Dash Camera Alternatives

The Pros and Cons of 3 Dash Cam Alternatives

Dash Camera Alternatives
Any device that's capable of recording video can be used as a dash camera, but they provide less than ideal solutions. Iconica/Getty Images

Uses of a Dashcam

If you want to record every moment of your drive every single time you get behind the wheel, then you really can’t beat the set-and-forget experience that you’ll get from a dedicated dashcam. You can get pretty close with the right smartphone app, but there’s still a little more work involved.

Dash Camera Alternatives

Although no one device can beat a high quality, dedicated dash camera in every aspect, there are a handful of alternatives that might do the trick.

The main ones are:

  • Smartphone apps
  • Digital cameras
  • Surveillance devices

The first two alternatives are going to work best as forward-facing cams that record when you’re driving, and the last one is going to work best for recording the interior or exterior of your car when you’re parked.

Smartphone Dash Camera Applications

Dash camera apps are available for all of the major smartphone platforms, including iOS, Android, Blackberry, and Windows Phone. The available features vary from one app to another, but the best ones are actually pretty good at mimicking the functionality of a real dash cam at a fraction of the cost. For instance, a smartphone dash camera will typically record in a variety of resolutions (including full HD in some cases) and overlay GPS-derived data like the location of the vehicle and the speed at which it is traveling.

These apps are usually also set up to automatically overwrite old video files once the allotted storage space fills up, so they won’t completely pack your phone’s memory with useless data.

The Drawback of Apps

The main drawback of using an app on your phone instead of a dedicated dash cam is that you have to remember to start the app each and every time you get behind the wheel. You’ll also have to buy some type of dash or windshield phone mount that doesn’t block your phone’s camera. If none of that bothers you, and you already own a smartphone, then one of these apps will definitely be a good dash camera alternative for you.

Using Digital Cameras as Dash Cams

Just about any portable recording device, including any digital camera that you already own, can be used as a dash cam. However, there are a handful of considerations to mull over before you decide to go with a general purpose digital camera instead of a dedicated dashcam.

The Issues With Digital Cams

The main issue is storage. Even if you have a huge SD card, and you set your digital camera to a relatively low recording resolution, the memory is going to fill up eventually. And since digital cameras typically don’t have a ‘looping’ feature that overwrites old data as new data is recorded, that means you’ll have to fiddle around with your old video files on a pretty regular basis.

The other biggest issue is related to the way that digital cameras store video files, which differs significantly from the way that dash cams store video files. Where dash cams create a series of relatively short files, digital cameras will create one long file that spans the entire duration of the recording session. That can make it more difficult to find the exact event that you’re looking for, and it also means you’ll either have to hang on to relatively large video files or mess around with a video editor to create clips of anything that you actually want to keep.

Using Other Surveillance Devices as Dash Cams

Although dash cams are primarily designed to film the road ahead of your car when you’re driving, they can also be used for surveillance when you’re parked. If that’s the functionality that you’re interested in, then you may want to consider a surveillance device that isn’t marketed as a dash cam. These devices work a lot like dash cams, in that they ‘loop’ their recordings and create a lot of small files instead of one huge one, but there are a handful of concerns.

The Main Issue With Surveillance Devices

The main issue is power. These devices are designed to run on either 120V AC or battery power.

In the case of surveillance devices that run on 120V AC, you have the option of wiring in a car power inverter or using a cigarette lighter inverter—if the amperage draw is low enough. However, you need to consider the fact that the device may drain your battery down to the point where your vehicle won’t be able to start.

If you’re going to wire a surveillance device into your car’s electrical system, whether you’re using an inverter or not, you might want to consider using a device that includes a built-in motion detector. That way, the camera will only switch on and record when something is actually happening. There will still be some amount of power draw at all times, though, and there’s always the chance that the camera won’t switch on fast enough to catch a hit and run before the vehicle that hit yours drives away.