Finding the Best Trail Camera
What Is a Trail Camera?
Game cameras are made in tough designs with motion-activated features for capturing images of wildlife. They have become an important tool for hunters and are also used for home security purposes. It takes out all the guesswork out of your blind or stand placements. It allows you to keep track of the animals that frequent your hunting ground and lets you see the places they visit the most. You don’t need to sit in the tree stands or blind and wait for the animal to appear. Game cameras do this time consuming task for you. So you can just view the collected images and if the current location of the camera didn’t yield any good results, then move it to another. Mostly all the hunting cameras come in a weatherproof design. They usually feature a long battery life, so you can leave it strapped to a tree for long periods of time. There are various cameras available, with features that might be of more or less of importance to you. To get a product that would be worth the money and which would benefit your hunting experience, it’s important to understand what to look for.
Types of Trail Cameras
When choosing the best hunting camera, one of the important factors to consider is the type you need. Game cameras basically have two types. One of them is flash trail cameras, and the other is infrared cameras. Both have their own benefits. Below you can find out more about each one, and more detailed information about general game camera features.
Flash Trail Cameras
This type of game cameras comes with an incandescent bulb like 35 mm. It features a trigger that needs to be pressed in order for the bulb to lighten up. Without the trigger being pressed, it acts as a normal camera. Flash trail cameras are also equipped with a motion sensor. It triggers the camera, it starts recording and snaps a photo of the area in front of the lens. These cameras can take pictures day and night, providing color images for day photos and black and white images for night photos. However, they have a shorter battery life and when it takes a photograph, it can scare the animal.
Infrared Trail Cameras
Infrared trail cameras are the latest type introduced to the market. They work by detecting the heat that the objects emit. They determine the amount of heat and color-code of that object according to the emitted infrared radiation. Instead of the flash effect, infrared wildlife cameras light up an LED panel, which is triggered by a sensor. The benefit of this type of cameras is that it snaps photos without drawing much attention and spooking the game. They also have extended battery life, so you can leave them out for longer.
Wireless Trail Cameras
One more type of trail cameras is wireless/cellular. These game cameras use a SIM card or WiFi connection to instantly send the captured images to your electronic device, such as phone or tablet. This type of cameras is especially useful for surveillance use, as you can at once see who is trespassing on your property. By reading our best wireless trail camera article you will be sure to find a high quality product.
What to Look For When Shopping for the Best Game Camera
With so many trail cameras on the market today, it can be confusing to understand which features are important and which are just added for marketing reasons. To help you make the best decision, we have created this guide on what to look for when purchasing a game camera.
You can start to narrow down the choice of game cameras by deciding the type of flash you need. It can be infrared or incandescent, both of which has its own advantages and disadvantages. There are also other types, such as no glow infrared, red glow infrared, and white LED flash cameras.
- As we have mentioned above, infrared allows taking images at night without emitting a bright white flash. So the photo will be snapped as discreetly as possible, without spooking the animal and anyone seeing the flash. When the flash goes off, there’s only a tiny red dot on the camera. Their downside is that they produce only black and white nighttime images.
- Incandescent cameras, on the other hand, give a color photo clearly showing the type and size of the game. So if you prefer seeing the true color of the animal, an incandescent camera would be a better one to choose. The crisp nighttime images are provided by the flash, which is much like from a digital camera. That can scare away the animals and uses up more of battery charge.
These two types also differ in recovery time. It’s shorter for the infrared camera, so it will be able to snap more photos in a shorter period of time, while for the incandescent camera it will be less.
- The no glow infrared cameras feature a flash that stays invisible to the human eye. This can be especially useful if you are using the camera for security and home surveillance. The intruder or the passer by will not see that the camera is taking a picture of him. The animals will also not notice the camera, so you can be sure that the camera will capture an image of the animal and it will not run away. However, the downside of this type is that no glow cameras produce darker and grainier nighttime images, and the flash range is lesser compared to other types.
- Red glow cameras do emit light when taking a picture, but it’s just a faint red glow. If you are not looking directly at the camera, you probably won’t notice the flash. Red glow cameras are typically brighter and more clear than no glow infrared cameras.
- White LED flash is the only type of flash that is capable to produce color images and videos during both day and night time. The LEDs stay on as the camera records a video, resulting in color images. The downside is the bright light of the flash, just like with the incandescent flash cameras. Any object, be it an animal, an intruder, or just some kids with nothing to do, that is passing by will be alerted of its presence. So anyone who sees it can potentially steal it.
So which flash option is the best?
A lot of the game camera users prefer the infrared option due to a number of reasons. However, the LED flash has its benefits as well.
With an LED flash trail camera you can expect to have superior picture quality. They will be more crisp and clear and have higher resolution. There’s also the benefit of capturing color photos both day and night time. However, the bright light of the flash can spook the animal. Also, LED flash cameras need some time to charge before being able to take the next picture. This results in longer recovery time and higher power consumption.
On the other hand, infrared cameras can only produce black and white images for night time recording. They might not be as clear and can have some blurriness. However, they stay virtually invisible to passing objects, so there’s less chance of it getting stolen or it scaring the animal. Also, the longer battery life and the faster trigger time is also definitely a huge benefit.
So if you care more about higher quality of pictures or if you’ll be using the camera just to watch the wildlife in your backyard, the LED flash camera might be the better choice for you. But if you’ll be using the camera for hunting, scouting, or home surveillance purposes, an infrared camera is more recommended.
Another important aspect of trail cameras that should be taken into consideration when buying a trail cam is its detection circuit. It consists of 3 features: the detection zone, trigger time and recovery time.
When choosing the camera, it’s important to check in the specifications the detection width and distance. The detection zone tells you the maximum distance between the camera and animal for it to be able to trigger the animal. The zone includes the width and distance.
The range is measured in feet. Lower priced models usually offer around 50 feet, while more advanced models will reach 85 or more feet. Unless you are mounting the camera in a spot that has a narrow field of view, you should ensure that the camera has a wide detection range. It would be a shame for the animal to be just a couple of feet outside the detection zone. So we recommend investing in a model with better width and distance.
Some trail cameras claim to have a higher detection range than they are actually capable of. So it’s useful to check reviews before buying a certain model.
Trigger time means the time between the moment when the hunting camera picked up the heat and motion needed for triggering the shot and when it actually snapped the photo. In high-end cameras, the speed is usually a fraction of a second. It’s best to look for a trail camera with fast trigger speed, as it makes the difference between capturing the animal in the shot and just missing it.
Look for cameras that have trigger speed less than 1 second. Otherwise, by the time the camera will be triggered, the animal will be out of the range. The fastest speed you can find on the market today is just 0.14 seconds. Some of the slower models can have the trigger speed as slow as several seconds.
A slow trigger speed will probably only work fine for you, if you will be using the camera if you will monitoring a food plot or game feeder. In this case the animals will be moving around the area slowly, so the fast trigger speed will not be that necessary.
Recovery time means the amount of time that the camera needs before being able to capture the next picture. So obviously a quicker recovery time will give you more photos. Older trail camera models had the recovery speed as slow as 30 or 60 seconds. This means you could have only one or two pictures per minute. In today’s cameras you will find it as fast as just several seconds.
However, cellular and wireless cameras have a slower recovery time due to the fact that they also need time to transmit the first captured image. After that they are ready to take the next picture.
Image quality is also one of the most important features of a hunting camera. These devices also offer a varying degree of view. It means the width of the angle that the camera lens can capture. The standard degree is 50, but it’s even better if you can get one with a degree above that. During the day trail cameras produce a full-color picture and video, but the images taken at night are black and white. The nighttime images are taken using infrared flash technology. Another important factor is resolution. It’s the amount of pixels an image can contain. Like with any other types of camera, higher resolution means crisper and clearer images, and also a higher price tag. With lower resolution cameras, you will still the animal in the shot, though it won’t be that clear. So it’s up to you to consider how important it is to have a clear image of the animal. We recommend looking for a camera with a picture resolution of at least 8 megapixels. With high resolution you can clearly view the animal and also zoom in on the picture.
Most of the game cameras are powered by batteries. They can run on AA, C or D batteries. Fewer of the models, you can find, use 6 and 12-volt batteries. Like with many other features, lower price means shorter battery life, while higher priced models will work longer. However, keep in mind that by choosing a camera with short battery life, you will need to continuously check and replace the batteries, which can also be costly and time-consuming. Also, infrared cameras compared to incandescent ones will work longer, as they use less of battery life. Temperature is also a factor that affects the battery life. If you will place it in a cold environment, you will be replacing the batteries more often.
If you’re living far away from the mounted game camera location, having good power for your camera is a real concern. On many of the cameras you will find the batteries lasting months. However, on others it will be just few weeks. So the batteries should certainly not be overlooked. Whichever type of batteries you choose, they should be of good quality. For example, Energizer and Duracell are good options.
Types of Batteries
Rechargeable Nimh Batteries
Some of the people prefer the rechargeable Nimh batteries. On one set you can expect to have about 3-4 years of battery life. Again, the battery life will depend on the quality of the battery itself.
The advantages of Nimh batteries is saving money in the long run and lesser impact on the environment as you will leave less batteries in the landfills.
The disadvantage though is that they usually use lower voltage compared to alkaline and lithium batteries. Fully charged they produce about 1.4 volts. But on a working level it quickly decreases to 1.2 volts. However, most cameras work on a 1.5 volt/cell scenario. Due to this the camera can think that the batteries are dead and will tend to shut itself off. This is mostly true for the trail camera models manufactured before 2011. Most of the more recent models are compatible with rechargeable batteries.
Avoid using Nimh batteries during periods of really high temperatures. During high heat periods the battery life will sharply decline. When the temperature rises above 90 degrees it’s best to switch to alkaline batteries.
Also, remember that the battery should be put to use right after fully charging. After being removed from the charger the battery will immediately start to self discharge, even if you are not using it.
The most widely available batteries are alkaline. They are also the least expensive option. However, they have their drawbacks.
The alkaline batteries come with a power voltage of 1.6. But the minute they are inserted into something, the power at once starts to drain. The decrease in the voltage level will be shown on the quality of the pictures taken. In the beginning, you will see the brilliant flash producing stunning photos with good color and brightness. But as the flash range potential of the camera will diminish, you will see a significant decline in the picture quality. You will see every subsequent night photo less illuminated and it will continue this way up until the point where the photos will be just pitch black.
Also, alkaline batteries don’t work well in cold temperatures. In sub-freezing weather they can lose up to half its capacity. So overall, alkaline batteries might be cheap and available everywhere, but they don’t provide consistent power and don’t work well in low temperatures.
The most dependable type of battery and the type I would recommend as well is the lithium type. They offer a number of benefits.
First of all, they provide the most power. So the pictures result in better quality as there’s more light produced by the flash. The highest voltage for the lithium batteries is 1.8 volts. The high voltage also means longer battery life and longer time for your camera to be able to stay in the field.
The chemical characteristic of lithium batteries also allows them to stay unaffected by low temperatures.
Unfortunately, if your camera is designed for use with D cell batteries, the lithium batteries won’t work. But if the camera requires C cell, you can use the lithium ones as they measure exactly the same in size. Inserting AA lithiums instead of C cells makes a great substitution as you will be able to benefit from higher voltage.
The downside to lithiums is that they are more expensive and you also have to throw them out when the battery wears out.
Other Power Options
Optionally, you can connect an external battery for your trail camera’s power supply. On most cameras you will find either a 6v or a 12v input for an external battery. This makes a good solution if you live far away and can’t regularly change the battery. Keep in mind though that the battery should be designed for use with exactly your model. Rigging the connector can result in frying your camera.
Solar Power Panels
If you want to ensure a continued power supply for your game camera, you can choose the solar panels option. It makes a great substitution for standard batteries if you’ve got your camera placed anywhere where there’s clear sky above. Using the sun’s power you can have the camera working in the field for several years and not have to worry about the battery power running out.
When choosing a solar panel for your trail cam, make sure that it matches the batteries required for the camera. If the camera works on 6 volts, then you should also choose a 6 volt solar panel.
Some of the higher-end cameras also offer a video option that allows recording the activity. It’s important to note, though, that video clips take up a large amount of memory, so you will need a higher capacity SD card.
For memory storage on your camera you have two options: internal memory or an SD card. The benefit of an internal memory is that you don’t need to additionally purchase an SD card. However, you won’t have as much storage capacity and to transfer the images to your computer you will have to take down the entire unit, carry it home and hook it up to a computer. SD cards are available in various storage amounts. Also, it’s more convenient to view the images by just taking out the SD card and popping it into your digital camera or computer.
It’s recommended to choose the external memory card. First of all, there’s no hassle of removing the camera to view the pictures it has captured. You can get an extra external memory card and just swap it with the one inside. So it’s much easier to get all the pictures and there’s no down time for the camera.
An external memory card can also be easily upgraded. Whenever you decide to upgrade, you just get a higher capacity card and replace it instead of the old one. If you are using internal memory, it would probably cost as much as getting a new camera.
In the characteristics of most of trail cams you will find that they are compatible with 36 GB SD cards. On some cams you can also find compatibility with higher capacity, while on some more budget ones it can be as low as 8 GB. However, think twice before choosing such low memory capacity, as it will bring a lot of hassle of frequent deleting of the written data.
The memory capacity you need depends on your usage of the camera, the settings you choose. If you will be using a video mode, higher picture resolution, or a multiple shot setting, you will need a vast memory. To get the best results, stick to the recommended storage capacity for your cam.
This might not be the most important feature, but those who use it, don’t regret paying a bit extra for it. It’s not available on all trail cams but it makes a useful feature to have if the location of the game camera is long distance from home or if you want to see the images at once without having to use the computer.
An integrated viewing screen offers a number of advantages:
- When setting up the camera it allows you to get the perfect angle and height. So you won’t have to take the camera home and only then realize that the camera was mounted in the wrong place.
- If your memory cards runs out of storage capacity, you cat at once view the captured images and delete the unwanted ones to free some space. However, on some of the cameras the screen is quite small, so you can’t clearly see the details in the picture.
- You can view the settings and the number of pictures the camera has taken.
Trail cameras are not such a cheap investment, so you should take care to protect it. There’s always the chance that it can get stolen or dislodged due to extensive outdoor use. So it’s best to minimize that chance.
You can get a security box for your camera. They are usually made of steel and this strong material will protect the unit from direct blows and scratches. The security box should have a lock mechanism and it should be foolproof. Anti-theft cables which are made of thin twisted thin cables put together also work. But they don’t provide 100 percent protection. Cable cutters still work.
Mostly trail cams come in camouflage designs which helps them to blend in with their background. As a precaution you can try mounting your camera higher as a thieve is less likely to look up looking for cameras. However, the best position for a camera for best quality photos is about 2-3 feet off the ground.
Some other features that you can also find useful in trail cameras include a time-lapse mode and audio for video recording. Time-lapse mode works by taking pictures with a set time interval. In this mode, it can capture an image of the animal even if it’s outside the detection zone. The flash is triggered by time, rather than by motion of the animal. This is useful for viewing a movement pattern of the game during the day. Audio recording is the feature that sometimes comes with the video mode. This feature is useful as it allows getting more sense of the animal’s movements, because even if the animal moves out of the camera’s view, you will still be able to hear it. Audio also adds more realism to the video clips.
Mostly game cameras don’t really differ in design. They usually come in small sizes and camouflage design. This is done in order to be unnoticeable by the animals.
Top Trail Camera Brands
In trail camera industry there’re many companies competing on the market. Some are more popular, while others are just starting out. However, to make sure that you get the best quality game camera it’s best to choose one from a reliable brand. On our site we review the most popular brands, so you can be assured that you are getting the best value. Below are some of the most popular brands on the market today.
Bushnell is an american company and it is definitely one of the most recognizable names in the hunting industry. In addition to game cameras they have many other products in optics and imaging. They include night vision equipment, telescopes, binoculars, spotting scopes, and other.
Bushnell also offers a good range of high quality game cameras. They are available with different sets of features and in different price range. Whether you are looking for an infrared, incandescent, or wireless camera, you will find one in the Bushnell’s vast line of products. Their cameras offer top user experience with a wide range of features, such as no glow infrared, HD video recording, high resolution images, multiple setting options, wireless technology, and other.
Another leader in the industry is the Moultrie brand. They have a fine line of game cameras and accessories that can be used for both home surveillance and nature observing. They also offer high resolution and vivid color images. On many of the models you will also find high definition video recording feature. One of their most impressive models is the Panoramic 150, which offers the widest angle of the detection zone.
Primos manufactures almost any type of product that you could possibly need for hunting. Their products are known for their high quality features, and their game cameras are no exception. In Primos line of products you can find both high end cameras and more simple and affordable models.
Browning is one more brand that offers some of the best game cams on the market. In addition to trail hunting cameras, the brand also offers firearms and optics. The features of Browning cameras that really stand out include Night Vision infrared illumination, time lapse image capturing, fast trigger speeds, and exceptional image quality.
There are several more popular brands worth mentioning. They have a smaller line of products, but some of their game cameras also made it to our top 10 list. These brand names include Reconyx, Wildgame Innovations, Stealth, and SpyPoint.
5 Common Mistakes with Game Cameras
- Using a high speed SD card. These high speed SD cards are designed for digital and high-end point and shoot cameras. They don’t work well with game cameras as they don’t write as fast to the SD card due to their tradeoff with long battery life. So using a high speed SD card with your trail camera can give you some strange results.
- Viewing the contents of the SD card on a digital camera. A lot of people do this to view the images in the field. There’s nothing wrong with doing that, but you can cause a problem if you try to delete the images using the digital camera. A game camera needs a specific file structure to be able to save the files to the SD card. Deleting them on the digital camera can cause the camera to rewrite those files. So if you would like to delete some of the photos using the digital camera, first reformat the files on the game camera. This will give you better results.
- Using low quality or different batteries. Batteries are not created equal, so not every battery will be suitable for your game camera. Also don’t go for cheap batteries. Duracell and Energizer cost more for a good reason. For optimal results always use lithium batteries. They last longer and work better.
- Mounting your camera facing east or west. As with any camera, you don’t want it taking pictures while facing the setting or rising sun. You will definitely not get the high quality results you need. So whenever possible have your camera mounted facing either north or south.
- Mounting the camera too high or too low. For best results it is recommended for the camera to be at about 2-3 feet above the ground. In some cases if you have to mount the camera higher, you can point it more downward so it will be able to detect whatever you are after.
How to Easily Mount a Trail Camera
The Bottom Line
In the above trail camera reviews were mentioned the most popular and best rated game cameras. These models also come with the top-notch features that will enhance your wildlife scouting or hunting experience. If you are looking for the best trail camera, then you are sure to find among these 13 models the one that would best suit your needs. They can be used for both watching wildlife moving patterns, hunting and security purposes. The best game camera for the money should come in a rugged and weatherproof design, should give high quality and resolution images, have fast trigger speed and recovery time.