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Modern game cameras are packing on the features like bodybuilders on a bulk. As they do, they get bigger, heavier and more complicated. But what if all you want is a simple surveillance camera that gets the job done without taking up a lot of space? The smallest trail cameras still have plenty to offer.
Small Trail Cameras Comparison
Stealth Cam QS12
- 12.0 Infrared Megapixel
- Hunting game & trail cameras
- Versatile top of the line
- SD Card slot up to 32GB
- 85ft detection and 70ft lighting range
- 940nm Black IR LED lights
- High quality 12MP image resolution
- 14-Megapixel resolution for crisp pictures
- A fast .7 second trigger speed
- Requires eight AA batteries
- Uses SD/SDHC Class 4 cards or higher
Three Small Trail Cameras
Stealth Cam QS12
The Stealth Cam company is one of oldest names in the business, so it would make sense that it would produce one of the better small trail cameras (there are more Stealth trail cameras available in the market). The QS12 measures just 8.5 x 6.5 x 2.9 inches, and it weighs less than five ounces. Its 12 low-glow infrared LED emitters have a 60-foot detection range. Trigger speeds are about one second flat, but recovery times vary from five seconds to two minutes, depending on the selected operation mode. There are strap loops, a Python lock bracket and ¼-inch threaded insert for mounting.
Those operation modes may be few, but they are incredibly simple to operate. This is a no-fuss trail camera, with some of the quickest and simplest setup available. Users can choose from one of the three available presets or go through the usual steps for manual setup.The QS12 offers image resolution of up to 10 megapixels, with a burst mode of one-to-three images per detection circuit triggering. Images can be stamped with the time, date and moon phase. Daytime pictures are nice and clear, while the night photos can be spectacular for the cost of entry. Photos from either time of day can show some blurring on moving targets, but not more than comparable cameras.
Video quality exceeds what most people would likely expect in a compact trail camera. Recordings are variable from 5 to 15 seconds, which isn’t spectacular but also will not overload the SD card (32GB maximum). The image quality of those videos is quite clear, though, and night video is nearly as crisp as the night photos are. Battery life on eight AAs can approach six months, depending on operation mode and battery type. The onboard menu display can be difficult to master, but that flaw goes unnoticed when the presets are used.
- You might also be interested in another model by Stealth.
- Some of the best picture quality among compacts
- The smallest trail camera to offer video of this quality
- Deep field of view
- Good battery life
- Deceptively good night vision
- Menu displays incomplete numbers and letters
- Detection ranges don’t always compute to 60 feet
Measuring just 4.25 x 3 x 1.5 inches, the tiny SG520 is the smallest trail camera on the current market. It is hardly bigger than the four AA batteries that power it. The sturdy case – with two stout latches – has two strap loops and ¼-inch treaded receiver for mounting. There is no Python lock bracket, however. It has four low-glow LEDs, which reach out to an advertised 70-foot range, with an 85-foot detection zone.
The front-mounted color display screen measures 1.4 inches across, and it shows images as well as navigation information. Menu navigation is a little clumsy and tedious thanks to a limited number of buttons, but it is also intuitive and relatively easy to figure out. The screen is exposed, though a matte finish reduces glare. Photo resolution is up to 12 megapixels, while video is in 720p.
As you might expect, the advertised detection range is optimistic. Figures in the 50-foot range are more realistic, and still quite good for the category. Not as impressive are the nearly three-second trigger time and 13-second recovery time. But daytime photos show excellent color and contrast, while night imagery is distinct and clear. Video has an understandable lag in daytime, but at night the depth of field is about half of what it is in good lighting.
- The smallest trail camera
- Excellent color and contrast in good lighting
- Color display allows photo review
- Crisp short-range night vision
- Needs only four AA batteries
- Glare from exposed menu screen may alert game
- Lacks long-range night time clarity
The A-40 is a bare-bones trail camera, but that simplicity also entails ease of use. The LCD display is really only for setting the date and time, as well as erasing or renumbering the photos on your SD card if desired. Simple switches set the photo and video options – what few there are. The A-40 is a larger camera, measuring 7 inches by 6 inches, but what it lacks in space savings it makes up for in hassle-free use. There are more sizes available by Moultrie on the market.
Picture quality is acceptable, but not exceptional. Daytime photos are clear, and any animals or humans in the will be easy to identify. Night images are clear out to about 30 feet, but a 50-foot detection range means there will be photos with mysterious images in distant shadows. Photo quality can be set to either 2560×1950 or 640×480, while video is shot in 480p. Video is serviceable. You will be able to identify anything that moves through the frame, but detail is lacking and motion drags.
The A-40 has a speedy, 1.2-second trigger speed, but a lengthy one-minute recovery time is slow by modern standards. A wider detection zone than field of view means there will be a few empty photos to sift through. Operating on four C-cell batteries is an oddity, as are the switches. All things considered, though, the A-40 is likely just right for users who don’t like to fiddle with complicated menus and who aren’t looking to frame and display the photos from their trail camera.
- Embossed camo is natural and effective
- Simple, no-fuss setup and operation
- Well-lit pictures are clear and in focus
- Daytime video is serviceable
- Fast trigger speed for the class
- Night videos and photos are grainy and lack depth
- Simple to use also means a lack of features
So let’s get this out of the way promptly. Most of the cameras that fit into this category of game cameras would also fit into a “budget” category. But costing half as much also means you can purchase twice the cameras for your own budget, and more cameras mean you get to cover more ground.
Whether for lack of space or in an effort to keep down costs, most small surveillance cameras offer comparatively fewer features than many of their pricier competitors. They may have fewer infrared emitters or shorter detection ranges, or they may take lower resolution images, but they are still plenty of camera for the average person’s needs.
As the cases of these trail cameras are relatively small, many of them do not offer the type of power options that larger cameras might. Larger trail cameras might require twice as many batteries as small ones, sometimes even more. Fewer batteries inevitably means shorter lifespans. Battery life is never as much of an issue for home-surveillance trail cameras as it is for those expected to sit in the woods for months at a time.
Home users have easy access for battery changes. It’s worth noting also that battery life depends greatly on which features you select (photo or video; high definition or low) and how busy your camera is. Besides, most of these small trail cameras don’t experience the draw of their more complicated brethren, so they live longer on fewer batteries.
The technology of the infrared LEDs in trail cameras has come a long way in recent years. Whereas older infrared LEDs lights always produced a soft red glow that was visible (at least to animals that can see red well), many of the newest cameras have so-called “black LEDs.” These lights don’t produce the red glow that might alert a person or animal that it is being recorded.
Few if any of the smallest trail cameras have those no-glow LEDs (read more about no-glow trail cameras here). Most are low-glow cameras, which helps keep their costs down but does mean their operation may be noticed. However, the glow is really confined to the LED bulb, and only a human would know what it is. Most animals shrug off the red light. Placing your camera in an area that a human would have difficult accessing makes the red glow harder to detect.
Theft of trail cameras is a problem for public-land hunters and property owners alike. It is always smart to lock up your trail cameras, but people don’t usually steal what they don’t see. Their diminutive size makes small trail cameras much harder to detect and much easier to camouflage.
Animals are less likely to notice a trail camera than a person is, so the problem of avoidance is really more of an issue for home owners than hunters. Surveillance systems are much more effective when trespassers do not know they are there. A small surveillance camera is less likely to attract attention, increasing the likelihood of it capturing evidence of trespassing.
Anyone who has packed away several trail cameras and set off into the wild understands that they are cumber some. The full-size trail cams may have all the bells and whistles, but somebody has to hike those things out there and install them. Small game cameras take up less space in the pack, and the pack weighs less with them in it. It’s that simple.
When all you need is a simple trail camera for surveillance or scouting, the smallest ones on the market are likely your best options. Their lower general cost often enables a homeowner or hunter on a budget to afford a second or third camera and cover more area. These smaller trail cameras offer the most bang for the buck, and make a simple job just that: simple.