If there is one thing that trail camera users struggle with, it is battery life. There is nothing quite like trekking out to a hunting lease only to find a game camera with dead batteries.
You have no way of knowing if you missed any camera triggers and no way to know where to set up your hunting blind.
But there is a foolproof way to make sure you never have another missed detection: a solar trail camera. Solar power ensures that your trail camera always has the power it needs.
Top 3 Solar Trail Cameras
1. ECO LLC Hunting Trail Camera
ECO Solar Trail Camera
The ECO brand represents a relatively small market share in the trail camera industry, but its offerings are high in quality and packed with functions. ECO’s solar panel puts out 1500 milliamps for 1.5 watts of power. It also requires a minimum of four AA batteries, which serve as backup in case there isn’t enough sun to power the camera. The unit can accommodate up to eight batteries and can run on battery power alone. It also has a 5-volt port for external charging and a 6-volt external output jack.
Trigger times of .2 to .6 seconds are quite fast for its segment of the market. Its 120-degree PIR sensor matches up well with its 120-degree field of view, keeping empty daytime shots to a minimum. However, with an 80-foot detection range and a 65-foot flash range, the subjects in night photos can be mysterious. The 46 infrared LEDs have impressive range, but there is a slight red glow. Users can view photos on the onboard 2.4-inch color display. This trail camera can also shoot three-photo bursts per triggering.
Photo quality is configurable from a high of 16 megapixels down to 3MP. Using the lower-quality settings will save space on the micro SD card, which has a maximum of 32 gigabytes. The ECO can shoot video in 1080p, selectable from 3 seconds to 10 minutes in length. The HD video is limited to 25 frames per second, though. At the 30-fps rate, the ECO unit can shoot in 720p, 480p and 240p, though the resulting videos will stutter.
This ECO trail camera is not without its faults. It does not offer the various photo and video modes of some competitors, and its solar panel is separate component. But simplicity also means ease of operation. The menu is basic and intuitive, and not every camera in this segment has a full-color display screen with the ability to view photos and videos.
- Multiple video modes
- Clear photos day or night
- Onboard LCD display doubles as image viewer
- Sub-second trigger times
- One-year manufacturer warranty
- Deeper detection range than IR flash range
- Solar panel is not an integrated component
2. SPYPOINT SOLAR-W Game Camera
The folks at Spypoint like to keep it simple, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t innovative. The Solar-W camera is nearly identical to Spypoint’s Force-10 camera, except that it has a nifty, integrated solar panel that gives it seemingly infinite life. It also boasts a .3-second trigger speed on photos and an adjustable detection range. The Solar-W requires six AA batteries, but it won’t use them until its internal rechargeable battery is three-quarters depleted. There is also a 12V external power jack, with strap loops and threaded insert for mounting.
Photo quality from the 10MP camera is sharp in daylight hours, with excellent color and contrast. The programmable photo stamps include moon phase, temperature, date and time. Detection distance ranges from 5 to 80 feet, and burst mode enables up to six shots per detection. The 42 low-glow LEDs provide impressive depth on night photos, with flash range approaching 90 feet. It may take some fiddling to match the detection and flash ranges to the needs of any particular location, though.
Video shows the graininess one would associate with 720p, and they aren’t as bright as some competitors. There also isn’t a microphone, so videos are silent. That said, the Solar-W shoots decent footage in good lighting and useable video at night. The 2-inch display screen enables full-color review of the images stored on a 32GB SD card (not included), and the simple controls are intuitive. Its detection circuitry is as good as any, with impressive .6-second recovery on photos.
- Quality color photography
- Fast trigger speed of .3 seconds
- Equally fast recovery time of .6 seconds
- Sharp night photos with minimal blurring
- Seemingly immortal battery life
- No cable lock mounting option
- Darkness of photos and videos
3. My Animal Command Powered Solar Trail Camera
My Animal Command
For the hunter or homeowner looking for as little fuss and complexity as possible, the My Animal Command trail camera is here to help. The 2500 mAh solar panel doubles as a rechargeable battery, which has a multi-position metal base. The trail camera body also holds eight AA batteries for constant, uninterrupted use. It stores video and JPEGs on a removable SD card (up to 32GB).
Time lapse is one of the few added features. Photo quality is advertised as 12MP and video at 1080p, but the actual results are less spectacular than those numbers suggest. Picture quality is still quite good, with its only real problem being a bit of overall darkness. Night photos exhibit that darkness as well, though a 65-foot IR flash distance keeps pictures from being empty. Trigger times are around the half-second mark – fast enough to be competitive. But the real draw is the months on end of battery life.
A full-color LCD display enables photo and video review, as well as navigation of the simple, intuitive menu. Mounting options do not include a Python lock, though, so be prepared to camouflage your trail camera. Other than that, it’s hard not to like the My Animal Command solar trail cam. Its overall ease of use is extraordinary. Just unbox it and install it – that simple.
- Simple to use
- Good color picture quality
- Half-second trigger speed
- Targets easy to identify in IR mode
- Full-color LCD display with image review
- Solar panel and battery are not integrated
- Photos and videos are not as crisp as they could be
Solar Trail Camera Comparison Chart
|Thermal Camera||Display Screen||Resolution||Weight||Rating|
|FLIR 55903-1022||4.3"||480x360||14.55 pounds||N/A|
|Seek Thermal Reveal||2.4"||240×320||0.16 ounces||8|
|Seek Thermal Compact||N/A||206×156||3.68 ounces||7|
|Seek Compact Imager||N/A||206×156 IR||3.68 ounces||7|
|FLIR Scout TK||N/A||160×120 IR||6.1 ounces||8|
|FLIR Systems||N/A||240×180 IR||1.6 pounds||8|
|Extech Instruments FLIR||4.3"||800×480||N/A||8|
|Hti-Xintai||N/A||220 x 160||14.6 ounces||8|
|Seek Thermal 70 mK||2.4"||320 x 256||12.8 ounces||9|
Today’s Solar Trail Cameras
While it is possible to attach a solar panel to many battery-powered trail cameras, it is not the easiest way to go about things. Acquiring and connecting a solar panel requires matching up the connection and voltage on the camera and the panel. It also may entail purchasing any number of electrical connectors, reducers, etc.
Many aftermarket solar panels, though effective, are bulky and conspicuous. They may also have reflective surfaces. Going solar from the start means you can be certain everything will work together.
It’s (Not) Always Sunny
The solar panel on a solar game camera doesn’t run the electronics directly. Rather, it charges a battery that powers the camera. Often a Lithium-ion type, the rechargeable battery may be external or it may be onboard. Either way, manufacturers typically offer the option of using disposable batteries – like AAs – instead of or in addition to the solar panel.
The disposable batteries are not there to replace the solar panel; they are there to supplement it. They supply power that the trail camera can use when the rechargeable battery is depleted, either from overuse or because of overcast conditions. Once the solar panel produces enough electricity to recharge the battery, the secondary batteries are no longer in use.
Of course, alkaline batteries are not without issues of their own. Besides their expense and their limited lifespans, AA batteries have a tendency to leak or corrode when exposed to heat. While not an issue in every part of the country, folks in hotter areas will know the frustration and damage exploded AAs can cause. Solar power tends to work well in areas where temperatures can be problematic for alkaline batteries.
Not many solar panels need direct sunlight to properly do their job. Most will work in a shaded area, but a solar panel will always work best when it gets direct sunlight. When selecting a location for a solar trail camera, think about the amount of shade that the area gets. Because of the way they are wired, a single shaded solar element can sometimes stop a whole row of cells from producing electricity. Also consider the time of year and the position of the sun in the sky.
In summertime with the sun directly overhead, try to place your trail camera where it will get at least a half day of full sun. Point it either eastward or westward, whichever direction is less shaded in your chosen location.
As winter comes around and the sun begins to sink in the sky, it’s better to have the camera in a south-facing location (in the northern hemisphere). Some modern solar panels can charge their batteries with very little light, so get to know your equipment’s specific requirements.
Solar Panel Maintenance
Unfortunately, you cannot just set your solar trail camera out in the wild or attach it to a building on your property and forget about it. Depending on the area, it may not take very long for the camera to develop a layer of dust. When covered by dust (or snow or leaves), solar panels do not operate at peak levels. Soon the battery will be drained and the trail camera will be operating on its disposable-battery reserves. Be sure to clean the solar panel every time you visit the camera’s location.
It’s still a Trail Camera
Other than the way it gets its power, a solar trail camera is no different from any other trail camera. They all utilize roughly the same passive infrared detection circuitry and are bound by the same near-infrared emitter issues. Darker LED emitters tend to have shallower fields of view at night, while brighter lights are visible to both game and humans.
Changing batteries in a trail camera may be a simple and inexpensive task in isolation, but it can soon become an expensive pain in the neck. Whether you’ve installed your camera in an inaccessible location on your home property or you placed out in the wilderness, the time it takes to complete this exercise are not coming back. Added to the cost of disposable batteries, the frustration is enough to push many trail camera owners to review their options.
Solar trail cameras should be at the top of anyone’s list of alternatives to the standard options. Many of them can operate unattended for years on end, depending on their power draw and the efficiency of their solar panels. The only reason to visit one is to review the photos it has captured. Other than their carefree use, solar trail cameras are no different from their battery-eating kin. It is easy to see the future of the market.