Crap. Well, to be fair, semi-functional crap. And, to be even more than fair, for the cost of a decent LA burger you can actually get a mostly-functioning electronic device that can capture and store video images from the dashboard of your car. That in itself is pretty incredible. But it's still crap. Crap with a laser!
I wanted to see what the absolute bottom rung of the dash cam market would be, and I think this has got to be it. The "Digital Dash Cam" (I later found it's actually called the RLC 940) is only $9.99 and is worth almost all thousand of those pennies. At least half.
Here's the specs of the camera:
• Uses SD cards. Hell, it comes with a 1 GB SD card, which can sometimes cost about $10 as well, so if it helps you can think of this as buying an SD card and getting a dash cam thrown in for free.
• 320x240 video, 15 FPS. Those are pretty archaic numbers. Just for reference, a 1980s era Commodore 64 could display up to 320x200 pixels. It's pretty close to the smallest resolution you can have and still have usable video.
• Runs off 12V (adapter included) or 3 AA batteries. I found the battery option didn't really work well at all, as the batteries were drained in about an hour or so. Doesn't start or stop automatically, either.
• No screen, but you can line up your shots with a laser! Yes, it has a laser pointer in it to show where the camera is pointing. If you're shooting a featureless piece of white drywall 6 feet in front of the camera, it works great. Otherwise, it's pretty useless.
• Cyclic recording. But no automatic segmentation. If you leave it on, it makes one huge video file until the end of the card is reached. You can make your own segments with the play/rec button.
• TV output. Since there's no screen on the camera, this is the only way to see your awful, tiny videos without downloading them to a computer.
You may notice that this dash cam doesn't use a suction mount like so many of the others. Instead, it has a vastly worse plastic base with a square of double-sided tape on the bottom. So you can only use it in one car, and get sticky crap all over your dash. If you have enough dash — this wouldn't fit on my Beetle's panel-type dash, for example.
This must be a cost-cutting measure, because, as we all know, rubber suction cups are so lavish and decadent. I know whenever I see any bluebloods sticking things on windows via suction cups all I can think is la-de-dah, Princess Rockefeller. Look at you, with your fancy "suction" cup. Did that come off an illegally poached endangered Pacific Bottlebeaked Squid?
The half-ass mounting system wouldn't even be so bad if it was, say, made of something other than pressed crap. Within two days of using this dash cam, the threaded socket that holds the retaining screw for the base broke:
I wasn't abusing this thing at all— this happened while attempting to adjust the angle. Undaunted, I found an elegant solution:
If you look carefully, you may notice the manner by which I affixed the camera to the dash. Did I cast a custom plastic mounting frame? Close! I taped the shit out of it with blue painter's tape. See it now?
Okay, so it's made poorly, and the specs don't seem too great. You could say the same about me, but I get the job done, mostly. So how about ol' Crapcam? Well, barely. Here's a sample of the video, taken at the same time I took the video with the DVR-027 camera. So you can watch me roll through that stop sign again.
As you can see, the image is pretty bad, as YouTube has to blow it up to that size from the meager 320x240. You'll only be able to read license plates if you've already rammed into the back of the car in front of you. Also, it's pointed a bit too high, the result of the one-two punch of no screen and a broken mount.
I was going to upload some more videos and some night video but let's be honest here: it doesn't get any better. In fact, it gets a bit worse. Direct light, like from a sunset, blows everything out, and lack of light makes everything black, except for the UFO-like bursts of streetlights and signs. It's sort of pretty, just useless. What the hell, here's a sample, with, again, the unaimable camera pointed too high:
On top of everything else, it's not even that reliable. As in, when you hit the sequence of buttons that makes the blue light flash which should mean it's recording, it's sort of a — forgive the pun — crapshoot as to whether or not you'll get anything. So, it's poorly built, the videos are barely usable, and sometimes it doesn't even record at all. A perfect trifecta of crap!
The Verdict: Is it worth the $10? I do know that at best, that's all it's worth. Still, it is so cheap that you could use it for things you'd never use a decent camera for. Tape it to the bumper of your car, or your dog's back, or a captured hawk. As a basically disposable, doing-something-stupid camera, sure, why not try it? It's the cost of lunch.
But for anything where you actually need something to work, splurge and get the DVR-027, or pretty much anything else.