How to Choose a Rear-View Camera
Rear-view cameras are video cameras that mount on the rear of your vehicle and enable you to reverse more safely. They are built into many new vehicles, but older or less expensive cars might not have them. To learn more, check out our additional articles on rear-view cameras or keep reading.
Although you can buy cameras separately, all the ones we reviewed come with monitors. The picture from the rear-view camera gets displayed on the monitor's screen. In our review, we looked at systems with monitors 7 inches or smaller. The image is transmitted from the camera to the monitor in one of two ways: through a wireless transmitter and receiver, or through a cable that runs the length of the car, physically connecting the camera and the monitor.
The main differences here are price and ease of installation. Wired options are cheaper, but they require more time and effort to install. Those savings are negated, however, if you opt for professional installation, which typically costs between $80 and $150.
Wireless backup cameras are more expensive up front, but they can save you time on installation. Usually wireless backup cameras require little more than a drill, electrician’s tape and a wire stripper. If you’re looking for the most convenient option, wireless is the way to go.
Installing a Wireless Rear-View Camera
Because the actual picture signal on a rear-view mirror camera is transmitted wirelessly, you won't need to run a video cable under your car. However, you will need to provide a power source for the camera and transmitter at the rear of your car.
Here's how to install a typical wireless rear-view camera. Before you follow any of these steps, you should consult the manual of the device you purchase. Also turn your vehicle off, disconnect the battery and consult the owner's manual to make sure you won't drill into any wires.
The camera mounts on the outside of your vehicle. It's typically held in place by the screws at the top of your license plate. You'll need to use a drill to bore a small hole behind your license plate into the trunk. Then you run the included video cable from the camera to the transmitter, which stays in your trunk.
To power the transmitter, you'll need to tap into your car's reverse light power cable by stripping that cable and attaching it to the power cable of the transmitter using electrician's tape. This way, the monitor and camera will power on when you put your vehicle in reverse.
This installation process takes around an hour. It's worth noting that a few rear-view cameras require even less installation. If you are unsure of the safety of your installation, consult with a professional mechanic. Wired installations are very similar, but rather than connecting your camera to a transmitter, you’ll have to run a cable the entire length of your vehicle and physically connect it to your monitor.
Rear-View Cameras: What We Evaluated, What We Found
Field of View: Bigger Is Better
When you're reversing, you want the largest field of view possible. The units we reviewed varied in their horizontal field of view from 90 degrees to 180 degrees. To put that in perspective, your eyes have a field of view of about 130 degrees.
You should look for a camera with a field of view of about 100 degrees or more, to ensure you're getting complete coverage of your back bumper. If you drive a large truck or SUV, you might want even more coverage. Several of the units we reviewed have 120-degree or wider fields of view, so you can find a camera that has enough coverage for your vehicle.
Night Vision: A Must-Have
You do much of your driving when it is dark outside. The best backup cameras have infrared LEDs that illuminate behind your car so you'll see a black-and-white picture on the monitor. Most of the cameras we reviewed have night vision, even some of the more affordable ones around $70.
Wireless Signal Strength and Quality
Interference can be an issue for some wireless backup cameras. They broadcast on the 2.4GHz frequency, which is also used by a variety of common electronics such as Bluetooth devices and Wi-Fi networks. When there is interference in your signal, it leads to degradation of the quality of your picture, even to the point where it can be unusable at times.
Some of the best rear-view cameras have a digital signal that is specific to its transmitter and receiver, which combats interference. This ensures that you have the best possible picture quality, but it is pricey: The cheapest unit we reviewed with a digital signal is around $120.
Of course, another way that camera manufacturers overcome interference issues is with brute strength. A powerful analog signal is more resistant to interference than a weak analog signal. So, if you go with analog, look for a backup camera that has a bigger wireless range than you'll need. The stronger the signal, the less interference will be an issue. Several of the backup cameras in our top 10 have signals rated for over 50 feet.
The Verdict: Our Recommendations
The Rear View Safety 091406, the Top Ten Reviews Gold Award winner, is the best rear-view camera on the market. It offers a wide, 130-degree field of view and a digital, interference-proof signal. Rear View Safety also has exceptional customer service, so you know you'll get excellent support with this product.
The TadiBrothers Wireless License Plate Camera is our Silver Award winner and another excellent choice. At around $200, it's about $50 cheaper than the Rear View Safety model. It has a 120-degree field of view and night vision. It lacks a digital wireless signal; however, its analog signal is rated for 65 feet, which means it has one of the strongest signals we've seen, so interference should not be a problem in a typical vehicle. Much like Rear View Safety, TadiBrothers has excellent customer service.
The Yada Digital Wireless Backup Camera is our Top Ten Reviews Bronze Award winner and the best value on the rear-view camera market. It's about $110, and it has most of the features boasted by premium models, including night vision and a digital wireless signal. Its only real weakness is just-average customer support.
While it's expensive at about $250, the QuickVu Backup Camera is the best option if you don't feel comfortable installing a rear-view camera. The transmitter is built into the camera and runs on AA batteries, so all you have to do is mount the camera to the screws above your license plate and plug the monitor into your cigarette lighter. The QuickVu lacks night vision, but other than that, it's one of the best cameras we reviewed.
Contributing Reviewer: Caleb Cross