If one camera is good, are two better? How about three? Four!
In this article we consider the need/value of having a second or even more cameras – yes, there is a sensible limit on how many you really truly need.
We also consider the related issue of how/where to mount the camera (or cameras).
Read more in our series on Dash Cams
- Introduction – All About Choosing and Using a Dash Cam
- The Main Dashcam Camera
- Multiple Dash Cams and Mounting Options
- Dashcam Audio, Power, and Memory Choices
- Other Dash Cam Considerations
Future articles to follow shortly :
- Advanced Features
- Legal Issues
- Entry and mid level dash cams reviewed
- High end dash cam review
Where to Mount a Camera
With the very wide angle of most cameras, it doesn’t matter too much exactly where on your windshield you mount the camera. It doesn’t need to be exactly in the center, it doesn’t need to be at the top of the windshield, nor does it need to be at the bottom. Place it wherever it is most unobtrusive, easiest to run the power cable to, and ideally, within reach of yourself if you need to change a setting or something (see our section on “Legal Issues” in particular) while driving.
Three things to keep in mind that may or may not be immediately obvious. First, as visible in the picture above, get the camera lens as close to the windshield as possible. By doing this, the dash cam body acts as a bit of a shield and reduces the amount of reflection that can otherwise get into the picture.
Second, you’ll want to have the dash cam somewhere that is swept by your windshield wipers. If not, you’ll have a dirtier than normal piece of glass blurring everything the camera sees.
Third, be aware that some windshields these days have dots near the top as a sort of sunscreen. Those dots will interfere with a suction cup type mount, but not with an adhesive type mount.
One more thought. Don’t block air vents that blow onto your windshield to stop it misting over.
There are essentially three ways that dash cams can be mounted in most vehicles. They are using an adhesive type mount, using a suction cup, or affixing the dash cam to the rear vision mirror (or possibly replacing the rear vision mirror with a unit that combines a standard rear vision mirror with a dash cam).
The sturdiest and most reliable mount uses an adhesive – usually some type of thick slightly spongy double sided tape. But this is a somewhat permanent mounting method, and so before fixing your dash cam to your windshield in this manner, you might want to experiment with placement using a different method. Some dashcams come with both a permanent adhesive and a suction cup mount, which is ideal for this purpose.
You should experiment with layout to make sure you can easily reach the unit, but also that it isn’t annoyingly obstructing any part of your view or a potential passenger’s view either, and maybe sure that any limits on the mounting hardware and its angles work so the unit can be pointed in the appropriate direction.
For the best mount, the adhesive approach is preferred. This also allows for a smaller sized mount – a small piece of adhesive rather than a large suction cup.
As you might already know from other devices, suction cups need a very smooth clean surface to work, and may sometimes fail from time to time, as air slowly gets under the seal. In particular, hot days can accelerate a suction cup losing its grip. Regular adhesive patches work better when affixed to a clean surface too, and also take some time to “cure” or to set/stick solidly. Wait a while before then placing the dash cam on the mount while the adhesive sets.
We also usually use just a dash of water with our suction cups to help them seal better.
Note that in some states, where it is forbidden to mount devices on your windshield (see our legal discussion) you’ll need to mount the dash cam on the dashboard itself, or hanging down from the headliner.
Using a Dash Cam in Multiple Vehicles
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Combo Rear-Vision Mirror and Dash Cam
The concept of a combined rear-vision mirror and dash cam is an interesting one. It assumes, of course, that the front view ahead of the rear vision mirror isn’t obscured by any black shielding or dot pattern on the windshield.
If there are no forward obstructions, it might be a good location, especially if it has a rear facing camera built in, because of its likely location up high and in the middle, allowing for a good rear view of the rest of your car interior and hopefully behind the car, too.
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What About a Rear View Camera Too?
We’d definitely advocate adding a rear facing camera as well as a front facing camera.
We’ve had as many accidents where a car from behind rear-ended us as we’ve had problems with cars and other things in front of us. A front facing camera, no matter how wide-angle its lens, will never catch what’s happening behind you. The only answer is to have a second camera facing rearwards.
There are front cameras that have a built in rear camera too. These are not a bad approach, and have the benefit of being much easier to mount and manage. But their ability to “see” out the back will be very dependent on where you mount them. A front facing camera can be mounted just about anywhere but a rear facing camera, if part of a front camera unit, obviously has to be high up so as to see over head rests, and probably somewhere central so as to see between the head rests, and even then, its view will be incomplete with some blind patches, especially if you have three people in the back, or an SUV/station wagon or hatchback perhaps with packages (or dogs) further obscuring the rear view.
Additionally, the social implications of recording other people in your car need to be considered. Do your friends really feel comfortable having you record them while they are in your car? If you’re an Uber/Lyft driver, that’s a different matter entirely and probably a desirable/necessary feature, but when you’re just giving a lift to some friends, some people might consider it a bit obtrusive.
There’s someone else likely being captured on film with these types of rearward facing cameras. Depending on camera placement and how wide angle a rear facing camera is, there’s every good chance it might be recording you too! So keep that in mind – your furtive glances at your phone will be recorded along with everything else it sees.
The best approach for most people is a second camera mounted on the rear window. With cameras as low priced as they are, this is not a bad approach at all, and with it set up so it works automatically, you can essentially forget about it until or if a time comes when you need to retrieve its footage.
Even better, some dash cams allow you to have a second camera, mounted on the rear window, but linked in to the same video and control unit as the front unit. This is much nicer than having two independent cameras and provides further easily understood evidence/proof of both what your vehicle was doing and why, and what the car behind did. Maybe you had to brake suddenly because of the car in front – an integrated front and rear camera unit makes this clear.
Rear facing cameras sometimes have an option to be wired into your vehicle’s reversing lights, so that when they come on, the unit display will show, full-size on the display, the rear facing camera, to give you better view out the back. This seems like a good idea (although also a non-trivial bit of wiring), however in practice we’ve found, when driving cars with rear-facing reversing cameras, that we prefer to twist in the seat and look out the back ourselves rather than trust the camera alone.
A note of caution. We’ve seen some units which proudly talk about the resolution of the front camera and are more muted about describing the resolution of the rear facing camera. Be sure to check what it is – sometimes it seems that manufacturers will add a relatively low resolution (eg 640×480 pixel) rear camera and hope you don’t notice.
How About Adding Two Side Cameras?
So, should you complete your video coverage by adding two side cameras as well? Certainly, this would seem to be helpful, especially when cars fail to give way and hit you on the side.
However, most of the time you can avoid the need to add two more cameras. What comes and hits you on the side is usually visible from the wide angle front-facing camera just a second or two before, and/or possibly from the rear-facing camera.
We’d love to add two side cameras, but we feel we’re getting to the point of vanishing returns, and way too much wiring and placement complexity.
There is an interesting dash cam, the Waylens Secure360 that has a multi-camera setup and uses software to join together multiple images to show a 360° view all around the camera. Depending on where it is mounted in the car will depend on how truly useful this view is.
Please Keep Reading
This is merely one part of a seven part series, and supplemented with specific dash-cam reviews, too. If you arrived from somewhere else, there’s a list at the top of the page showing all the articles. And if you’re reading sequentially, the next piece is about audio, power, and memory options on your dash cam.