of your camera every few hours of driving, erase it it, and then try to remember to bring it back out to the car the next time you go somewhere, potentially for years, on the off chance that maybe something interesting might happen in front of it one day?

I mean, if you're trying to film accidents that *you're* involved in, the camera will probably not be facing the right direction to catch any but those that are your own fault anyway (like when you rear-end someone). Maybe someone could feasibly come across a median and hit you head on, but those sorts of crashes are not particularly common, and even of you get in one, you have other things to worry about, like not being killed, and even then, I'm not sure how likely your camera is to survive an accident like that.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:41 PM on December 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have one that I kludged together because I had an extra 2nd gen Flip Ultra sitting around. It's wedged into a foam stand (formerly a bath sponge, so classy! But it makes for a decent image stabilizer) in the front windshield and yah, I toss it under the seat when I park. The Flip has worked out pretty well for this: mine is a 4GB that was marketed as holding up to two hours of video but when the majority of the background doesn't vary much (such as when it's aimed at a road), it holds closer to 3 hours. I don't backup the videos, just delete them whenever I fill up the camera's memory.

I don't really expect it to be of use other than "well, at least that camera is getting used rather than taking up space in my junk drawer" but it's fun in a dorky way.

The model I have can be had for cheap on ebay, keep in mind the manufacturer has discontinued Flips so don't except much if any ongoing support for them.
posted by jamaro at 9:18 PM on December 28, 2011

I should add that purpose built dash cams have wider angle lenses than my Flip.

Also, the only practical uses I've gotten out of it have been the time I video'ed a dash view of the Golden Gate bridge crossing for some relatives back east and the time I used it to retrieve the "Am I driving like an idiot" phone number off of a commercial truck that was being driven by an idiot.
posted by jamaro at 9:32 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have one in each car. A few months ago I caught a collision where someone ran a red light, and my video clarified what happened. It was completely painfully clear that one driver ran a red light at full speed (about 40) when his light was red for over 2 seconds, striking another car. Fortunately nobody was hurt, but there was a lot of auto damage. I was a few cars back -- but it could have been me. I waited for a cop to arrive and gave him my info. Insurance companies on both sides wanted my video, and I gave it to both.

I also catch people running stop signs, but the police don't even care about my videos in such cases.

The model I have is this:

although I did not get it from that seller. It is native 640x480, and has higher resolution settings which only interpolate up from that, so the 640x480 setting is all that is useful.

There are 3 models of this camera which look almost identical. Two models have a 120 degree lens, with a partial fisheye effect, and that's what you want. That can see and record everything left to right. One has a more standard lens which doesn't cover enough. Of the two 120 degree models, one is true 1280x720p HD. Most other China sellers try to make the lower model seem to be that real 720p one and call them all "720p" even though it's just interpolation. But I had one of the real 720p models, and its sensor burned out after a few weeks. The 640x480 sensor model keeps right on working. If the camera listing notes an "848x640" setting or mentions interpolation, it's the cheaper one.

One Youtube, clear videos with a date/time as black lettering on a solid white background at the top are from the true 720p model. Videos with not too clear green or white lettering superimposed on the picture at the top and a somewhat grainy picture are the cheaper 640x480 model. It's good enough though, or way better than nothing.

There looks to be a new model which has LEDs for infrared lighting at night. I haven't tried one of those yet. At night the other models are still good enough, and record enough picture just from headlights and streetlights and business sign lights.

These have all really fallen in price recently; they used to be around $100 for even the cheap model. At around 30 bucks each now total, I suggest you give one a try if you are curious. Either the one model I linked or one with the IR LEDs. Check listings for "car dvr". (I'm not recommending any particular ebay seller.)

A lawyer told me he could try to demolish the reliability of this cheap kind of video, depending which side he was on, because it is not calibrated every which way.

It also records sound. You can detach it and use it for anything, although it could be awkward to handhold.

A real calibrated camera system for this is sold by . It's not for me at $1000.00+ but businesses and truckers use that.

This appears to the the real 720p model with a sample video, but the sample wasn't taken in a car:

The camera (all types that look like this) power plugs in your lighter socket. It turns on when you start the car. All of these record in 5 or 10 or 15 minute segments (you can set this) and/or turns off when you turn the car off. After the memory card is filled up, it deletes the oldest video before starting a new segment. So you can leave the memory card in all the time. Small warning, it loses about 3 seconds as it closes one file and starts a new file, on a clean card. If it has to delete an old file, it loses about 6 seconds. That is, it will not record for those 3 or 6 seconds as it reorients itself.

Records about 1 hour in 2 gigs. I use 8 gig cards which hold 4 hours of driving, which is usually several days for me, at the 15 minutes setting. Use Class 6 or better, not a 2 or old card, slow cards jam the unit. Records AVI files, MJPEG for the cheaper one (so it is grainy 640x480) and H264 for the real 720p one (nice and smooth real 1280x720 until the sensor burns out in a month). The real 720p model puts its files in a nice directory structure by date. The cheap one puts all files in one directory. There is no problem copying or moving the files to a Windows machine and playing them.

If you're looking at such videos, any videos anywhere that have lettering superimposed on the picture without the solid white background are the cheaper 640x480 native model no matter what higher interpolation settings it has. All types are on ebay from multiple China sellers with misleading descriptions. One seller had a clear chart of the 3 different types, and he sold all three in different listings, and of course I cannot find those listings now.

I think having one of these or something better is very worthwhile now. I will never be without one again. If there was a way to put an array of 4 of these on my cars, to cover 360 degrees, I would. I'm thinking about it.
posted by caclwmr4 at 9:52 PM on December 28, 2011 [12 favorites]

I have one so I'm actually qualified to answer this question.

It cost me about $200 and has a super wide angle fisheye lens. At $200, it wasn't a big expense for me back then. I'm a pretty cautious driver so I figure if there's an accident the video evidence is most likely going to be in my favor. In addition to tracking video, mine has speed (GPS based) and g-force tracking. I feel it's worth the money.

The card just sits in the camera. Old data gets overwritten. Once I installed it, I only pulled out the card to test the settings and placement were what I want. The manufacturer says it'll hold 6 hours. I never need to interact with the camera at all.

There are some downsides. There is no good way to route the power cord up there. Video quality is pretty poor overall. Nighttime videos are probably unusable though I have never checked.

Is it worth it? Eh, up to you. It's a personal decision.
posted by chairface at 9:58 PM on December 28, 2011

Best answer: I've been meaning to get one, then a few weeks ago someone ran a red and hit my car. There was no witness (other than me) that my light was green. That incident reinforced my feeling that a cam is worth having, and more to the point, I like car gadgets, so it's not a chore for me to get one, more like a hobby.

do you have to remove it all the time like you do a GPS to avoid someone breaking into your car

My car is sufficiently thief-repellent that I don't worry about this, but my suggestion would be to build your own camera mounting bracket that is screwed to the ceiling with the sunshade mount. This puts the camera under the roof out of sight of people outside the car, and gives it a clear view of the road. If you have a powered rear-view mirror, you can splice the camera into the connector at the rear of the mirror instead of running wires over your dash. (Wires on your dashboard are a sign of the kind of easily-removed accessories that thieves like)

Because using footage in an insurance case will put it before hostile eyes who are trying to find ways to manufacture excuses to shift blame, I plan to mount the camera to avoid capturing any information of the inside of the car, just capture what other motorists are doing. But of course there is always the chance of someone lying and you find that proof you weren't playing smartphone-minesweeper is what you end up needing. Nothing will be perfect.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:04 AM on December 29, 2011

I know this is an old thread, but I've been looking at buying one of these recently. Firstly:

Do you really want to pull a memory card out of your camera every few hours of driving, erase it it, and then try to remember to bring it back out to the car the next time you go somewhere, potentially for years, on the off chance that maybe something interesting might happen in front of it one day?

This is not how any dash cameras I've seen work. They record on a loop, in segments, deleting the oldest segment when the card is full.

Secondly, you can now get a fairly high quality camera for £40. Techmoan reviewed one recently and will do another soon.

My attitude towards them is that they're like car insurance. You probably won't use it, but if you need to, you'll be very glad that you paid for it.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 5:39 AM on March 29, 2012

This one looks interesting
posted by bz at 9:20 AM on September 5, 2012

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