This Is The Mid-Priced Dash Cam You Should Buy

Yes, it seems to be named after the astromech droid R2-D2 lost his virginity to behind a pile of power converters, but the truth is the DVR-027 is a decent, capable dash cam. That's a good thing, since it also seems to be one of the more popular ones, sold under an array of equally forgettable alphanumeric names. It's cheap, works every time, and has decent picture quality. Out of this first batch of cameras we tested, this is the one to get.

It's not that it's incredible at any particular thing — it still looks and feels like a relatively low-rent product, the nighttime image quality isn't great, it washes out color more than a war movie from the mid 2000s, but the overall package gets the job done quite well.

The DVR-027 has been out a while, in various forms, and is one of the most common dash cams out there. I can't prove it, but I think a good number of the crazy Russian dash cam videos of men punching bears from their car windows or whatever have been shot with these. There are a number of knockoffs, and they're often tricky to spot, especially online, but here's some guidelines to make sure you get an actual DVR-027:

• Time stamp is black text on a white background

• HDMI port is present

• Battery is removable

• Fakes are really, really cheap. In general, the real versions of this camera should be between $40-$60 or so.

More fake-detecting guidelines can be found here at Dashcamtalk.

This Is The Mid-Priced Dash Cam You Should Buy

Okay, assuming you got a real, bona fide DVR-027 from the vast, anonymous company that cranks these things out, here's the features you can expect from it:

• Autostart recording when plugged into your car's 12V outlet (if your car keeps power to the 12V socket after the ignition's off, you'll have to turn it off manually, and use motion detection for autostart/stop)

• Recording in 640x480, 848x480, and 1280x720 (720p HD) sizes

• Cyclic recording with 2 min, 5 min, 15 min, or continuous

• Six IR LED lights for night recording, though I don't think they do that much

• Motion detection activation

• Time/date stamping (please note I forgot to set this properly before shooting video)

• Still photo snapshot feature

• Audio recording

• Uses regular SD cards up to 32 GB

• Video playback on unit, or from unit to HDMI TV/Monitor

That's a good basic feature set for a dash cam, but, more importantly, I found that the camera works well without having to think about it much, and the produced videos are pretty good. Here's a sample of video, shot in overcast daylight, at the 1280x720 size, 30 fps. It's of me visiting a sick friend you may recognize, and just ignore me talking to Otto in the back seat. He always screws up that "interrupting cow" joke.

I haven't altered or edited these videos in any way, other than to upload them to YouTube. You'll notice the image quality is really pretty good, with good detail, with legible street names and license plates (at least at full, pre-YouTube compression size). The color has a desaturated quality that improves a bit with more light, but never really gets that vivid. There's some wide-angle lens distortion, but all in all this is very usable video.

In the video above, the camera was mounted in the windshield with the conventional suction-cup mount, and powered from the car. I wanted to see how the camera would perform in a more demanding environment as well, so I also tested it by using the normal suction mount to stick it in the back window of a LeMons car, and send it off into the carnage.

The race was the Sears Pointless race at Sonoma Raceway I judged earlier, and the car was the Faster Farms Belvedere. I used the back window to keep from blocking the driver's view, and ran the camera only from its own internal, rechargeable battery.

The results were impressive. The suction mount held just fine throughout some spirited track driving without much shake or unwanted motion, the video quality looked good, and even on its own internal battery, the camera kept going a good long while — several hours, though I don't have an exact number. Just because it makes for some fun dash cam viewing, here's a couple more LeMons minutes for you:

Because the camera had worked so hassle-free for me, I decided to reward it by doing something stupid with it. I stuck it on the roof of my wife's gen 1 Scion xB (as that car has nice, flat, suctionable surfaces) and did a quick test to see how well the mounting assembly would handle an exterior mount. Oh, and don't let the snapshot fool you, I flipped the video to be rightside-up.

Aside from my pointing the camera a bit too low, it did surprisingly well, meaning that it didn't fly off when I hit 35 or so. The wide angle lens distortion is a bit more visible from the high, tarmac-pointing angle, but it should at least give you the idea that this can, in a pinch, be used as a decent outside-the-car camera. It's no GoPro, but it's something.

This Is The Mid-Priced Dash Cam You Should Buy

The biggest Achilles' heel of the DVR-027 is its night vision. I didn't try cramming a bunch of carrots into the vents, but it may be worth trying, because it could use some help. I does have six infrared LEDs to help it see without blinding our IR-blind human eyes, but all they really seem to do is make every water drop on the windshield glow eerily purple. The CCD image sensor in the camera just doesn't perform well in low-light conditions. You can see its limitations best with this image I took with the camera's still snapshot feature:

This Is The Mid-Priced Dash Cam You Should Buy

To test the night video, I took it into the hills around Griffith Park where there's far fewer streetlights, and things get nice and dark. There's sections of this clip that are only illuminated with the car's headlights.

So, not great. I think usable for most dash cam purposes, but that's about it.

When it comes to dealing with the video files, this dash cam is quite straightforward. It plugs into your PC, Mac, Linux, or Acorn Archimedes (probably) computer via a normal mini USB-USB cable, and shows up just like a card reader. The files stored on the SD card are grouped in numbered folders, and are stored in .AVI format, compressed with the common H.264 codec. On my Mac, I used VLC to play the files, and it did just fine. Uploading to YouTube is simply drag-and-drop.

A two-minute clip takes up right about 101 MB of storage space. There's also a short, two to three second gap (actually, on reviewing, this may be much less) between recordings as the camera closes one segment and starts another. If this is an issue, using longer (like the 15 minute option) segments will minimize the number of gaps.

This Is The Mid-Priced Dash Cam You Should Buy

Playback on the unit itself is fine for checking your movies right there on the spot, and there's audio playback as well, though you probably won't want to watch Chinatown on it. Oh, and speaking of playing back video, it's not a bad idea to remind yourself that cyclic recording means that if there's video you want saved, stop the camera.

This Is The Mid-Priced Dash Cam You Should Buy

I had some clips of laps around Sonoma Raceway I was planning on using, but continued recording before I realized that meant I was overwriting the videos I wanted. So, take a lesson from my idiocy and be ready to stop the camera or at least switch cards right after the event you want to save happens.

The Verdict: All in all, this is a good, cheap, usable dash cam. There's a reason it's so quietly, anonymously popular. In the $40-$60 price range, I feel very comfortable recommending this camera. Now go capture some insane videos for us to publish, please.