Trail Camera Buyer Guide
1. Image Quality
Image quality is measured in Megapixels (MP) and is called resolution. More the MP better is the picture quality. Average Trail cameras come with a resolution of 5-7 MP. The range however is actually vast; with the best cameras giving as high as 20 MP in their class and basic inexpensive ones with 2 MP only.
- You may also find very cheap variants of trail cameras for as low as 1.5 MP.
- If your snaps and game recording is as important as the game itself, then we would recommend at least a 7 MP camera.
- It is better not to buy any camera under 5 MP. The pictures under 5 MP would usually be very shoddy especially when seen on a full screen. Their performance during night hunts is absolutely abysmal.
- With over 5 MP cameras, the difference between day snaps and night ones varies hugely.
- If your pocket allows and you would like a great contrast and fine pictures in the night, then go for a version which is 10 MP and onwards.
Point to remember is that if you have an infrared flash, then it is only black & white pictures that it will support in the night shots. In addition, for each megapixel you will have to shell out more money, so deciding on what is important is vital. In addition, if you plan to use your trail camera for Wild life photography, a high-resolution camera is recommended. Nevertheless, a camera strictly meant for game needs to be about 5-7 MP.
2. Battery and Power Options
A game lasts for hours and sometimes days, so that last thing you would want to worry about is dying power in your camera, so the battery is an important feature for game cameras. You have to remember that usually you would just mount the camera and leave it there unattended. Just imagine coming back to collect it and realizing that battery died in the middle of night!
Most of the brands have a range between 6 months to a year. However, the point to keep in mind is that the actual life tends to be less for the simple reason that some features of the camera take up a lot of battery power; and if you happen to use more of them then it will be drained much faster.
- An incandescent flash consumes a lot more power that it is Infrared counterparts. In the same way, a cellular camera drains batteries expeditiously when compared to the regular trail cams.
- Some cameras come with plug in option and are good choices if you tend to spend a lot of time in faraway wilderness at one go. However, you will have to carry the entire plug in system, which can be quite bulky.
- Look for cameras that have at least 8 sockets for AA batteries. Lithium batteries are much better than the alkaline batteries.
- You may also go for rechargeable ones, which are costlier but can last for years together. If you look at the overall cost of the high-end batteries and divide it over the years they last, you will find that they tend to be more economical.
- The rechargeable batteries are also weatherproof. Last but not the least, always check the recommended battery brand and try to stick to it.
- Go for cameras that include a battery indicator, which will protect you from an unexpected shut down.
3. Trigger Time
Trigger time is the time in which the camera detects movement and captures the snap. The whole process goes something like this- The animal enters the detection zone, and the sensors activate the camera, which in turn triggers the capture, and the snap is saved in the storage.
- By every logic, your camera’s trigger time has to be less i.e. much below one second. If this time is high than by the time camera captures, your game would have moved to the end of detection circuit.
- A slow trigger speed is suitable only for those games where you have to monitor something stationery; say a place where the deer herd resides or where you might have tied a bait.
- These are the only situations where the animal will hover and linger for quite some time. These cameras are also suitable for food plots that have a good visibility area.
- The fastest trigger speed available in market is 0.14 seconds! This range goes up to 4 seconds in some cameras.
- If you have a wireless cellular camera, this time will be a little on the higher side because the trigger time also includes the time that camera takes to transmit and store the picture in connected device.
4. Different Types of Trail Cameras
Buying a trail camera is no easy feat, considering the features you have to keep in mind, like motion detectors, resolution, focusing abilities, sharpness, pixels as well as an inconspicuous nature to be carried in the woods. Therefore, we have prepared a list for you, so that you can zero in on your favourite type of camera, one that suits your needs perfectly!
Cellular cameras record images and transmit them to your phone and tabs through internet. A sim needs to be inserted in the camera’s slot and then it uses it just like a phone. Most of these cameras work on GSM networks and you need to buy a data package for the sim. These cameras are coming with the feature of motion sensor nowadays, which activates with movement in front of the lens’ span. Cellular camera is a hassle free gadget, which is very easy to install and does not have tonnes of wires running around it.
Wireless Wi-Fi Camera
Wireless camera has an in-built transmitter, which transports images using a wireless network. You need to choose the wireless network of the receiving device in the camera to connect both of them. Wi-Fi cameras are relatively innovative but extremely user friendly and relevant to today’s times. They have fewer attachments and no wires, which is an appealing feature for an indoor or semi-indoor use.
Have you ever felt the need to track what is going on, in and around your house in your absence? You may have contemplated keeping an eye on your business establishment, office space, storage or the warehouse. This is especially applicable to those who have to put up a temporary shelter in the woods, while on their wildlife business. For these requirements, a fully enabled security camera, better known as surveillance camera is the best solution. Absolutely reliable, tamper proof and not prone to bias! If any untoward incident does take place, the camera records it in real time and you can use the footage as evidence later on. It also plays the role of a deterrent because miscreants would usually be cautious if they are aware of the presence of security camera around them.
- It also gives a very comforting sense of security, especially if you have experienced vandalism or robbery in your area of residence or business.
- This is however, the traditional use, these cameras are increasingly being used as trail cameras for use outdoors.
- These can also be used in case you have to temporarily put up in the woods, these cameras can help you monitor the wildlife in an around you and keep you one-step ahead of dangers of the wilderness around you.
- These cameras aren’t very potent in the wilderness; their efficacy has not been established or demonstrated properly for use in wild life setups very well.
However, there are a few points to keep in mind before a security camera is installed. Law forbids installation of recording devices in private areas like baths and toilets. So make sure that you are not standing in way of law while installing these cameras. If you have one inside your home, it is going to record all the private moments and conversations that you would not like to be shared. This is why data deletion has to be done regularly and carefully since the information, sharing is fast these days. In addition, everything invariably turns up on internet. In fact, make this a daily routine to delete the unwanted footage thereby avoiding other risks related to data leakage.
Infrared cameras are suitable in cases where tracking and recording is required in the night also. For ensuring a round the clock supply of video footage in the wild, no camera is better than the infrared. These cameras have high resolution and capture night images with a lot of clarity. They also come fitted with sensors that automatically switch the infrared function on and off.
These cameras have found an extensive usage in capturing wildlife due to their friendliness towards night or dim lit shots. Scientific researchers have always used infrared cameras in their experiments due to their sensitivity and high resolution captures.
- They are easy to install and usually come in a single unit with the lens and recording storage.
- Infrared cameras are very sturdy and can withstand tampering much more effectively.
- Their design is such that they do not give way easily when deliberately damaged.
- With all the advantages they have on their counterparts, the main disadvantage comes in form of their price tag. They are far more costly and therefore their use in smaller establishments and domestic surveillance has not gained much momentum.
- Owing to the LED lights mounted on them, their use around reflective surface has its limitation; the picture captured is just a blob of light, which reflects right back at the camera.
The flash camera is made for the night shots. For dark or night shots, the camera switches to flash mode for the capture. This one feature makes it usable throughout the day and night, while you are on the move.
- The set up is simple and very easy to install.
- They are highly portable, and are available in a variety of sizes enhancing their portability quotient
- The picture quality is extremely good, and the best of zoom capacities are available in flash cameras.
- The main disadvantage of this camera is its strength- The flash feature! A flash on the face is not a desirable experience and especially if it continuously goes on without any warning then it can be super annoying. This is an extreme drawback when shooting in the wild, it can easily scare off the animals and waste your valuable time
- Flash cameras are also known to make a shutter kind of noise as the flash comes to life. Both of these features make it unsuitable for wild life photography as the flash agitates the animals. For covert tracking too, this camera proves to be useless since there is nothing clandestine about it. The flash can be particularly unflattering for your neighbours if you are using if for outdoor monitoring.
5. Should I Go For Flash or Infrared?
There are two types of flashes available in trail cams- LEDs also known as incandescent flash and Infrared better known as invisible flash. Choosing right type of flash is an extremely important criterion as it can either hamper or facilitate the game.
- Incandescent flash has bright white light, which makes the pictures taken in shadows and dark quite clear and refined. The quality and contrast of the pictures is impressive. Even the night shots come in colours; though not as great as the day shots, they are pretty descent.
- The disadvantage of this camera is clearly that it can spook your game in the night. A bright white intense flash may also blind you for a few seconds. It can also attract other hunters in the area.
- If you use the camera for security purposes then it will alert the intruders. The bright Flash is also a nuisance for others in the neighbourhood.
- On the other hand, the Infrared flash creates an invisible zone and does not draw any attention. The only visibility that the flash may have is a red dot on the camera, which is quite unnoticeable.
- Some newer models have hidden this red light as well making the camera completely hidden.
- For covert night games, infrared is the most suitable option. Some brands have come up with interchangeable flashlights. You may go for these models as they give you an option of changing to Infrared invisible or incandescent white flash as per your needs.
6. Detection Circuit
Detection circuit of the camera refers to the range within which camera’s sensors can detect the movement and trigger the camera for capturing the picture. The range is measured in feet whereas trigger speed in seconds.
- Naturally, the long-range cameras are preferred for hunting in wild or even a farm. Nowadays cameras with detection range of almost 100 feet can be found in the market.
- However, while buying you needs to be sure that they deliver what they are claiming. Some of the models may manage only 2/3rds of the range and the performance of camera is a little doubtful beyond this 2/3rd.
- The average range of trail cameras is 60-70 feet. A low range is suitable only if you have a very limited area to cover otherwise go for a long-range camera.
- Along with the distance in feet, you must also find out the field of view, which is basically the width of the angles within which the camera can detect the movement. A wide field view means better capture because the movement will be in range for a higher time.
- Trigger speed and the recovery time are very important aspects as they determine the number of articulate shots that you will be able to take at a time.
- The animal you are going to capture is not going to hover at one place for a long time; in fact, most of them may just pass by giving you a window of a few seconds only. Trigger speeds of as low as 0.14 seconds is available in the market.
- Any speed beyond 1 second is considered very slow and may hamper your game. Recovery time is the time in which the camera is ready for the next capture which can be as low as 3.3 seconds and as high as 5.5.
- Remember the cellular cameras have a very high recovery time because they transmit the picture after capture and storage; it is only then that they get ready for the next snap.
Therefore, a speed of over 5 seconds is very normal and considered fast. However, if you are hunting for a very fast-paced animal in your game then cellular camera might not fit in the bill.8.
7. Video or Picture
The quality of a picture is measured in megapixels. Trail cameras have an average resolution of 5-7 Megapixels, which is usually enough; unless of course your priority is a high resolution snap. However, for hunting needs the average resolution is more than enough. Some cameras are available whose USP is high-resolution pictures.
- These cameras come with 12 MP to almost 20 MP. 20 MP is the highest resolution claimed by the brands of trail cameras. Most of the cameras available nowadays come with the video option.
- These all support videos ranging from 3 to 300 seconds. Some of them have a video recording only in black & white option while other may give out coloured video with HD quality.
- However, you have to keep in mind that if your game takes place in the night then there is not much of a difference which quality you are using. Some video recording do not have audio function, so basically you end up with a video, which is mute.
- Whenever buying the camera, check this feature for audio as well. Flashlights of the trail camera hugely determine the picture quality and also the detection range of the camera.
- These Flashlights come in the variants of LEDs and Infrared. LEDs have strong white flash and therefore the picture has stark contrast and lively colours.
- These cameras can also capture coloured night scenes. However, the other side is that LED can compromise your hunt by spooking other hunters and also the animal. For security purposes too, these lights are not ideal as they give away the position of the camera and alert the intruder.
- They can also be a nuisance to your neighbours with intense flash filtering into their houses every night. Some of these cameras come with flash off or no flash option also. However, since these cameras are designed to use a flashlight, you may end up with just black blank pictures without them.
- Depending on how vast the range is, the camera may be mounted with 5-50 LED lights. On the other hand, Infrared is your perfect companion in covert games. It does not spook or draw attention to itself.
- At most, it may have a dot like red indicator, which is not very noticeable. In fact, many brands have done away with this red light in some of their models making the camera completely clandestine and covert.
The infrareds have invisible flash, which will not blind you like the ordinary LEDs. The only flip side is that they support only black & white pictures in the night. The quality of contrast may not be very impressive but they are best suited for night expeditions.
Most of the cameras show compatibility with 32 GB SD card. However, some can accommodate a higher storage capacity. Some cameras with memory that goes as low as 8 GB are also on the shelves, however think before you pick them; you do not want the hassle of camera stopping in between the hunt for want of storage capacity.
- The requirement of the card depends on your usage. If you have a camera, which takes multiple shot, i.e. one trigger results in more than one picture so that there is at least one perfect snap, then you will need big data storage.
- This kind of camera stores all the pictures, which can be reviewed and deleted later on. However, during the game, you will not be able to delete the unwanted snaps and they will keep occupying the data card.
- Point to keep in mind is that a hunt goes on for a very long period. The video enabled camera also needs a vast memory and the one, which has HD recording will eat up the entire space in no time.
- Your need to record a video will also play a decisive factor here because pictures take up lesser memory than videos. A picture of high resolution needs more storage space so if your pictures are high resolution and High definition an additional storage may come handy.
- When your game goes on for some time period then also back up storage may help you. If you are using your trail camera for security purposes, the existence of a good storage would be helpful.
- Otherwise, you will go on deleting the data every couple of days especially if there is a lot of activity around your house, in terms of people, animal or vehicular traffic. Another important point to be kept in mind is to make sure that right brand and quality of SD card is being used in the camera. Remember not all SD cards run properly in all cameras.
Stick to the recommended brand and storage capacity to get the best of the camera and for the safety of your recordings and captures.
9. Security Boxed and Anti Theft Cables
Trail cameras are not exactly cheap and therefore, they themselves can become victims of theft or be dislodged in the wilds due to frequent movements! Though trail cameras are sturdy in their built considering their extensive outdoor usage; they can be damaged easily especially in cases of vandal and where cameras are not exactly covert.
- Security boxes and theft cables are the items that can rule out the damage or theft of your camera to a large extent. The security boxes come in strong material like steel, which protects the camera from a direct blow and scratches.
- Before you pick a camera that comes with a security box, check how compact it is. If space is your constraint and your priority is to have a compact camera then make sure you take a look at the security box as well.
- The lock mechanism of the security box needs to be foolproof but simple. You do not want to be struggling with the lock that just refuses to come undone with easy strokes. Security boxes also come in various shades and colours like solid black, camouflage etc.
- The different exteriors are not for enhancing the aesthetics but for making the cameras covert by blending them with their backgrounds.
- Therefore, a game in the wild requires a camouflaged exterior, which does not draw the attention of an animal or other hunters and intruders. Buy your security box only after trying it out with your camera.
- A slightest of mismatch in size will lead to disruption in front of the flashlights or camera shutter. They also come with hooks and brackets which makes them easy to install and mount.
- Anti-theft cables are quite indispensable and you must buy them along with your camera. These cables will prove valuable when you have to mount your camera for a perfect shot.
- You can tighten or loosen their grip very easily. Since they have a free size, you do not have to have multiple of them for a “Just in case” scenario. Remember a trail camera needs to be set up in various different and vastly opposite conditions.
- At times, they may be mounted on a tree or placed on a rock at other times. Not every time will you get a place where it can be safely installed. The strong cables are usually made by twisting a number of thin steel cables together to give out a robust and tough built.
- It is usually covered with a vinyl coating so that it is soft to touch and the steel does not hurt while handling. There is a locking system, which can be slid easily over the cable and fastened wherever the grip is required. This locking system should also be thoroughly checked just to ensure that it is not complicated.
10. Viewing Screens
Not all trail cameras come with a viewing screen, but it is an important feature of the camera without any doubt. Viewing screen can play an important role in setting up the camera in the right direction and height. You can also review the pictures taken immediately if your camera has the viewing screen.
- In cases where the SD card has run out of memory in the midst of your adventure, you can begin deleting the unwanted pictures by reviewing them and freeing up some space on the card. Deleting is not recommended where you have a tiny and regular screen.
- Many cameras come with HD supporting and LCD viewing screen; however, it is up to you and your requirement as to the kind of viewing screen you need. An LCD viewing screen is better but cost is higher compared to your usual screen.
- It may also be more sensitive than the regular screen. However, use of screen cover can protect it from the general wear and tear in vulnerable outdoor hunts. Viewing screen is simple to use and makes the camera set up very easy.
- The only flip side of having an external viewing screen is that it can make the camera a little bulkier considering that it has to accommodate this additional screen on the exteriors of the camera. Viewing screens come in various sizes that you need to choose for yourself.
- A viewing screen, which is too small, shall be useless because it will not serve the very purpose for which it was built. On the other hand, a large screen will compromise the size of the cameras.
- You do not want to carry an elephant around on your games! If you have a habit of retrieving your pictures frequently then remember that this functionality drains out the battery pretty quickly.
11. Budget and Price
It all comes down to your pocket after all! If your pocket allowed, you would buy the best that is available. The game or trail cameras come in a wide price range of $80 to an eye popping $10K! Therefore, as we mentioned it does really come to your pocket. This is why your priorities have to be very clear before you step out to buy a trail camera. The first point is to put yourself in a category of a beginner or a Pro.
- As a beginner, you have to understand, that you might not be availing all the features of the Camera so buying a fully loaded gadget might prove to be too expensive and foolish.
- However, if you have every intention of continuing and pursuing this sport and learning it rather quickly then you may think about a higher version. Basically, “better to have it and not use then not have it and need it”.
- Your usage also needs to be kept it in mind. If you need this camera for security purposes, then taking in view the area to be covered will help you in saving on detection range. A camera with 100 feet detection range is much costlier than the one, which is only 50.
- If you want the camera to be installed in, a 40 feet lobby then why buy a camera with a longer detection range. Similarly, you must be sure about the kind of flash you need. If the use of the camera is not covert, for e.g. in an office space, then buying an infrared invisible camera is not required.
- Remember a great picture resolution comes with a hefty price tag. If your requirement is, strictly hunting and that too in the night then do not go for a high-resolution camera.
- Night scenes in high-resolution trail cameras usually come in black & White shades only. One more important tip is to go for a reputed manufacturer and brand. An unknown and not so popular brand may provide you all the features at lesser price, but remember it will not have the quality that an established brand would provide.
- You do not want small nagging obstacles during your game. The established brands have learnt from mistakes and lot of research. They have had years to improvise their products so chances of getting a sub-standard quality are next to none.
- Your choice in resolution, flash, HD video enabled and external viewing screen has bearing on battery life and storage as well. A camera with high-end features as these may require a data storage card with an extended memory.
- Good quality data card are not very cheap. Apart from these, the rate at which you will exhaust the batteries will go up manifold. Over years, you will run into a big number spent just on the batteries.
You can spend as much as you want when it comes to a trail camera. The features are appealing and accessories are innumerable so there really is no limit. However, do not get overwhelmed or lose yourself with the flow. Prepare a budget and stick to it. A few dollars here and there is all right, but if you are deviating by hundreds then just stop and think if this is really what you need.