Dash cams continue to grow in popularity, even though it’s been several years since the expansion from Russian market to the world.
Dash cams today are not only there to serve as a black box recorder for your car. There are countless features and conveniences they offer. For instance, some car cameras warn you when you are speeding or changing lanes. Some use GPS to provide all sorts of info, like the places where reported accidents recently happened so you can avoid it, even apps that will notify you that somebody is close to your car.
Top 5 picks
The cameras I pick for this list are firstly budget friendly, which means I focus on high quality footage and resolution capability, with cams that are reliable, and cheap.
Affordability and High Quality
When we want to look for a combination of affordability and the highest possible quality, it is my opinion that we should focus on performance, or rather how well can the dash cam perform its most basic function, which is to provide a good quality recording, with highly visible details, ample recording space, and overall good durability. And, you’d be surprised how many good dash cams there are out there which, despite having a lower price, provide a long lasting life.
I’m not saying pricey dash cams do not get you your money’s worth. If you are looking for additional perks that dash cams have, you need to go a bit over your budget and opt for a high end dash cam. For instance, there are dash cams which will beep if your car starts going off course and over the full line, if maybe you are asleep at the wheel or lost your focus for some other reason. It is called the Lane Departure Warning System. Others come with their own Wi-fi network and even provide you the software for your smartphone allowing you to link your phone to your dash camera together allowing you to use your phone anywhere in the world to check out what your dash camera ‘sees’, or you can even get a warning if the camera’s movement sensor picks up something near your car.
But, the budget cameras I picked all have basic perks, which are deemed instrumental in protecting you and your car, on the road or when parked. So, by basic features I mean motion detection sensors, GPS, Loop recording & G-sensor, a decent audio recording capability, and good video quality as mentioned. Also, it is convenient to go for ample recording room, like 128GB or higher, although memory space is one of the main things which drives the price of dash cams higher.
You rarely encounter a dashboard camera without the Loop recording and G-sensor features. Only really old models come without them, and these perks are really the most essential ones. If you do not know how they work, the Loop Recording divides your entire footage into short clips automatically, but, and this is the important part, the footage is seamless and doesn’t have any interruptions between the divided clips. G-sensor or the Gravity sensor detects the shocks, sudden impacts, and other extreme changes in the car’s stability and, if that happens, marks the current clip being recorded and saves it for later review. If not for these two perks, you would have to review your entire footage and then manually cut the desired part.
The video quality and the dash cams resolution are also important, because you want your recording to show all the important details. This is why it is recommended that you go for the 1080p resolution, but also for 60fps (frames per second) or higher or WDR and HDR if available. There are some cameras which offer 1080p with 30 fps and 720p with 60fps, and it is a fair trade off, but I’ve always strived to go for both 1080p and 60fps. Also, HDR (high dynamic range) and WDR (wide dynamic range) will help out a lot with the footage quality, details, and realistic colours. Sometimes, you would want to use your dash cam to maybe record your road trip or something like that, so it is good to have those perks.
Large memory space is always a good bonus, but anything above 64GB is good in my book. The car dash cams record footage seamlessly and once the memory is filled, the cam begins rewriting the footage, beginning with the oldest clips. Naturally, the clips marked by the G-sensor are saved and protected from erasing.
This model was voted best buy by countless sites and reviewers, and is usually included in top lists for budget and best value car cameras. And, I know there is a newer 55 model, but this Garmin 45 offers almost the feature package, with a mid-class quality range, and all that at a complete bargain. It is probably still the best value choice even in this list, though it does have its limitations, but considering the price it is entirely acceptable.
The main difference between this 45 model and the 55 is that 55 has voice control and 1440p resolution capability, but costs $ 50 more. If you were to add $ 100 more, you could get the Garmin 65W, which has a wider lens, and possibly a few more bonus perks, but that’s it. So, basically you get 90% of the features the most expensive Garmin model has, for one third of the price with the 45 model.
The cam comes in a small, neatly packed box, with ample info on the back. You get a short Micro-B USB cable, for charging and data transfer, two sticky magnet mounting system bases, the charging cable with car lighter socket plug, and a short instructional booklet. The instructions are quite short, and actually point you to the official Garmin web site, for the full manual for the 45 and 55 models.
Design and build
Firstly, the size and the discreet design of this model make it a popular choice for people who do not like to have anything standing out and spoiling their vehicle’s interior.
This dash cam is quite compact, being only 56x41x35mm and very light weight. It has a classic camera look, with the tiny rectangular body and the cylindrical lens. It comes in black, with very little decoration on the front side.
The rear side holds the 2’’ LCD display screen, with ports and controls being on the sides. Looking from the rear side, your left hand side holds the USB port, while the right hand side holds four buttons, so the cam is operated with your with your right hand, no way around it. The good news is that the button indicators are on the edge of the rear side, all placed respectively to their buttons, providing easy access. The bottom button is the Enter/OK button, the two buttons in the middle are the Up and Down keys, and the top button is the Back and Power ON/OFF.
The micro SD card slot if on the bottom side.
The overall build of the cam is solid. It does feel durable and firm, especially the buttons. The part I liked was its magnet mounting bracket, which provides an easy way to move the cam whenever you want to and put it back on, with no fuss. The way the mounting system works is that you get a small magnet which sticks to the desired spot on your windshield, and the mounting part of the camera also has an opposite polarity magnet, which is quite strong. It holds the cam quite firmly, while allowing you to take it off easily, any time you want to.
Now, the important thing to note is that the mounting joint is not separable from the dash cam, so even after you dismount it from the sticky magnet, the joint stays on the cam. Just so you’d know, if you plan on carrying the cam outside of the car much.
Video quality and Performance
The power cord is lengthy, so you won have a problem of finding alternative ways of hiding it, if you do not want to just let it hand on the middle of your dashboard. But, the one perk I find missing is the additional USB slot in the cigarette plug, because the dash cam needs to be plugged in constantly, so your cigarette lighter is taken up most of the time. You can unplug it for short periods of time to light a cigar, and the cam will continue running, but you won’t have enough time to charge your phone for instance. The cam can record for approximately 30 minutes after you unplug it from the power socket.
The default resolution is 1080p with 30 fps, which is pretty decent for this price range. You can reduce it to 720p with 30fps, for saving memory space if you need it, but it is recommended to leave it at 1080p.
You can manually take photos and switch recording on and off, and also set a time lapse periodic frame capturing.
All photos and videos Garmin 45 takes are marked by the GPS and contain all the appropriate info. If your G-sensor goes off, it will additionally mark the clip and save it as an ‘Event’, separately.
It also features a Lane Departure Warning system, and it will even warn you if you are driving too close to the car in front of you.
This camera comes with a 64GB microSD memory card, which is the upper limit. While this is usually enough space for the basic cam’s functions, it can put a limitation on the additional things you might want to do, like save footage and photos from a trip or something like that.
A welcomed feature is the parking monitor, or the popularly known Motion Detection. Even if your cam is turned off and your car is parked, if the sensor picks up movement near it will turn on and start recording video and audio.
Garmin 45 is a pretty decent gadget, performing its basic safety functions admirably. It is durable and well built, and even has a well rounded package of bonus features which place it in a higher dash cam class. All this comes at a budget price, which is the best bit. The magnet mounting system though is something I am personally not too crazy about, because although it allows for easy dismount/mounting, you do need to hold your camera firmly if you want to change angles and operate buttons.
- Small and compact
- 1080p 30fps
- Motion detection
- Lane Departure and Front Collision warning systems
- Not too crazy about the magnetic mounting system
- Limited memory space
No list would be complete without at least one camera with such a practically solved mounting and positioning system. Yi Mirror Smart dash cam is precisely what the title implies – a smart mirror dash cam. Its mounting method is self-explanatory, and its feature variety puts it well above its price range, which is ridiculously low nowadays, especially the fact it is a front and rear dash cam package. So, even though it is not exactly the latest edition, this cam is still one of the best options on the market.
Now, a lot of people are immediately worried if using a mirror dash cam will interfere with their driving, but it will actually improve your rear view. This smart cam is actually built primarily with that in mind, thus the developers included the rear camera which acts as a sentinel, providing you with an improved rear view. But, that is just the tip of the ice berg, as Yi Mirror dash cam has an incredibly well rounded set of features and abilities, making its shockingly low price unfathomable.
The neatly packed lengthy box is foreshadowing the shape of the cam, and immediately stands out from all other dash cam boxes with its dimensions. It is a high quality box, with a foam protection layer inside, and a very sturdy fit, so you probably would want to save it for later use. Inside, you’ll find the Yi Mirror dash cam and the rearview cam, a quick start guide, a warranty card, a 12W adapter, a power cord, the cable to connect both cams, and a USB cable.
Design and build
So, the main prerogative of this dash cam is that it replaces your rear view mirror, and that it looks like one also, only a bit larger probably. It is mounted by placing it over the car’s rear view mirror, and simply snapping it on the little knobs to lock it into position. The cam’s driver-facing surface is so clean and smooth it is practically like a mirror, with the exception of the middle portion where the display screen is located. Once it is on, you will see the footage clearly, but when it’s off you won’t notice the difference between this dash cam and a regular rear view mirror.
The rear view cam is installed separately on your desired position, ideally somewhere on the rear wind shield, and the cable connecting the two dash cams is neatly held in place by adhesive cable clips. Rear view dash cam looks like a miniature desktop CPU camera, a simple small black mini-camera, with a simple mounting bracket which provides a good hold. Both cameras are made of high-quality carbon plastic, which feels sturdy and durable.
Hiding the cables won’t be a problem. As mentioned, you can position the cable between the two dash cams anywhere you like with adhesive cable clips. The main power cord, which goes from the front cam to your car’s cigarette lighter, can be hidden by running it from the cam, over the wind shield and inserting it in-between the various tight spaces you can find on the edge of the glass. Do the same on the side, and then find similar fits under your dash board, until you reach the lighter.
The charging plug has an additional USB slot, so you can power your cam and charge your phone for instance, at the same time. This is a convenient perk, which is not necessarily found on dash cams often. The display screen is different than on usual dash cams. It is located in the middle of the mirror and it is a 4.3’’ touchscreen display.
Video Quality and Performance
The front lens has a 138° vide angle view, which is decent. The night vision and recording in reduced lighting situations is very clear and visible, which is impressive and surprising for such an affordable dash cam.
The front cam records video in 1080p HD resolution quality, while the rear one can do a 720p. Both cameras and recordings are taken at the same time with the Dual Recording capability, and you can access the footage easily. It is well sorted in cam’s memory, which goes up to 64GB.
One of the best perks of this Yi Mirror smart dash cam is the Reverse Drive mode. As soon as you switch your car into the reverse, the front cam’s display will switch to the rear cam’s view. So, you will see a live recording of the rear view much better than you would on your normal rear view mirror or with turning your head, because the rear camera is placed directly in the back side of the car. Additionally, the rear cam’s recording will feature Parking Assistance.
Yi Mirror smart dash cam is worth its price, may times over. With the convenience and the features, and all the bonus perks, this camera earned its place on my list. The drawback of the price is, as in all other cases, a limited memory space, but it is a well worth trade off.
- Extremely convenient Improves your driving
- Parking Assistance
- Excellent night recording
- Dual recording (front and rear dash cam)
- Limited memory space to 64GB
The Vantrue N2 Pro is the pinnacle of this manufacturer’s achievement and expertise. This is an incredibly versatile and reliable dual dashboard camera, which comes at a budget price, though it is a bit in the upper portion. In its essence, this is a mid to high range and class camera, with its feature setup being pretty good, and its overall excellent quality in both hardware and software areas.
Design and build
The camera arrives in a neatly packed black box, with not much description on it. Inside you will find the warranty card, the User Manual, the camera itself, a suction cup mounting bracket, a mini USB cable (short), and a lengthy power cord. All of the components and the camera are in black colour.
The body of the camera is shaped as a hexagonal cylinder, with top and bottom sides holding various ports while the flat and cornered long sides hold the lens, display, and other important parts.
When the camera is mounted and pointed to the front side of the car, the right hand side holds a neatly packed set of ports for USB, MicroSD card, and HDMI. The power port is actually on the mounting bracket. The elongated cylindrical sides hold the rest of the important stuff, like the 1.5’’ display screen, which is small but enough to provide the important accessibility. There are two main buttons located to the left of the display, which are Ok and Parking Mode. The other navigation buttons are under the screen directly, with its indications facing the user.
The right hand third of the camera is holding the additional lens and can be rotated to face the car’s interior, or set up at any angle you want.
Mounting bracket is a standard suction cup holder, seen on most of dash cams. The camera’s body slides on the mount and is powered by it, since the power cord goes in the mounting bracket. This makes it a lot easier to hide the power cord, where from the bracket you just go around your wind shield, using tight fits between the glass and the rubber to hide the cable, go under the dashboard, and to the car’s cigarette lighter. The power plug has an additional USB port, hidden under a lid, which is convenient if you want to charge some other device, you won’t have to unplug your camera.
This VanTrue N2 Pro dashboard camera is one of the most durable cams on the market. It continues the VanTrue tradition of making durable cameras with a long life span. The buttons and ports are also high quality, guaranteed to last as long as the cam.
Video quality and performance
This gadget has a well rounded set of features, beginning with its dual recording capability. It records separate files for each of the cameras.
The front lens has a wide 170° view angle, while the cabin lens has a 140°. If you record with both cameras, your imagery for both will be 1080p at 30 fps, but if you only utilize the front cam, you can bum up the resolution up to 2560x1440p (30/60fps).
Depending on the settings and different modes, your footage will take up more or less room in the cam’s memory. It supports up to a 256GB SD memory card, and it is recommended that you go for that one, because with all the high picture quality you’ll want as much space as possible.
This dash cam features a unique HDR video system, which balances light and dark areas in the recording, and increases detailing, but makes the footage take up even more space.
The cam operates on the next generation Novatek NT96660 CPU, with a Sony Exmor IMX323 sensor for the inside cam, and the OVA4689 image sensor for the front cam. That paired with the infrared night vision makes video quality on this cam very high-tech.
It features Parking Mode, with Motion Detection sensors guarding your car 24/7. Once motion is detected, both cameras will record standard loops, with audio.
The VanTrue N2 Pro is a high-tech class camera, coming at the price of the low mid-class one, so very affordable. It is a bit steep to be called a budget, true, but considering its high tech quality, the dual recording capability, and the 18 month warranty, it has earned its place on this list.
- Dual recording, front and cabin2560x1440p single cam, or 1080p dual
- 170° viewing angle front cam and 140° cabin
- Novatek NT96660 next gen CPU
- Excellent sensors, low light and night time recording
- Extremely durable and well built
- Quality is high above its price
- 256GB memory capability
- High image quality make take up too much memory space, so you can’t have too much footage saved at any one time
This is a pretty decent and basic gadget, but it is from a well named brand, Pioneer, which is something rarely seen. But, a closer look at it reveals that Pioneer really went seriously into it and developed a series of dash cams to make its mark on the market. The cam has a distinct design, but its features and quality is what it earned it the place on my list, and while there is already a newer 110 model out, I chose this previous one because it is 99% similar but comes at a lower price.
The cam comes in a small, descriptive box, neatly packed. The box is white, but the cam and all of the components are in black colour. Inside you’ll find a very good 12/24W power charger for the car’s cigarette lighter. You get a 8GB microSD card and an adaptor, a glass cleaning cloth, the user’s manual, the camera itself.
Design and build
The Pioneer ND-DVR100 dash cam is designed with its mounting bracket and the camera body in one. The shape of the whole cam is so that when properly installed, somewhere around your rear view mirror, it is hardly spotted from the outside of your car. It is a discrete and stealthy device, not too noticeable even from the inside of the vehicle. It mounts with an adhesive surface on the top of the device, while the bottom part holds the cylindrical, rotatable lens.
The lens can be tilted up and down a bit to accommodate different types of wind shields or vehicles, and it has a 140° wide field of view.
The right and left sides of the device hold the ports for the power cord, micro SD card, and a speaker/microphone.
The design of this dash cam has enabled efficient usage of its surface, with the entire backside being elongated under a certain angle, and it accommodates the display screen and four main buttons under it.
This way they ensured easy accessibility and ample button and display room, with the camera remaining pretty small, compact, and invisible which was their primary intention.
It installs easily, by sticking the adhesive surface to a previously wiped and dry glass or plastic surface, though it is recommended that you only stick it to the wind shield. You can do it by using the glass cleaning cloth included with the dash cam. Hiding the power cord is also made easy because of the particular position this camera is in when properly mounted.
Video quality and performance
Pioneer Nd-DVR100 records in full 1080p HD resolution, at 30fps. The cam can also be used to take photos. It features Wide Dynamic Range, which increases detailing on the recording. You can tilt the lens up and down to adjust it according to your vehicle’s size, while the 140° viewing angle handles the rest.
You can take the cam off of the mounting bracket without removing the mount from the glass, by detaching the cam with a proper sliding action.
This cam’s display is small and only there to help you set up and check your settings. It is not there to review any footage on road, and you shouldn’t be doing this in the first place. Any settings changing or footage reviewing should be done after you finish your drive, never during.
This cam also features G-sensor and Loop recording, and Parking Protection. With its sensor, the cam can pick up movement near your car, even when it’s parked, and turn on to make a recording.
This is an overall good dash cam. It seems that the stealthy design and inconspicuous look was at the primary focus for it, as the Pioneer ND-DVR100 low profile 1080p HD dash camera brings everything essential in a durable housing.
- Stealthy and inconspicuous 1080p full HD resolution at 27.5fps
- Motion detection
- Sturdy and durable
- Simple mounting system
- Low 8GB memory and can only go up to 32GB
- Doesn’t provide any other services on the road besides the basic ones
Vava is a relatively recent and unique addition to the dash cam market. The cam has a unique and practical design, but it is also powered by Sony and has impressive features. Finally, its online price is incredibly low and affordable, so it made it to my top 5 budget dash cams list with no fuss.
The cam comes in a stylish black box, which is pretty high quality and should be saved for later use. Everything is neatly packed as you will get boxes within boxes for all the separate parts. Inside you’ll find the mounting bracket, the power cord with the car cigarette charger, cable clips and a plastic tool for cable management, instruction manual, and the camera itself. All components are in black and the only thing you will have to purchase separately is a memory card.
Design and build
The camera body is designed like a hockey puck, which allows it free rotation for 180 degrees while mounted on the magnetic hold, suction cup mounting bracket. The cable clips and the little plastic crowbar will make it easy for you to place the power cable anyway you want to and to manipulate it. The cigarette socket charger has two USB ports, so you can power your cam and charge another device if need be.
Viva dash cam feels pretty sturdy and high quality, promising long lasting life. The mounting bracket is simple to set up and quite convenient. Everything is made out of quality plastic, but the main difference of this dash cam compared to the others is that it doesn’t have a display and it has very little buttons.
Video quality and performance
Vava dash camera records in HD 1080p, with its 155° vide angle lens. The best thing about it though is its SONY STARVIS series IMX291 sensor. That paired with a 6 glass + 1 infrared lens makes for a very sharp imagery, and you can also take snapshots with it.
This dash cam doesn’t feature a display screen nor any buttons, and operating it is done via your smartphone. Included with the purchase is a mobile phone App, which automatically features full specifications and settings for the cam, and makes the whole set up incredibly easy.
The cam also features a 3-axis G-sensor, but its Sony sensor can be set to hyper-sensitive mode where it will detect even the slightest bumper hits and save recordings of all potential mishaps on the road. The only flaw is that you will need to purchase an SD memory card separately, but it supports up to 128GB card, above class 10.
The mobility, versatile positioning, and the overall quality build of this Vava dash cam makes it well worth the price. The absence of the display screen and buttons will not be missed in fact doing everything on your phone is actually easier and better. The charger does have two USB sockets, probably for this reason. If you want an affordable dash cam with a focus on functionality, this is the one for you probably.
- Versatile and mobile positioning
- Sony Starvis IMX291 sensor
- 155° wide angle
- Supports up to 128GB memory
- Controlled via smartphone
- Excellent sound recording capability
- 1080p resolution
- No memory card included in the standard purchase