Backup camera buying guide
Tips on choosing the best backup camera for you
In this article... We'll discuss what to consider when planning a backup camera system. A lot depends on what's already in your dash or what you'd like to add, so check out the basics below to get a solid understanding of what installing rear-view video entails. And don't forget, our Advisors can always help you find the best backup camera for your needs.
With a backup camera system in your car, you'll gain a well-lit, wide-angle view of what’s behind you – a view that a rear-view mirror just can't deliver. Whether you're safety-conscious, want to keep an eye on something you're towing, or just have a bad habit of crunching bumpers, installing a rear-view video system in your car, truck, or RV is a no-brainer. The big question becomes: what's the best system for you?
We'll discuss the process in three steps:
- Assess your dash for viewing backup camera video
- Choose the best backup camera for you
- Installing your backup camera
A backup camera won't do you much good without a screen to plug it into, and what you'll need in a rear-view system will depend on what's already in your dash. If you have an aftermarket touchscreen receiver with a rear-view video input, you're in great shape to shop for rear-view cameras. If not, you'll need to figure out which of the following three categories you fall into.
1) Happy with your factory touchscreen receiver? Find a vehicle-specific solution.
Toyota! Jeep! Dodge! Volkswagen, and more! Enter your vehicle information and explore these vehicle-specific backup cameras with harnesses that match select factory-installed entertainment systems. These backup cameras are often specifically designed to blend in with the exterior of your vehicle.
This rear-view camera system, for instance, is compatible with the factory radios in select Dodge and Ram pickup trucks.
2) In the market for a new touchscreen receiver? Add a backup cam.
There's no better time to install a rear-view camera than when you're already installing a new stereo in your dash. We carry a wide variety of DVD and GPS receivers that are equipped with touchscreen monitors and rear-view video inputs. When you shift your vehicle into reverse, you'll see a helpful view on your new stereo's display.
Some cameras offer multiple angles when paired with compatible receivers.
3) No room in your dash for a touchscreen? You still have options.
If your dash doesn't accommodate a radio with a video screen or if you don't like the idea of altering your factory dash, you still have options:
Replacement rear-view mirrors seamlessly integrate with your car's interior while giving you a monitor where you're already accustomed to looking.
Backup camera mirrors are a little more challenging to install, but they create a seamless and frankly, pretty cool backup system. Some rear-view mirror systems provide constant rear-view video, which means you can rely on the view in your mirror, even when the way-back is piled high with stuff.
Wired dash-mounted monitors are solid universal options if radio replacement or mirror replacement just aren't for you.
Wireless backup cameras spare you from running a wired connection between the rear of your vehicle and the front (which can be a relief if you're dealing with a big truck or RV). In some cases, monitor options include viewing rear-view video on your smartphone or on a Garmin portable navigation device.
You can count on backup cameras to be tiny and weatherproof across the board, but there are some variables to consider:
Most backup cameras use either CCD or CMOS sensors. The sensors convert light to signal in two different ways: CCD is essentially analog, and CMOS is digital. Generally speaking, a CMOS sensor draws less power and is more sensitive to image noise than a CCD sensor, but a CCD sensor is slightly better adapted to handle fluctuating lighting scenarios than a CMOS sensor. Depending on the types of environments where you typically drive, the difference may be incidental. In the good ol' tradition of iPhone® vs. Android™, the argument as to which sensor is "better" is ever-evolving and has devotees on either side. In most cases, it won't likely be a deciding factor in which camera you choose.
Many backup cameras provide onscreen guidelines to help you when backing out of precarious positions or when squeezing into a tight spot. They help you gauge distance from objects in your path. If you want the flexibility of opting in or out of parking lines, look for "selectable parking lines" as a feature. Some give you the opportunity to remove them during installation, so that you can use the selectable parking lines feature built into certain touchscreen receivers. If you like the idea of parking lines that bend as you turn your steering wheel, predicting your trajectory in reverse, look for "active parking lines" as a feature.
This is just what it sounds like. The view in your monitor is reversed to mimic that of a rear-view mirror. With some cameras, this is a selectable feature, which is handy if you plan to use the camera as a front-view camera.
Generally, backup cameras provide a healthy horizontal viewing angle, with some as expansive as 190-degrees. Naturally, the wider you go, the more you'll see behind you at a glance.
On some cameras, you may see a minimum Lux rating. This tells you the least amount of light required for an acceptable picture. For your reference, a night with a full moon is rated at around 0.1 Lux while a sunny day rates at around 10,000 Lux. Many cameras enhance their low light capability with an additional LED or infrared light that powers on when your vehicle is in reverse.
This is the defining feature for most rear-view cameras. It can be done is several ways, so take at look at the rear of your vehicle before you select a camera. Here are the mounting styles to consider:
License plate mounting
Some cameras fit into a matching license plate frame while others take the more universal approach with a strap mount. This strap-mounted rear-view cam fastens over your license plate using the existing screws.
If you have an inset area on the rear of your car, chances are you can use an angled lip-mount camera which is a little more subtle than the license plate mount.
This style takes the most universal approach, providing an adjustable bracket that lets you mount your camera wherever you see fit.
Some brands offer brackets that replace or fit into factory parts for a near-perfect match to your vehicle. Be sure to enter your vehicle information to see if there's an option for your vehicle.
We also carry specialty rear-view video systems like cameras for trailers, boats, ATVs, and more. Check out this rear-view camera spotlight for more information and ideas.
DIYers should anticipate a 3-part installation:
- Installing the camera in the rear of the car and wiring it for power.
- Running a video connection from the camera to your dash, unless it's a wireless system.
- Connecting that video cable to the input on the rear of a compatible monitor (which will also require installation) or your stereo (which involves removing the stereo from your dash and then reinstalling it).
A wireless backup camera system will cut down on your installation time, but you'll still have to wire the camera and monitor for power. In many cases, tapping into the feed to your tail lights will suffice for the camera, but some may require a direct connection to your car's fuse panel.
Want to see an installation in action? Watch Crutchfield's JR add a backup camera to an SUV.
Life in reverse
Like an air bag to a seat belt, a rear-view camera system isn't a replacement for your vehicle's mirrors, it's a complement — a powerful tool for driving safely and parallel parking like a pro. And even if you consider yourself a pro, everybody has their bad days, and a rear-view system cuts down on the risk of a fender-bender (or worse). If you have any questions about picking the right system, just contact our advisors.