Linus, over at Linus Tech Tips, posted a video about how disappointed he is in the dashcam market . While much of his complaints are fairly valid, disappointingly, he glossed over information he should really know better as someone who should be technologically literate. And he complained that there are very expensive models that he believes are worse than cheaper models available on Amazon. His pick is a $70 dashcam called the Thinkware F70. He believes it to be even better than BlackVue based entirely on his subjective opinion on picture quality. In fact, his entire rant is about picture quality and not really much else.
Let’s be really honest with ourselves, though: All dashcams suck in terms of picture quality.
But a good quality dashcam will be better than the cheapest garbage you can find.
The first thing to remember about a dashcam is the purpose is to provide concrete evidence of liability. Higher resolutions, framerates, etc, will all contribute to improving legibility of text on signs and license plates, sure. But a holistic view of the scene is enough to provide evidence outside of being able to read whether the character is a D, O, or 0. Through a holistic view, you can identify vehicles, people, and actions. You can piece together the chain of events and the results. And this will be enough without needing to emphasize so much on reading a license plate.
But that doesn’t mean a cheap $20 dash cam is going to cut it. You still need to be able to identify objects and actions. So a quality image sensor, image processor, and storage is going to be needed.
My BlackVue dashcam isn’t my first dashcam. Prior to that, I had a Rexing dashcam. One of the major problems it had is if I parked in the sun, it would struggle to operate until the air conditioner could cool it down. Being mounted to the glass, this was a tough task. Many times, I would start a drive where the camera didn’t operate for quite a while, until the internals cooled and I reset power to it.
What use is a dashcam that isn’t working?
Another common problem I had with it is it was very picky about sdcards. It took multiple attempts to find one that worked well in it.
On the other hand, while BlackVue is more expensive, the only time I had an issue with it is when I had an sdcard fail. This happens. It’s survived many summers in my windshield across multiple cars. Every time I spot check footage, it’s been there reliably.
One of my biggest problems with products with strange names I’ve never heard of and no website to reference is they are fly by night products. In a few months, the exact same product will appear under a new name. There’s no support. There’s no management of software. If you have a problem, good luck getting it fixed in any way. If it fails, good luck with any kind of warranty.
Linus went over multiples of these. I’ll note that Thinkware is a pretty good company, so his recommendation is fine, probably. But some of those others shouldn’t even be considered because in a few months, it won’t matter anyway.
I haven’t used another Rexing product so I couldn’t say if they’ve improved, but I can’t imagine they’d still be around if they didn’t. It’s another fairly respected brand in the dashcam space, so you’ll probably be fine with them despite my experience. But my BlackVue still gets updates and is still supported. I don’t even feel the need to upgrade to the newer models even though it’s enticing. Mine works fine.
I have an older generation BlackVue DR750 (I think it’s the dual channel DR750S, with front and rear cameras, as opposed to the newer DR750X). I still see firmware updates come out from time to time. They never were super frequent. But it seems like BlackVue is okay with customers continuing to use years old hardware.
Linus focused heavily on price. He didn’t want to spend more then $100. He believes you shouldn’t need to spend more than $100 for a dashcam. And then complains when they suck.
Pardon my language, but what the fuck do you expect?
He later noted he could easily put a GoPro in his windshield and get far better results. Well, I’d challenge that, to be honest (more on that later) but a GoPro is going to be FAR more expensive than the vast majority of dashcams out there, and for very good reason. High performance image processors aren’t cheap, after all. Not only that, GoPros have various other features to cater to action filming, like image stabilization.
You’re not going to get that for less than $100. Maybe in 20 years the capabilities of a current GoPro will become so elementary that it shows up in cheap products. But even today, real actual competition to GoPro is still far more expensive than most dashcams (ie: DJI).
So if you expect to pay less than $100 and get quality and performance of a $400+ device, you’re going to be very disappointed. Apparently Linus did expect this, and, surprise, he was disappointed.
Dashcams have a requirement to work in relatively harsh environments. They live behind a piece of glass sitting in the sun a lot. While you’re driving, your air conditioner can help cool it, but unless you have your windshield vents on, it’s not going to get a lot of that cold air circulation because most of that air is going to be blown at the passengers.
Many good quality dashcams have long moved away from using batteries, and, instead, use supercapacitors to ensure safe shutdown when power is removed, so that files are closed properly. This is because those high temperatures are really bad for most battery chemistries that exist. You, especially, don’t want a lihtium ion battery in the mix. You’ll either get a fire, or an early failure.
The internal components, such as the CPU and the imaging sensor, need to be able to work in these conditions as well. Yeah, your GoPro may deliver better quality in every way, but heat soak it over 120 degress farenheit and then demand it to operate to those standards. It won’t happen. It’ll overheat and shut down. Same with your phone. Same with most high end cameras.
The internal components are chosen for the environment they’re expected to work in. Look at the rated operating environment for these cameras. The BlackVue DR750X is rated up to around 170 degrees farenheit. The latest GoPros are rated up to around 95 degrees farenheit. Those high performance image processors need to shed a LOT more heat while under heavy operation, and the oven that is your car will prevent that.
Components designed for such extreme environments tend to not be the latest and greatest in terms of performance. This is why hardware that’s been hardened and rated for use in space tends to look like hardware generations behind what we plonk on our desks. You might have a fine imaging sensor that was developed for these environments, but you can only do so much with image processing when you’re accommodating temperature extremes.
One thing I’ll suggest is to NEVER use a dashcam with an internal battery. It’ll be useless pretty quickly, especially through the summer heat.
A lot of modern dashcams are designed to look fairly integrated into the car’s environment. Rexing uses a fairly common windshield flush mount. Thinkware uses a fairly common tube mount designed to tuck behind the mirror, similar to BlackVue. Many others use a more intrusive hanging display design, which Linus complained about due to their not turning down or off the display. For the first two designs, they work on behing hidden from view as much as possible. Linus mentioned the possibility of some attracting theft, but I doubt that’s going to be a concern. Rather, it should be out of view of the driver, and it shouldn’t look like just out of hand surveilance from the outside.
But what about the technology in the car?
Many newer cars have front facing cameras as part of their intelligent cruise control systems. This is something else you have to accommodate. Those that tuck in behind the mirror are likely to not interfere with these systems, but some cars may not provide that opportunity. Do you have other mounting options?
One thing that was interesting about BlackVue is there’s actually a company that specifically makes high quality brackets for BlackVue cameras to help ensure they’re not in the way, as well as wiring harnesses to tap into available power close to the camera so you don’t have to route cables all over the place. Yeah, BlackVue isn’t providing this, but who else has third party stuff like this? I doubt there’s many that provides anything like this, whether first or third party.
Image quality is important. It really is. But you’re not going to get GoPro or iPhone or Pixel phone or Samsung phone quality video from a dashcam. Period. Don’t expect it. Stop demanding $100 dashcams to deliver this. And don’t expect a $400 dashcam to do it either. That money is going to developing aspects of a dashcam those other devices don’t need to care about.
What I would suggest as part of your research into which dashcam you should use is to watch the massive amount of dashcam video available on YouTube. Most of them watermark their videos with info about what the dashcam is. You can clearly see real world use and how they look from there. And you can make note of what you think works best for you.
Also look at the support around what you’re looking at. Thinkware, Rexing, Blackvue, and some others are names that are pretty well trusted and have been around for a while. Avoid the dashcams with no website and no obvious support because, in as little as a few months, you’ll be wishing you spent your $60-$100 somewhere else.
Be realistic of your expectations. Yeah, dashcam picture quality sucks and a device costing 4x or more the price will look better. But they’re also not designed to work in the environments you’re demanding of a dashcam, and will fail as a result. An expensive mistake.
And, really, remember: This is an investment into something that can save you from liability that could cost you several times more than a dashcam, even orders of magnitude more. Be okay with spending more than $100. You don’t want a fly by night brick hanging in your windshield that fails to protect you from liability.
I’ve mentioned BlackVue quite a bit here. That’s because that’s what I use. BlackVue isn’t paying me for praise. In fact, until relatively recently (in the last year or so), I found their wireless communication to be a hot mess. But that’s the thing, I have an older model and still got those updates. And my experience with BlackVue may keep me coming back as a customer should I need another dashcam at some point.