9 best car dash cams
Protect yourself from crash-for-cash scams and get peace of mind on the road with a vital recorder
Whether you are looking to protect your precious no-claims bonus or dream of grabbing the clip that will make you a YouTube sensation, a decent dash cam for your car is a sound investment. We’ve done hundreds of miles of motoring to put some of the leading models on the market through their paces.
Crash-for-cash crimes are costing UK drivers an estimated £340m every year, bumping up insurance premiums for everyone. But having dash cam footage could protect you from having to fork out on a false claim. Some insurers will also offer you money off your premium for having a working camera in your car.
Modern devices are packed with features such as G-force sensors to measure impacts, GPS to pinpoint your precise position and speed, and even collision avoidance software to warn you if you are approaching other vehicles too fast. Many cameras also include built-in wi-fi, which can make it easy to alter settings and download footage to a phone.
Before buying one it’s worth thinking about how you are likely to use it – if you plan to swap between different cars, choose a model that’s easy to move and set up. Or maybe you drive mainly in the daytime, so low-light performance won’t be so important. Whichever camera you choose, make sure you keep your windscreen clean inside and out – we found having clear glass had a huge impact on image quality right across the price range.
NextBase Dash Cam 412GW: £129, Halfords
NextBase is a well-established brand in the dash cam market, and the 412GW really impressed us, both for ease of use and image quality. It’s got 1440p Quad HD (four times the definition of standard HD) footage and can record at a whopping 60 frames per second, but we got our best results filming at plain old 30fps. With a 3in screen the camera is pretty wide, but that makes it more visible to other road users and on more than one occasion pointing at it was enough stop drivers pulling dodgy moves. The powered magnetic mount means no messing around with wires when you take the camera out of the car as the cable stays connected to its windscreen sucker. There are no buttons as such, just touch sensitive areas around the screen which allow you to make manual recordings, turn the wi-fi on and flick through recording modes. The six-element lens is designed to cut down on glare and we found the footage looked noticeably better in cars with a large dash and gently sloping windscreen, where some cameras suffered reflection issues. There’s also a G-force sensor built into the camera. If you are coming up to insurance renewal time, it’s worth remembering that insurers Swiftcover and Sure Thing offer NextBase users up to 20 per cent off their premiums.
Garmin 65W Dash Cam: £199.99, Argos
The Garmin is the smallest camera in our test – it’s the size of a matchbox – but it is still loaded with features. Lens coverage is an incredible 180 degrees, the widest in our test. Voice control means you can save video clips of incidents or grab a photo of a scene without taking your hands off the wheel to fiddle with the four buttons down the side of the unit. The quality of the 1080p footage was excellent and we loved the neat “action camera” looks, while the Garmin VIRB app made it easy to view images using the built-in wi-fi. A tiny magnetic mount lets you clip the camera onto and off its windscreen pad in seconds. Traffic camera alerts flashing up on the screen were a useful feature, as was the front collision avoidance warning. But the lane departure warnings only seemed to kick in when we were heading off down motorway slip roads. The fun Travelapse feature means you can condense hours of recording down into a speeded-up movie, which you can then store and keep as a reminder of a memorable journey. It’s a pricey little camera but you get a lot for your cash. Only the cost stopped us making it a Best Buy.
Thinkware F800PRO Dash Cam: £269, Amazon
This screen-free device was the most discreet camera on our test, and also the most expensive. It uses an adhesive pad to stick firmly to the windscreen, so you can hide it away behind the rear-view mirror (but make sure you get it perfectly lined up the first time because it sticks like a limpet). To remove the camera you just slide it to the side until it unclips. As there’s no screen you need to download Thinkware’s app to rotate the lens into the correct position. Once that’s done you can pretty much forget it’s there, especially if you have it professionally wired into your car’s electrics. Daylight footage was excellent thanks to the Sony Exmoor R Starvis sensor at the heart of the device. Night-time footage was good in well-lit areas but like all the cameras in our test it struggled to clearly capture number plates on very dark roads. There’s a parking mode to keep an eye on your car while you’re away from it, and the 140-degree wide angle lens offers good coverage of the road ahead. This is the latest camera in the Thinkware range and the company has promised a raft of software updates soon, including driver notifications via a phone app if anyone bumps your car while you’re away from it. You get safety camera warnings and there are alerts for lane departure and potential frontal collisions. It can even tell you if queuing traffic ahead has started moving. We found it didn’t run entirely smoothly with the Apple software, but it worked fine with an Android tablet.
MIO MiVue C335 Dash Cam: £119.99, Currys
If you’re looking for a fuss-free device, this tiny gadget could be the one for you. A 2in screen makes it a cinch to line up, while the windscreen sucker mount means it’s ideal if you want to swap between cars. Despite the small size, there’s a built-in G-sensor to pick up any impacts plus GPS to record the time and position. Recording is in 1080p Full HD and begins automatically when you start the car. The daytime picture quality was quite contrasty but colours were rich and most number plates were perfectly legible when we paused the footage. Safety camera warnings are a welcome addition on a device this size and they come with lifetime updates. You can also add your own speed camera alerts at the push of a button and if you unclip from the mount you can use it to take snaps of an accident scene. There’s no micro SD card included in the box though, so don’t forget to buy one.
RoadHawk Vision SuperHD: £149.95, RoadHawk
Another screen-free camera, the cylindrical RoadHawk can be hidden neatly behind the rear-view mirror and left to quietly get on with its work once you have set it up with the brand’s smartphone app. Initially, we were a bit disappointed with the recorded footage but after tinkering around and trying out the various resolution and frame rate options, we found results we were happy with. The buttons at the ends of the cylinder are quite small and fiddly, which is worth bearing in mind if you’re not the most dexterous driver. Wi-fi is built-in and operated via a switch, and there’s a G-sensor which will save a recorded clip in the event of an impact. The camera came with a free micro SD card, but at just 8GB it soon filled up and recorded over existing footage. If you’re planning to record a longer journey it would be worth buying a bigger card with extra space.
Motorola MDC50: £55.71, Amazon
At less than half the price of other examples we tested, this could be one for dash cam newbies or anyone who wants a cheap unit for a second car. Recordings are only in 720p, so you won’t get the crystal clear footage available from some of the other cameras in our test, but you still get collision detection and a parking mode. We got our best results from the 130-degree lens in daylight conditions, so if you do a lot of night-time driving it’s probably not the right choice for you. There’s a 2in screen to view recordings and a simple windscreen sucker to keep everything firmly in place. Make sure you buy a micro SD card to go with it as there isn't one included.
Thinkware F100 with rearview module: £173.98, Amazon
Tailgaters beware – this camera is available with a discreet extra lens you mount inside your rear window to keep an eye on what’s happening behind you. It’s linked to the front camera via a long cable that you will need to hide under the carpets and interior trim. There’s no wi-fi or viewing screen so to set the cameras up you remove the included MicroSD card and check the image on the Thinkware viewer dowloaded to your laptop or tablet. Make sure you don’t install the rear camera upside down like we did initially – it’s easily done! It’s quite a basic camera, which will suit those who just want to plug it in and forget it’s there until, heaven forbid, there is an incident. Footage is recorded in 1080p at the front and in lower definition 720p at the rear. The images are not as good as in Thinkware’s flagship F800 Pro, especially at night, but are decent in daylight.
NextBase 612GW: £249, Halfords
The 612GW’s attractive brushed metal case will look at home in any luxury car. A welcome feature is the built in polarising filter which you can swivel to cut down reflections from the top of the dashboard or inside of the windscreen. Footage can be recorded in stunning 4K Ultra HD. You can dial down the resolution if your TV or computer doesn’t support it, but that rather defeats the point of buying a 4K camera. Bear in mind that you will need to buy a large capacity, high speed U3 MicroSD card to record your 4K footage. The 150-degree wide-angle lens means it catches just about everything happening on the road in front of you, and the 3in touchscreen makes it really easy to access settings. Wi-fi is built in and the camera can record two versions of files – one smaller for viewing on a phone or tablet. It’s got parking mode but some users have reported problems with battery life if the camera if not hard-wired into the vehicle.
Halfords HDC100: £49, Halfords
Not content with being the UK’s biggest dash cam retailer, Halfords has launched its own range of four devices. The budget HDC100 offers 720p recording and wi-fi – a welcome feature at the lower end of the market – but no parking mode. This functional-looking but neat unit is small enough to hide behind the rear-view mirror and it was nice to get a NextBase-style magnetic mount, making it a lot easier to remove from the car than other cheap devices. The footage won’t set the world alight in terms of quality but it’s fine if you just want a record of what’s going on around you. The camera did have problems with high contrast scenes though – bright areas such as skies can lose all detail – which is down to the lack of a Wide Dynamic Range feature. Buy this one if you just want the reassurance of having a camera on board and don’t want to break the bank. There’s no SD card included, so don’t forget to buy one.
The Verdict: Dash cams
With so many scary stories of crash-for-cash scams in the news, we’re surprised we don’t see more of these handy little cameras on the road. Our Best Buy, the NextBase, was easy to use, produced great footage and is available at a good price. Its size means it won’t suit everyone, but you could also get a chunk off your car insurance if you use one of NextBase’s partner firms. If you are covering plenty of miles and want something you can just stick to your windscreen and forget about, then the Thinkware would be a good buy (if you don’t mind spending the extra cash). The Garmin will appeal to tech geeks, while the MIO is ideal for anyone looking for a no-frills model.
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