Ultimate Dashcam Comparison 2023: License Plate Reading is HERE!August 18, 2023
In July last year I published a dashcam buyer’s guide to help people understand the different types of dashcams and which features they should prioritize based on their needs. Then, three weeks later LTT released a video saying all dashcams are garbage because they use old sensors and old SoCs, they can’t even capture license plates, and you’d be better off using a GoPro than a dashcam.
So, after dozens of comments on my first video telling me my recommendations were bad because Linus said so, I’ve resolved to find the absolute best dashcam money can buy with all the newest image sensors and technology. In this video we’ll compare the performance of the absolute best of the best flagship dashcams from 70mai, BlackVue, Viofo, Thinkware, Vantrue, Rove, Redtiger, and HawkEvo and then we’ll put the winners up against the newest GoPro HERO11 Black to see if it’s any better.
I set up four cameras at a time, seeded by price, and evaluated them based on their field of view, overall clarity, and ability to capture plates both during the day and at night, and after each group the winner moved on to the next round.
In the first group the least expensive option for $109 is the HawkEvo DC001 which is 2-channel and records the front in 4K and the rear at 1080p.
After that I’ve brought back the winner and overall recommendation from my last video, the Viofo A129 Plus Duo which at $169 gets you a 1440p front camera with a Sony STARVIS sensor, and a 1080p rear camera.
And last in this group we’ve got a brand-new release, the $179 70mai A810 which records the front camera in 4K using the new Sony STARVIS2 IMX678 sensor and records the rear in standard 1080p.
Something that immediately stuck out to me in this group was that even the cheaper, lesser known dashcams from Redtiger and HawkEvo were not bad at all when it came to daytime recording quality, with the Redtiger’s 4K sensor competing well with the Viofo A129 Plus’s 1440p sensor. But, based on my testing, the 70mai A810’s new Sony STARVIS 2 sensor was sharper during the daytime for general footage, and also had the widest field of view of all the cameras in this group.
When it comes to license plate captures, almost any dashcam can read the plate of a stationary car at a stop light or in a parking lot, but cars moving at different speeds and different directions are more difficult to capture. To really put these cameras to the test I used a mix of different situations where one or both cars were moving and for each group, I did four separate captures then ranked each one and then added the scores together.
For these four cameras there was absolutely no question that the 70mai A810 was the best at capturing license plates during the day which is impressive given that it also has the widest field of view which we would normally expect to correlate negatively with plate reading ability.
At night, things got shaken up a little bit and I thought that the Redtiger had the best overall nighttime image for a dashcam and was able to clearly show detail in dark areas without too much motion blur for moving objects. The HawkEvo had much lower exposure, which prevented it from capturing details in the dark, but helped significantly with license plate capture since most of the other cameras overexposed plate numbers, though in this group there wasn’t a single camera that could consistently be used for plate reading at night.
When combining all the scores the 70mai easily came out on top earning 18 out of a possible 20 points, with the Viofo A129 Plus Duo in second, the Redtiger in 3rd and the HawkEvo last, but if license plate capture is your number one concern than none of the cameras in this group are right for you.
So, in round two the 70mai A810 will have three new opponents.
The first one is a 3-channel dashcam, the Rove R3 which is $199 and records the front in 1440p and the rear and cabin in 1080p.
Then jumping all the way to $329 is the Vantrue N4 Pro which also has three cameras, but like the 70mai it uses that 4K Sony STARVIS 2 IMX678 sensor for the front camera and has a wired rear camera, but also includes an attached 1080p cabin camera.
After that is the newest flagship from Viofo the A139 Pro which is $369 for the 3-channel version which includes a 4K front camera with that same Sony STARVIS 2 IMX678 sensor as well as two other wired 1080p cameras meant to be used for the cabin and rear, but unlike the 70mai and the Vantrue, the Viofo A139 pro doesn’t have a built in screen.
That means aside from the Rove R3, all of these cameras are using the latest Sony STARVIS 2 image sensor, and that was immediately apparent when reviewing the footage where they could not only clearly identify plates, but they could do it from 3-4 car lengths away on both moving and stationary cars. During the day, the Vantrue N4 Pro was king, and I ranked it slightly above the Viofo A139 Pro in three of the four trials.
The 70mai still had the largest field of view by a pretty significant margin, and the Rove R3 had the lowest field of view, but the Viofo A139 Pro and the Vantrue N4 Pro were nearly identical, so I split the 2nd and 3rd place points between them.
For overall daytime clarity, the Viofo and Vantrue were also very similar, but I slightly preferred the image from the Vantrue which seemed to show a little more shadow detail than the Viofo. The 70mai image wasn’t bad at all, but it looked like it had a beauty filter on it, which would be great for shooting an Instagram video, but doesn’t seem necessary for a dashcam, and unfortunately the Rove was just completely outclassed by the other cameras in this group.
At night, the Vantrue N4 had excellent clarity and did a great job showing detail in low light and shadows without introducing too much motion blur for moving objects.
When capturing license plates at night, the Vantrue was also by far the most advanced in this group and license plates seemed to jump out and hover in front of the actual plate. I don’t have any official confirmation of this, but I’m guessing this is due to the implementation of a feature on the STARVIS 2 Image Sensor called “Clear HDR” which allows for simultaneous recording of a lower exposure and higher exposure video stream that can then be combined to create a perfectly exposed image instead of one with large overexposed or underexposed areas.
The Viofo A139 Pro, 70mai A810, and Thinkware U3000 all have this same Sony STARVIS 2 IMX678 image sensor, but it looks like Vantrue is the only one who has implemented the Clear HDR feature. I was especially impressed by the Vantrue’s plate capture of this car passing me going 50 miles an hour while I was stopped at a stoplight. The Viofo and 70mai weren’t bad when it came to night plate recognition, but the Vantrue blew them away in almost every case.
As a result, when adding up all the scores the Vantrue N4 Pro won this round earning an impressive 18.5 out of 20 possible points, winning every category except for field of view. The Viofo A139 Pro also did well, just not quite as well as the Vantrue, the 70mai finished 3rd in this group, and the Rove R3 was a distant 4th.
That means in round 3 the Vantrue N4 Pro will go up against the three most expensive dashcams.
First is the brand new $399 Vantrue Nexus 5, which is 4-channel but only records the front in 1944p using a Sony STARVIS 2 IMX675 image sensor, and then the rest of the channels in 1080p, and although I personally don’t see much use for a rear cabin camera, I do like that you can get four channels running just a single wire since the front and rear cabin cameras are built into the main and rear view units.
After that for $469 is the new flagship BlackVue DR970X which uses a 4K sensor from Omnivision for its front camera and also has a 1080p rear camera. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any specific model number for the BlackVue’s sensor, so there’s no way to tell if it is a modern image sensor or the same one they’ve been using for years.
And last the most expensive dashcam we’ll be testing is the $549 Thinkware U3000, their flagship dashcam which also uses the 4K STARVIS 2 IMX678 for the front camera and a 1080p camera for the rear but adds a low power radar sensor to both the front and rear units for the ultimate low power parking mode.
The BlackVue and Thinkware dashcams also have the ability to be cloud connected, but that’s something that I’ll cover in a whole separate video and for now we’re just focused on video quality. Unfortunately, while Round 2 was pretty close between the Vantrue N4 and Viofo A139 Pro, round 3 was not, and the Vantrue N4 absolutely embarrassed every other camera in this group.
The BlackVue DR970X had the best field of view by a significant margin, but that’s about the only good thing I can say about its image quality, which was so blurry that when I was reviewing the footage I actually went back out to double check that I had removed the protective film over the lens, and unfortunately I had.
The N4 Pro had the best daytime clarity by a mile, which is hard to explain since it is using the exact same image sensor as the Thinkware U3000. I think this is probably because in addition to not implementing the Clear HDR feature, Thinkware also hasn’t implemented the standard HDR processing of the IMX678, so that has a lot to do with it, and you can see how much more detail the Vantrue N4 Pro shows in the very bright and dark areas compared to the Thinkware U3000.
All the license plate captures had exactly the same outcome and ranking, with the Vantrue N4 Pro doing the best, followed by the Thinkware U3000, then the Vantrue N5, and last the BlackVue DR970X had very disappointing results and wasn’t able to read plates from anything more than a half a car length away.
At night, the Vantrue N4 Pro’s HDR image still did a great job illuminating dark areas but the Vantrue N5’s slightly lower resolution sensor also did well, capturing a lot of detail without introducing as much motion blur. The BlackVue was slightly worse than the Vantrue N5, and the lack of HDR on the Thinkware meant it was just as blurry as the Vantrue N4 Pro, but without all the shadow detail, putting it in last place for nighttime clarity.
Just like the last group, when it came to night time plate captures the Vantrue was in an absolute league of its own and none of the other cameras in this group even came close to the clarity that the Vantrue could produce, and I feel confident that any car that got close enough to need to have its plate captured would be recorded by the Vantrue N4 Pro, and it even captured plates that were too far away or moving too fast for me to read from the driver’s seat.
So, nearly perfect nighttime performance and solid daytime performance meant that the Vantrue N4 Pro was again the best in its group.
However, I was pretty disappointed in this highest price bracket of dashcams. So I did a little more due diligence to see if there were any settings in their apps to increase video quality and unfortunately the BlackVue was already set to extreme video quality, and while the Thinkware was also set to maximum image quality there was an option to enable super night vision 4.0, so I reran the test against the Vantrue with that option enabled, and after doing that the resulting video was so blown out and overexposed that I completely understand why it is disabled by default.
That means the two best performing dash cams in terms of pure image quality were the Vantrue N4 Pro and the Viofo A139 Pro, and all that was left was to put them head to head with a brand new $399 GoPro Hero11 Black to see if you really are better off with a GoPro than a dashcam in terms of image quality.
Also, out of curiosity I read that the Viofo in single channel mode can significantly increase its video recording bitrate, so since it is competing against the GoPro which is also single channel, I unplugged the rear and cabin cameras and set the Viofo A139 Pro to record at the maximum bitrate.
Daytime clarity on the GoPro was very good, though I thought the Viofo A139 Pro on high bitrate mode was slightly better, especially when sun glare and dashboard reflections were involved since the A139 Pro comes with a circular polarizing lens filter which makes a huge difference. The Vantrue in 3 channel mode was slightly worse than both the GoPro HERO11 and single channel Viofo A139 Pro, but that isn’t a completely fair comparison since the image processor is splitting up its power between 3 different cameras.
Increasing the Viofo’s bitrate also helped significantly with license plate captures and it was able to produce the best image in all 4 of the daytime plate captures that I analyzed, and although the Viofo outperformed the Vantrue slightly in each trial, the GoPro did noticeably worse than both of the purpose built dashcams, which is partly due to its much larger field of view.
Here you can see exactly how much wider the field of view is on the GoPro than the Viofo and Vantrue, which is always useful in a dashcam, but unfortunately it meant that a lot of the video’s resolution was wasted on the dashboard and hood of my SUV, and for every capture it looks like cars were much further away in the GoPro footage than the Viofo and Vantrue.
At night, the GoPro struggled significantly more, showing much less detail in dark areas, while still overexposing most license plates. And as we’ve seen in the two previous rounds, the Vantrue N4 Pro is basically magic at night when it comes to reading plates and produced perfectly legible recordings of cars moving at very different speeds when the Viofo and GoPro failed to capture any of the license plate text.
Check out this side-by-side footage of the nighttime plate capture between the Vantrue, Viofo, and GoPro and notice the huge difference in plate clarity due to the STARVIS 2 Clear HDR feature being properly implemented on the N4 Pro.
So even without all of the other issues that come with using a GoPro as your dashcam like reduced resolution when loop recording, overheating, and lack of parking modes, I feel like I can definitively say that even based on picture quality alone you’re better off with a high end dashcam than a GoPro. But which high end dashcam should you choose?
To me, the Vantrue N4 Pro is the easy pick since it’s $40 less than the Viofo A139 Pro 3-channel, performs better in both the daytime and nighttime when recording 3 channels, and has the added benefit of a built-in screen.
I also like that the mount for the Vantrue is magnetic so you can easily pull the whole dashcam out to retrieve recordings or change settings rather than needing to mess with pulling the SD card or even worse, dealing with their phone apps. Though if I had one future request for Vantrue it would be to have both the power and the rear camera connections on the permanent base since as of now, you need to unplug the rear camera from the main unit and just kind of let the wire hang while it is disconnected.
Speaking of rear cameras, the quality of the rear and cabin cameras between the Vantrue and Viofo is nearly identical and while it is expectedly not as good as the front facing cameras, both do a good job of recording your surroundings. I do prefer the thin coax style cable on the Viofo to the USB C cable on the Vantrue just for ease of hiding behind panels in the car, but it’s definitely not a dealbreaker, and not enough to push me towards using the Viofo over the Vantrue.
However, one thing that the Viofo A139 Pro does offer that the Vantrue N4 Pro does not is buffered parking mode which keeps a 5 second rolling recording so that if the motion or impact sensor is triggered you also get a recording of the 5 seconds before it happened, rather than the delayed wake up and record that you get from the Vantrue. In my testing, the Viofo recorded approximately 15 seconds prior to each collision event, while the Vantrue started recording roughly 12 seconds after the event, which combined with the lack of cloud connection for instant notifications makes the usefulness of these recordings a little questionable.
I’ll be making a video later this year with all of the cloud connected dashcams if that’s a feature that is really important to you, but for pure recording while driving performance the Vantrue N4 Pro 3-channel dashcam is the best camera in this video, and very possibly the best dashcam ever made.
I also think the 70mai A810 deserves some praise since it was almost as good as the Viofo A139 Pro and Vantrue N4 Pro for about half the price and is definitely the best dashcam you can get under $200. Hopefully 70mai will be able to implement the Clear HDR feature of the STARVIS 2 sensor via a firmware update to help with nighttime plate capture, which would make it an even better deal.
As always there are no sponsored reviews on this channel, but I’ve got links below for all the dashcams in this video, and if you found this video helpful I always appreciate if you use those links since as an Amazon affiliate I do earn a small commission on the sale at no cost to you.
I’d also like to thank all of my awesome patrons over at Patreon for their continued support of my channel and if you’re interested in supporting my channel, please check out the links below. If you enjoyed this video don’t forget to hit that thumbs up button and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel and as always, thanks for watching The Hook Up.
Top Pick: Vantrue N4 Pro
Runner Up: Viofo A139 Pro 3ch
Top Value: 70mai A810
Other cameras tested (in order of value)
Viofo A129 Plus Duo: https://amzn.to/3s6Ydjm
RedTiger F7NP: https://amzn.to/3P13DW0
HawkEvo DC001: https://amzn.to/44dUPQY
Thinkware U3000: https://amzn.to/3OZK3cQ
Rove R3: https://amzn.to/3P0eQGu
BlackVue DR970X: https://amzn.to/3QCuuco
**As an Amazon Affiliate I earn a commission on qualifying purchases at no cost to you**