Best Rear View Backup Cameras | Common Terms & Features
When you’re looking to purchase a backup camera, there are a few questions that you should first ask yourself:
- How will I be using the camera? – Will you be using it to reverse and park, for backing up trailers, etc?
- What features do I absolutely need? – Will night vision make or break the deal for you? Clarity? Adjustability?
Let us help explain a few of the key differences, features and terms of cameras that you should consider when you’re looking to purchase so that you can make an informed decision. Let’s start out with type.
There are two primary types of rear view cameras for cars: CCD and CMOS.
CCD (Charge Coupled Device): CCD cameras are the more expensive of the two cameras. They provide the higher quality image of the two types and operate the best in low light conditions. They typically aren’t ideal for high-speed imagery and don’t have as fast a frame rate as CMOS.
CMOS (Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor): CMOS cameras were invented in the 1960s. It’s an ‘analog’ technology that’s typically cheaper than CCD, but the image quality is normally not as clear as CCD. They have a higher frame rate, but are not as good in low light applications. CMOS cameras are normally more compact than CCD, and offer a wider variety of applications because of their size.
Camera features are key to your decision making process. Like we mentioned earlier, figuring out what you’ll be using the camera most for will determine the features that you’ll need. Here are a few things to consider when you’re looking:
Camera Angle: The camera angle determines the width of view that you’ll see from the camera. The wider the angle, the wider image the camera will capture. Typically, backup cameras will be 120 degrees and higher. We recommend a 170 degree camera view for parking, and a smaller angle view for mounting trailers.
Night Vision: This is pretty critical for backup cameras. Without night vision, the camera is all but worthless in a low light, night condition. There are two types of night vision: Infrared and Night Vision. Infrared uses an infrared light to light up the area behind your camera as you backup, while the night vision cameras use a traditional night vision looking view.
Image Quality: Backup camera specs are great to read through, but judging the image quality based on what's on paper is tough if you don't know what you're looking at. Don't get distracted by claims of having an HD quality camera. True HD is rare and hard to come by. At the end of the day, the image quality needs to be clear with enough contrast, color accuracy and detail for you to see objects and road conditions. That being said, the best way to judge image quality without having it directly on your screen is to look at resolution. Here's a quick breakdown of typical resolutions to give you an idea of where backup camera resolutions lie in comparison to other video devices:
|Device Type||Quality||Resolution (Pixels)|
|Typical Backup Cameras||SD||720x480|
|Built-in webcameras||HD, 720p||1280x720|
|Stand-alone webcameras||HD, 1080p||1920x1080|
|High end dash cameras & recorders||HD, widescreen||2560x1080|
|High end smartphones||4K||3840x2160|
|High end compact cameras||20 megapixels||5472x3648|
Installation: There are normally two types of mounting for backup cameras: fixed and license plate. Fixed mounting are universal, meaning you can mount them almost wherever – on a bumper, the side of an RV, really any flat surface. Fixed cameras are normally a little more difficult to install. License plate cameras mount on top of your license plate. They’re incredibly simple to install and pretty universal.
Screen: Some cameras come with a screen included. Some are sold separately of the camera. There are two key types of screens for backup cameras: rear view mirror and stand alone. Stand alone cameras can be mounted anywhere – on your dash, console, etc. Rear view mirrors have to replace your current mirror. Typically installation of rear view mirror screens is more difficult. Sometimes, you don’t need a screen though if you have an aftermarket multimedia head unit. In this case we’d recommend a camera that doesn’t include a screen.
Believe it or not, a backup camera isn’t all that difficult to install. The process is actually quite simple in most cases. If you’re a do-it-yourself kind of person, installing a rear view camera system is a 2-4 hour, weekend project. If you’re not used to working on cars, you may find it intimidating and a little more time consuming but after our walkthrough you’ll be much more confident about it.
If you’re not up to doing it yourself after reading our how-to, we’d recommend letting a pro like the guys at Best Buy to install it for you. They’ll install the system for around $150 bucks and there’s most likely one near you. If you have it installed elsewhere, we’ve found that the price is a little higher (~$180 - $300), and occasionally they’ll ask you to pay for any additional parts that they may need to install the backup camera system.
Backup cameras normally come with instructions on how to install the camera and to the display. There’s also a ton of great walkthroughs on YouTube that will walk you through the process (we’ve referenced one below). Here’s a quick walkthrough on how to install a typical backup camera in only a few quick steps.
First, let’s start out by defining the tools you will want to have handy to install your backup camera. If you don’t have any tools, it’s around $50 - $80 worth of stuff. But most of the items you may find you already have:
- Wire Strippers
- Basic Socket Wrench Set
- Phillips and Flathead Screwdriver Set
- Butt Splices
- Ring Terminals
- Electrical Tape
Step 1: Disconnect Power
First step to any automotive electrical installation is to disconnect the negative (-) battery wire from car’s battery. This’ll prevent any shorting or fuse popping from happening.
Step 2: Access the Tail Lights
Remove the necessary panels from around the tail lights on the inside of the vehicle. In many cases, there are panels inside the trunk. Or, if you have a truck there are normally access areas to the tail lights from the inside of the truck bed. Unscrew the trim pieces until you have access to the wiring for one tail light (no need to do both).
Step 3: Find the Mounting Location
There are many different areas you can mount your camera, depending on the vehicle and the type of camera. The most common is on the license plate or near the license plate so for this case, we’ll be referencing a license plate installation.
Step 4: Wire the Backup Camera
Remove your license plate cover and license plate and identify any holes behind or above the license plate where you can run the power and signal wire to the camera. If there are no holes, you may need to drill into the bumper to wire the camera behind.
Once you have a clear hole, route the wire from the camera to either the trunk or truck bed. From here, you’ll tuck the wires either the plastic panels straight to the tail light that you accessed earlier. Connect the power wire to the corresponding reverse power wire for your reverse light using the butt connectors you purchased.
Step 5: Connect the Camera to a Dash Display
Now that you have your backup camera wired for power, you’ll need to connect it to a display. There are a few options you have:
In-Dash Display: This is a display that either came with your vehicle, or a display that you may have purchased aftermarket like a double din touchscreen. It’s in your dash. For this type of display you’ll need to wire the camera signal wire from the back of the vehicle where the camera is installed to the back of the display unit in your dash.
For those who are planning on using an OEM dash unit that came with your vehicle, you will need to make sure that it’s compatible and will accept a rear view backup camera. If it does, Crutchfield has a number of adapters that you can find here: https://www.crutchfield.com/g_431950/Vehicle-specific-Backup-Cameras.html
On-Dash/Rearview Mirror display: This is an aftermarket display that you either place on top of your dash, or place over your rearview mirror. For these types of units, you’ll need to wire the signal wire from the back of the vehicle to the unit, similar to In-Dash Displays.
Wireless Displays: If you have purchased a wireless camera and display, there’s no wiring needed between the camera and display. Simply wire the display to a power source and follow the instructions to wirelessly connect it to the camera.
Check out the helpful video below to help get an idea on how to install your new backup camera: