The best trail cameras of 2020 can take remarkable night pictures with infrared technology, protect your investments with added security and use cellular technology to report to you what they’ve seen and send these straight to your email or text message. The trail camera reviews written for 2015 are already lagging behind. Newer cellular cameras, shorter camera trigger speed, better battery life and better infrared range come out every month it seems.
Hunters these days have unlimited access to the best trail cameras at very affordable prices. The opportunities for night pictures and 24 hour eyes on location are luxuries that can now be afforded by purchasing trail cameras that can be bought for under $100.
As the technology of these cameras get better their use expands. Trail cams can now communicate with one another, they time stamp pictures and you can figure out exactly how long your targets spend in between the two trail cameras. Be it deer, bear or trespassers during the day or the night, trail cameras can be used for security or for game scouting.
In A Hurry? These 3 Are The Best:
- 5.0 megapixel Low Glow infrared game camera
- 50-ft nighttime illumination range (AKA flash range)
- Long-Range 850nm IR LED Infrared
- Moon phase, time, date and camera ID stamp
- Picture delay 10 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute, & 5 minutes
The legendary A5 Gen 2 game camera from Moultrie is the best “low price” game camera. At roughly half the price of many others, you’ll get a perfect camera for beating up and putting away wet. This camera recently went through an update that gives you more infrared LEDs, a shorter relay time and better battery life (see our review on the previous Moultrie A-5 by clicking here).
The camera takes common and inexpensive AA batteries that can take an astounding 16,000 images without needing to be replaced. The Moultrie A5 Gen 2 also is compatible with the solar panel available from Moultrie to extend the battery life nearly forever. The whole design of the unit is to provide an extremely easy to use package that doesn’t get into the way of your hunt. This is done extremely well.
The battery and controls are crammed in tight but still extremely easy to access and use. The simple sliders to set everything from the delay times to image details lets you optimize battery life and storage space.
The camera has a 40ft range with a 50ft flash making it very balanced and shoots video in 640×480 for a nice balance of detail while keeping prices rock bottom. The main drawback of this camera is the trigger speed. It’s a whopping 1.5 seconds. This can be a problem, 1.5 seconds is about three times longer than it takes for a deer to walk by a camera at close range.
With the A5 you also give up a small package and the face of the camera itself is cluttered and stands out in the woods. This camera overall is a compromise and the reason to buy is the price. These cameras are great for the public land hunter who needs the information about game movement and is not worried on how much the equipment costs if it gets stolen.
- Color images by day and monochrome infrared images at night
- NoGlow GEN3 High Output Covert IR illumination for a 150' flash range
- Records 720P HD video with audio
Reconyx is the crème-de-la-crème of trail cameras. These are the absolute best trail cameras manufactured and the Hyperfire from Reconyx is the best security trail camera made. The Hyperfire comes in several different configurations so giving exact details is difficult and depends on the exact model you chose.
The Hyperfire line up comes in hunting specific models that take catalog ready pictures, to security cameras that take ultra-crisp court ready security pictures to even a specialized model made for getting pictures of license plates entering or leaving a property. The trigger time of these units is advertised at .2 seconds and can take pictures at moving targets up to 50mph. This is ideal in the event you need a picture of a speeding getaway car.
The performance of this camera is really incredible. Law enforcement agencies use these very units for surveillance. The battery life lasts a year on AA batteries and can take a whopping 40,000 pictures in either 3.1mp or 1080 HD and video in the same quality. The burst modes, and times delays of this unit blow other cameras out of the water and can make the set up complicated but worth it with security on the line.
The accessory line up for the Reconyx cameras is second to none. Lock boxes are available for every model and security cables fit around the units easily. The face of the cameras is reflective and is easy to disguise. Specifically, for the security market, Reconyx markets several products designed to disguise the cameras. A really great product is their fake cable post . It’s a plastic post designed to look like a cable post but has a cutout for their trail cameras.
- Featuring an industry leading 1/4 second trigger speed that captures the deer that so many other cameras would miss
- Interchangeable flash modules allow the camera to become a color, IR or Black Flash (IR and Black Flash Modules sold separately)
- 20MP color daytime and color nighttime images. 50 foot flash range
- Video mode included
- Features Genius Mount. With Genius Mount, the user does not bang the camera around while strapping it to a tree, he/she simply straps or screws the mount to the tree then slides the camera on and off as needed. (Strap included, screws not included)
Cuddeback Trail cameras are known for two things, great optical quality in their lenses and pictures and a lightning fast trigger. The result of this reputation is a great company that puts out easy to use cameras at a respectable price. The camera is made of a tough plastic shell and while the outside is more noticeable in the woods their overall size is small enough where it shouldn’t be a problem.
The IR Long range is the cheapest camera from Cuddeback, but is the best Infrared trail camera Cuddeback has ever made. Although this camera is cheap, what this camera brings is features usually reserved for expensive cameras at a price tag that’s reasonable.
The Long range IR capability extends out to an unbelievable 100ft with 2 watts of flash. The high quality camera is outfitted with a 20-megapixel camera that snaps shut with a trigger speed of ¼ second. This trigger speed is advertised as the world’s fastest trigger speed. Whether this is true or not; this is more than adequate for anything this camera is designed for.
This is truly the best game camera on the market for the money. It has two modes of set up, one simple, and a more advanced option. It has the ability to shoot video in 16:9 HD or set to a lower resolution to save the battery life and storage space. The battery life, by the way, is rated for an astounding 30,000 pictures. That should last one right around a full year of field use.
With the extra cash left over you can take advantage of the lock boxes Cuddeback offers to keep this awesome camera on your tree. While the face of the camera is cluttered and the unit is more noticeable in the woods the small tradeoff is well worth it.
Browning Recon Force FHD Camera
Browning, a company known for machine guns and fine rifles, is behind a premium line of outdoor equipment, including very high quality trail cameras. This particular camera, the Recon Force FHD, is a great deal at any price. This camera is a super small package that delivers high quality field knowledge on game. This is primarily a hunting trail camera. It disguises easily and has many features that hunters will appreciate.
This camera has an astounding 100ft flash range but only a 55ft detection range. This makes it particularly well suited for the time lapse feature that can be set up on the camera. Night pictures caught on the 10mp camera will be nice and bright albeit, black and white due to the infrared flash this camera uses.
The camera on this unit can be set to take a burst of 2 to 8 images or set to take a video in 1080 HD that can last up to 2 minutes in length. The camera can even be delayed to take a series of pictures over several minutes. This combined with the time lapse feature can tell you exactly where the game is coming from and where it’s going.
One of the coolest features this camera comes with is a feature Browning calls “Zero Blur Technology.” This is exclusive to the browning camera and is a way the camera sees the target and takes a picture that is always in focus and crystal clear no matter the conditions. The camera senses an animal, adjusts the lens, fires the flash and takes the picture all in an advertised .67 seconds.
All these features are easy to use and the unit is easy to access while still being tough enough to take the abuse of all year weather exposure. Taking into consideration the price and features the Browning Recon Force is by far the best game camera for hunters.
Stealth Cam G30
The Stealth Cam G30 is a great compromise camera. This is the best trail camera under $100 . Everything this camera does it does well enough to be a good buy. Coming in slightly below $100 with batteries and an SD card this is the perfect set-and-forget trail camera.
The camera comes with a user adjustable 2mp, 4mp or 8mp shooting mode that allows you to set the camera to fit with the level of details you want. Having this feature will help you save battery life and storage space. The detail at all levels is clear enough to identify individuals and game within the range of the camera. The IR flash at night works fine and the red glow from the flash isn’t extremely bright like on some of the cheaper models available.
The Stealth Cam G30 will accept up to a 32gb SD card and the battery life is advertised at a respectable 10,000 images. The whole package makes this camera great for that out of the way honey hole that you’ll see to check the tree stand and then to harvest your buck.
This trail camera can be linked to an external power source such as a back-up battery or solar panel making it even more versatile in placement and needing servicing even less frequently. The grey scale coloring for the case makes the camera easy to hide.
The strap included with the Stealth Cam G30 is a bit underwhelming and could be upgraded for a better quality strap or with the available security box to be sure the camera stays exactly where you put it. The night time pictures of the camera are black and white as the IR flash doesn’t allow for color. That’s true for all infrared flash cameras across the market, it’s just physics.
Most Common Uses for Trail Cams
Trail cameras can be used for various things, but the main two are hunters using them for wildlife photography to scout game and the other is for security to monitor trespassers. Let’s take a look at these most popular uses in a little more detail.
Using motion tripped cameras to take pictures of game was once cutting edge wildlife biology at its finest. These days we take these gadgets for granted. Being able to expand scouting to a 24-hour job by placing the best deer camera for the job over the right spot can be the difference between tenderloins and tag soup.
Expanding scouting to a 24-hour job by placing a trail camera over the right spot can be the difference between tenderloins and tag soup.
Many cameras are now coming with features that allow instant readout of the pictures. Imagine how useful it would be to get an email when your favorite hit list buck step into the food plot. Being able to take pictures of bucks at night without spooking them or taking a HD video to have a better understanding of his age class. Wildlife management has benefited from trail cameras in ways we are still figuring out.
Videos of rutting activities or pictures of fawns can provide an exact date as to when things are happening on your property. Pictures of deer with Chronic Wasting Disease or fawns covered in ticks can give landowners clues as to the perils faced by the deer on their property.
Other than ensuring the welfare of the game on your property running trail cameras can be a great way to introduce people to the outdoors who would otherwise have no interest. Many people who love photography have learned to love hunting through taking pictures of wildlife. Children will love being out in the summer, looking for sign, deciding where the best places are to hang trail cameras and then going back to inspect the cameras.
Sharing pictures of healthy deer enjoying the food plots hunters leave for them is a great ambassador for our culture and exposes all the good hunters do for our heritage game species.
The same features that make trail cameras great for hunting make them fantastic for property security. Placing a trail camera in view of a road can get you a glimpse of a license plate leaving your property in case of poaching, theft or vandalism. Many cameras have video capability and can shoot incriminating evidence in HD and have it emailed to you the instant after it’s been committed.
Whether catching a thief or a trespasser it is important to identify what kind of crime you anticipate happening and choose a camera accordingly. For example:
- A camera pointed at a walkway or door will need to have an ultra-fast trigger speed to not miss the shot.
- A camera used to monitor a gate will need video capability to see exactly not only who went through and when, but what they did and if it was authorized.
With security cameras more so than cameras for wildlife fine details are important. A HD camera used to gather evidence in the event of a crime is a needed feature because you’re not just looking for slight differences in antler development or age class, you need definitive proof of a person or license plate.
Finally, be very careful where you put your camera and its accessibility. Lean towards a black, or grey camera with black flash and mount it at least 10-12’ off the ground. This makes them not only camouflaged with most surfaces, it puts them out of reach from theft and out of line of sight. It doesn’t matter what kind of camera, pictures or evidence you have if the person who broke into your apartment and stole your TV steals your camera.
How to Pick the Best Trail Camera
There are literally dozens of cameras on the market available for the modern hunter. Picking a great camera is hard to judge. While what you get will largely be determined by how much you’re willing to pay, there is a list of features to look for when judging prospective purchases. Many of these features are included on all of the cameras but at varying quality.
More expensive cameras will generally be designed to be much smaller and lighter than budget cameras because they have newer technology at their core. That doesn’t mean the older cameras are “bad” so long as you won’t miss features like user configurable flash, wireless connectivity or overall unit size. The old reliable, set-and-forget trail cameras that go for about just a few dollars can be powerful tools to help you take pictures where you can’t be.
In 2019 the newest cameras are trending towards smaller cameras, using smaller batteries with no loss in power. These smaller components obviously cost more but have better features. These smaller cameras are worth looking into because while the deer might not notice the larger cameras, thieves definitely will.
Regardless of what your budget is consider what level of quality you need. It makes little sense to buy an extremely high quality camera and place it on public land where it is in danger of being stolen, if a trail camera under $100 will get the job done.
The image quality on trail cameras has come a long way since biologists started using trail cameras in the 80’s. Trail cameras are now equipped with cameras that can take pictures and shoot video in full HD. These cameras were once expensive and large units but the best trail cameras now are small, lightweight and come equipped to take 24-7 HD pictures with often 8 megapixels and up.
Different cameras are also being used; everything from wide angle panoramic shots, to “fish eye” style cameras that can fit a whole field into a viewfinder, and cams that can be configured to situation at hand. Cameras used to sacrifice quality when taking pictures at wider angles and many pictures were often blurry but the newer brands and models are configured for these wide shots and have better focus and can deliver more detail.
These angles and shots, especially the user adjustable features, become important when you consider how you’ll mount your camera. If mounted low on a tree a camera will miss a large portion of a shot, but if mounted at 6-7’ and angled slightly downward, a wide angle camera can catch a whole lot more pictures than if pointed at other trees and close to the ground.
What Quality Pictures do You Need?
Pictures and videos are why you’re buying a camera. Whether for security evidence or wildlife scouting you’ll need to take a realistic look at what kind of pictures you’re taking and the quality needed for the task at hand. If you have an unlimited budget, then you needn’t worry about efficiency but for the price of some of the top end brands, several cameras can be bought and you give up little in function.
For an out of the way honey hole on public land that you know delivers year in and year out, a top end camera isn’t needed. A modest quality image to let you know what’s coming in and out of the area and at what times will suffice for the strategy.
However, if you are placing a camera over your prime food plot, or your most prized stand location it can be a real thriller to have HD pictures of your buck hung next to him on the wall to show your hunting buddies.
If you need pictures because you’re seeking to deter theft at your home or trespassing on your property you need as much detail as you can afford because small printed license plates, facial features and clothing can mean the difference between catching the guy or letting him get away.
Recommendation: Reconyx is by far the best brand of trail camera for surveillance and security. If you are looking to catch trespassers or thieves then opt for any of the Reconyx “security” range trail cams. They are expensive but worth every penny. The HyperFire SC950 is the least expensive of their security cameras, and is also our recommendation based on value for money!
For the hunter who insists on the very highest resolution and picture quality; remember that higher resolution video and picture take up not only more space on SD cards they use more battery life to process. Consider investing in a solar panel upgrade and a large memory card if you plan on using an ultra-resolution camera. It doesn’t matter what walks in front of the camera if it’s dead or out of storage!
The amount of time it takes for the flash to strike or the camera to take the picture after the unit senses something in front of it is referred to as the trigger time. It’s a deceptively simple concept, faster is always better. If a deer or other game animal walk in front of a camera, the camera only has a second or two to get the shot or you will be missing parts or the deer.
The faster a camera can decide whether or not to take a picture can be the difference between having a picture of a nice buck with impressive headgear and a picture of the tail end of a deer and not knowing what gender it is. Trigger time is important at night as well. Many cameras have increased trigger time at night and missed shots of nocturnal bucks can make you write off an area because the shot was blank or you thought it was a doe.
Trigger time on the best cameras available in 2019 has shrunk to an astounding ¼-½ of a second. That is astoundingly fast and pictures of everything from birds flying by, to deer standing on their hind legs to mountain lions pouncing have been captured by these new trail cams.
Trigger Reset Time
This can be the dirty secret of many trail cameras. This is the delay in between pictures! While on some cameras this isn’t a problem many of the budget trail cameras have long periods where the camera can’t take a picture. This can cause you to get a picture of the first deer in a group, but not the rest of the group.
Be sure to check the time reset time before you buy the unit and make sure you are happy with how long it takes to “reload” if you will.
While the delay between pictures can be an important thing, sometimes having a long period in between can be a good thing. Taking multiple pictures of a deer standing still only eats battery and storage. Most trail cameras have a mode where you can set delays in between the times the camera takes pictures. This delay is a great feature to have if you plan on using your camera over a food plot of bait pile and game will spend a large amount of time in front of your camera.
Being able to set a 10-second or 2-minute delay on your camera will drastically reduce the amount of pictures your trail camera takes while not sacrificing the reason you put the camera out in the first place. Having fewer pictures can be a good thing if battery life and storage space is a concern or if you have many cameras and sorting through pictures can be a problem.
The time lapse feature of the high end cameras can be an unbelievable tool. The time lapse mode on the cameras means the unit will take pictures not only when the sensor detects a target within the distance but it will take a picture at a scheduled time whether or not it detects anything.
This is helpful when a camera is set up watching a large field or food plot because you can see game on the other end of the plot and know what time they were there and usually where they came from. This is enormously helpful for patterning bucks just after the bachelor groups break up or for pointing at power lines to see if there’s doves coming in for the season.
The time lapse features on many cameras makes them useful for more things than just motoring a walkway or a game trail. Now, a single camera can be mounted high and made to watch a whole field and not rely on the animals walking with 50’ or so of its position. Of course this only works during daylight because while you can take a picture the flash only reaches so far, so getting pictures of deer before first light gets tricky if you aren’t able to set the time daily.
A few years ago this was easy, walk up to the camera pull the SD card, pop in a fresh one and close ‘er up. Then you’d eagerly run home and vie the cards on your home PC or, if you’re crazy like we are, you made 100% to have a charged laptop ready to go in the truck because the drive home was unbearable. Viewing the pictures all your efforts have made possible is now easier with way more options.
Features like Wi-Fi abilities and cellular connection can send you your pictures just moments after they are taken. Newer cameras have jacks for mini-USB mounted on the outside of the unit to let you access and program your camera without having to open up the unit or remove the USB card.
Even still new units have come around that are essentially a purpose made tablet for carrying into the woods to plug in your SD cards and view them right underneath the tree they were taken. All these accessories and options have grown the market for trail cameras and anything you could want is available for the right price.
The wireless capability of the newest and best trail cameras is a game changer for using trail cameras. The basic idea of a wireless trail camera is that you don’t need to check the camera as often because just minutes after the pictures is taken it is sent to your phone or email via a cellular network that you pay a subscription for. You still need to check these cameras because when the picture is taken a full size file is stored on the SD while a compressed image is sent to your smartphone or email address. The image that gets compressed and then sent has less resolution than the original picture and is sometimes slightly darker.
These wireless cameras have ups and downs markedly a very short battery life and high costs. The main reasons for buying these cameras is security and novelty. It can be the differences between catching a burglar and trespasser if you can get a picture of their truck or their face sent to your phone just 2 or 3 minutes after they passed by. There’s no “instant” cameras on the market so a 3-minute delay is what can be expected in the current market but is a lot better than not getting a picture at all.
The other reason these cameras exist is; they’re just cool. It’s simply exciting to get pictures of deer at your food plot or bears at your bait station while they’re most likely still there. The pictures are saved and sent to you so there’s no worry about saving it on your phone. It’s a feature that can get even the most casual outdoorsman really interested in using trail cameras for photography.
Mini USB Cables
Output & Input jacks for mini USB terminals have been added to trail cameras in the past few years. These are very cool because they can simplify setting up and getting information off the devices. Many of the high end cameras have software that can help precisely program the units to take time lapse, staged, or time delayed pictures. They can be set up to conserve battery life during certain times of day when game is expected to not be moving around, and this is all done much simpler on the computer than by using controls mounted on the unit itself.
In some cases, it can be used to get pictures off the unit without dismounting the SD card. Moisture and debris can build up in the nooks and crannies of the unit, such as in the SD card slot, and ejecting a card can damage the data written on the card making you lose pictures. The external USB jacks can help you make an exact copy of the data without having to worry about losing pictures or video.
New units that are available for viewing trail camera pictures have hit the market and they fill a cool niche. They allow a hunter to see the trail camera pictures right from the tree they were taken. Most trail cameras don’t have a display where you can see the pictures but these units let you see the pictures without waiting, or lugging a huge and expensive laptop into the woods. The units are affordable and easy to use and for the “Gear Guy” they’re great gifts and will be used.
These units are the best piece of equipment for making in field decisions to relocate trail cameras. If a camera is getting time lapse pictures of game entering in another part of the field, or the camera is positioned too high or too low you can see that and fix it before and not have to hike out to the camera twice. Less intrusion, less scent, more time to tend to other cameras.
One of the cardinal features on a trail camera is the ability to take pictures without the sun. Every new camera you buy on the market will have some sort of illumination for taking pictures before sunrise and after sunset. These range of features available are, slim but important. All the cameras use some sort of flash to do this. Essentially the camera and the light source fire at the same exact moment to expose the target of the picture to enough light to get enough light to be able make out pictures.
We can first separate what these pictures use into two categories; visible and invisible light. Some cameras that are cheaper in price and some designed to take long range nighttime pictures have regular LED or incandescent bulbs just like a point and shoot camera for flash. Lately on the best cameras we see a new feature called “Black Flash.” These nighttime pictures aren’t as crisp and clear as their daytime counterparts but they generally do offer enough detail to identify people or individual deer.
Taking pictures at night isn’t an exact science and while many cameras advertise 40ft+ range of their IR or flash cameras this is highly variable. Temperature, weather, and surroundings can all effect the range of these flash features and few can take truly long range pictures without compromising quality.
Infrared Vs. Flash
Flash photography has been around for over a century. The basic idea is that at the same time the camera captures the image, a bright light lets off and allows the camera to see a brighter image. This allows for more detail in the picture. Standard white flash allows for color photos any time of day or night and more detail than infrared pictures.
The downside to white flash is it can scare deer and gives away the location of the camera. White flash cameras are getting somewhat hard to find. Infrared cameras and the newer black flash cameras are getting cheaper and giving more detail while not scaring wildlife as much. Many of the cameras offering white flash are budget entry level cameras where price is the driving factor of the camera and will usually disappoint in other areas. White incandescent flash also drains battery life quickly compared to infrared flash.
Infrared game cameras have many advantages over bulb style flashes. Mainly it’s virtually invisible, it can’t be seen by other hunters, animals, and has a faster trigger time. The faster trigger time is because it doesn’t need time for the light bulb to heat up and flash, the infrared LEDs are already on and the camera just shutters. There is a small red glow on traditional infrared cameras that can be seen in a narrow angle from a close point of view that some hunters have reported spooking game. The brightness of this glow depends on the quality of the LEDs used. The better the LEDs the less they glow.
Infrared pictures are also not as high quality as their incandescent counterparts. For starters, they’re black and white; by definition the infrared light is off the visible light scale. That’s the whole idea behind using it for flash. The infrared pictures can also be grain y and lacking crisp details many cameras are capable of during the day.
These cameras are the best cameras for night pictures. These cameras use the highest quality infrared LEDs but filter out the small red glow that can be seen in the first generation of infrared cameras. Black flash is invisible at night and except for the small sound of the camera going off there’s nothing to be sensed when the camera takes a picture. These units typically are smaller and because the red glow has been sorted out, more infrared light can be put out without worrying about game seeing a red glow. The range is much longer especially at night.
While most infrared units have ranges topping out at 40-50 feet, black flash models can be had with nighttime ranges of 100ft and more. These units take these pictures without compromising the quality or detail of the images. Many of the pictures taken with the black flash system aren’t as grainy or blurry as infrared trail cameras.
Battery and Power Options
Electronics need power. This is an area many hunter skip but this is one of the crucial areas where the “high” cost is really marginal when considering the cost of the trail cameras themselves, the accessories and the SD cards in the units. The type of battery you use is more important than the brand, but use name-brand batteries in the units. Store brand or cheap and old batteries can leak acid or explode in outdoor temperatures and conditions.
The correct batteries in your trail camera need to be decided on.
Lithium is best. The chemistry of these batteries makes them the best for outdoor conditions like high heat and extreme cold experienced in a trail camera. The battery life ratings listed on game cameras are almost exclusively given assuming you’re using lithium batteries. They can last for months without fear of leaking, dying, or not working in sub-freezing weather. They’re also the most expensive and not rechargeable.
Lithium batteries are also the most toxic batteries and need to be dealt with responsibly. Don’t just toss large amounts of these batteries into the trash and send to the landfill. Find out where your local hazardous waste collection is and be sure these get disposed of to protect the lands we use for hunting and fishing.
Alkaline batteries can be used but they’re not as good as lithium. They don’t last nearly as long and they are prone to leak acid in high heat and are worthless in cold weather. They also slowly lose power even when the device is turned off. The main redeeming qualities of these batteries is the price; even high end name brands are relatively cheap and they’re non-toxic.
Rechargeable batteries can be successfully used in trail cameras with a few considerations. First, rechargeable batteries don’t last as long as lithium batteries. Even with a full charge, fresh lithium batteries will outlast and outperform rechargeable batteries. The cost of rechargeable batteries from a good brand cost about the same as lithium batteries without a charger and if taken care of can last years.
The fastest way to damage these batteries is to leave them on the charger too long! New generation “Smart Chargers” have meters built into them and know when the batteries are fully charged and switch off to keep from over charging the batteries. These chargers are well worth the cost.
If you decide to use rechargeable batteries, you need two sets for each trail camera you plan on using them for. Two sets are needed so you can charge a set while there’s a set inside your trail camera and switch them out when you go to service the camera.
Using rechargeable batteries can be time consuming and slightly expensive but they’re non-toxic and can be a great way to reduce the cost over time of using trail cameras while reducing the waste of fresh disposable batteries every time you check your cameras.
External Power Options
Using an external 9v or 12v battery is a great way to dramatically increase the time in-between battery changes. Although more expensive upfront the length of time these units last can out weight the cost of purchase and are vital for high energy game cameras that use cellular, or HD video that drain batteries quickly.
The batteries can be bulky and hard to disguise so plan ahead. A big black box at the base of a tree is a tale tell sign for thieves seeking free equipment on public land or on large hunting clubs with dishonest members. Burying the batteries can be a viable option if a serious watertight container is used and maybe back up duct-taped for weather-proofing.
Try and use kits and batteries endorsed or sold buy the company that manufactured your trail camera. Many cameras have been fried by people who try and rig up an old tractor or car battery to a trail camera in an attempt to cheapen out and they lose $200 in the process by destroying their equipment.
Though not for every game camera a solar panel hooked up to provide power is a viable option and many units are available with the technology to use solar power. These panels are often small enough to be easily set up and have a modest cord for positioning the panel to capture sunlight. Obviously 3-5 hours of direct sunlight would be ideal for these panels as they require direct light to generate enough power to do their job. Be sure to hide the solar panels as best you can. A shiny panel can be a dead giveaway for thieves who want to either avoid or steal your equipment.
The range on you trail camera is crucial. The range is the distance from the unit it can detect a target moving in front of it and trigger the camera to take a picture. This is the basic operation of the trail camera. The range of many cameras is around 60ft, and high end trail cameras have detection rages of 100ft and further. These distances are different at night, usually around the same but can vary depending on the illumination the camera uses.
The range of the camera also depends on the quality of the lenses. Many cheaper cameras can’t take focused pictures past 30ft or so. Small details like scars on a buck or the face of a trespasser can be lost in the blur even though there’s a clear picture of the target and they’re within range. Cameras on the market with extremely high quality lenses have no problem taking pictures way further than the detection range will trigger the camera. The lens and megapixels the camera can take is just as important as the range.
The time lapse feature on game cameras is one of those thing you wish you would’ve thought of. A time lapse feature is setting up a camera to take a picture at a regular interval regardless if there’s a target within range of the camera. This can be used to monitor a parking lot at peak hours or to get pictures of deer or other game entering a field, using a trail or food plot or wandering through a creek bottom.
Cameras that use this feature need to be the best trail cameras you can get your hands on. If you place the camera to overlook a large field and the camera takes the time lapse shot, but the lens is cheap or the detail is so bad you can’t make out the landscape past 50ft there’s no point in having the feature. Look for cameras with a range of at least 100ft as these cameras are already designed for long range pictures and a 200-yard picture with enough detail to make out antler should be no problem.
This information can help you make a decision for setting a stand or placing a camera. Without this feature you might conclude there’s no game in your food plot, or worse no trespassers using your parking lot.
The nighttime range on game cameras is largely a guess. The ranges in general are dependent on everything from elevation to humidity and weather to even wind but at night when dew begins to fall and fog rolls in many ranges can be cut into a third of what it’s advertised.
This isn’t meant to bash the cameras; with the right conditions they work! Instead plan for worst case scenario and place cameras in spots where game is funneled within 30ft or so of the camera and set up time lapse pictures to catch the stragglers. This is a good strategy for saving battery life while having a high probability for getting good pictures.
Also remember at night even with the newer flash systems details are greatly diminished so a super long range camera is mostly worthless with an already handicapped flash and less details than it started with.
Memory is like money; more is most often better. Units that can take large 64mb SD cards are a must for cameras that will only be serviced every month or so. The best camera in the world, in the best spot in the woods, with fresh full batteries won’t take a single picture without space to store it. Many budget level cameras lack the ability to accept large SD cards and it’s a shame. Many budget level cameras are the ones stashed in out of the way places and left all summer long. Look for the ability to accept at least a 32mb card, but again more is better.
For the extreme quality cameras with 20 mega pixel and HD video, highest quality SD cards should be used. Many SD cards have slow writing speeds that can compromise the crispness of the image because the SD card simply can’t keep up. Newer “HD Ready” cards have been on the market and while more expensive they’re worth it when you consider the cost of one of the units that necessitate the high quality cards and the fact if you take care of them they last until they’re obsolete the cost is negligible.
There’s a unifying factor in all this equipment for photography; you get what you pay for. If you paid top dollar for the best trail cam you should protect it. Simple steps can be taken to be sure your gear stays yours:
- Place trail cameras above the line of sight
- Put trail cameras as far away as you can; distance helps camouflage
- Don’t be afraid to glue natural debris to the case of the trail camera to help hide it but be sure not to block the flash of the unit
- Accessories like solar panels and batteries can give away positions
- Be sure to use tree straps that blend in to the environment where it’s hidden
- Be sure to service the cameras when there’s no one to see where it’s at
Boxes and Cables
Steel cables can be added to help secure trail cameras to a tree where a level of stability is needed for a camera that borders another parcel of land, or public land where theft may be a problem. These cables or simple chains can be used to lock the camera to the tree, this is better than nothing but not as good as a metal box surrounding your trail camera.
Steel boxes that screw into trees and walls are available from some companies for deterring thieves from trying to steal your camera. These steel boxes create a “Lock box” that you need a key to open the camera and get the cards or batteries. These boxes make mounting simpler by having 100% stability and not having to worry about a strap loosening, being chewed through or mauled off the tree.
Choosing a trail camera can be as simple as setting a budget, reading trail camera reviews and buying the best trail camera that fits your requirements and budget. Many people will be happy with any deer camera and won’t worry too much about the trigger speed or what the best trail camera for night pictures is. They probably won’t be sitting around sifting through dozens of infrared camera reviews.
Most people enjoy the satisfaction and simplicity of buying a trail camera and getting pictures of a mature buck and hanging him on the wall shortly after opening day. The absolute best trail camera isn’t necessary, but sure is fun. Just don’t lose sight of the joy that comes from using these cameras to explore the outdoors.