Avid outdoorsmen don’t merely enjoy nature, they revel and captures its magic for posterity. Once a high-priced gadget that few could afford, trail cameras have now become essential to hunters as binoculars and bullets are. With prices now ranging from affordable to high-end luxury models, it’s virtually impossible to consider yourself a serious outdoor enthusiast without having something other than your smartphone to take serious pictures with. Trail, or game, cameras, allow hunters to scope out a feeding area and learn about what kind of game frequent that area without having to be there. They capture images remotely and automatically and are ideal for identifying which kind of game you’re likely to encounter in any given hunting territory. Like any other proliferated technology, there are now a dizzying multitude of trail cameras to choose from. The problem is identifying what features will help you make the most intelligent choice for your wallet as well as your nature portfolio. This guide is meant to help inform you about the most significant features of trail cameras and what specification you should be targeting whether you’re on a budget or price is no object.
Image quality is easily the most important feature to consider when buying a new trail camera. Most important to those who are choosing their ideal trail camera with regard to image quality is the number of megapixels. Megapixels are how image resolution is measured – and the more megapixels, the better. That may not be much of a surprise, but what is surprising is how crisp an image even at a low megapixel capacity like 4 MP can display. This may not mean much to those for whom price is no obstacle, but for everyone else it’s significant. As long as you have sufficient lighting, a megapixel count from 4-7 MP should be fine for most situations. More mid-range priced cameras range between 7-10 MP. If, however, you want to focus on night time photography or capturing images of fast-moving animals, the higher priced cameras usually range between 11-18 MPs. There are even some luxury models that come with 20 MP resolution. Of course, the higher the resolution – the more you money may have to spend. Also, prospective buyers must also think about memory capacity, as higher resolution images tend to use up more storage space on camera memory cards. You may also want to look for a camera that allows you to set how high a resolution you want to capture images in if you plan on leaving out your camera for an extended period of time before checking it. But for those who have the money, a camera with fully customizable resolution setting capable of up to 16-18 MP image clarity with plenty of memory is ideal.
Since the power supply for your camera can either be direct, battery-powered or use alternate power sources, this is the feature that you must compare cost with savings the most.
Battery Powered: Most outdoor trail cameras come with either AA, C or D batteries. Some use 6 or 12 volt batteries. In any case, you must consider whether or not you want to use too many features while leaving your camera on overnight since battery life varies from model to model based on the features that come with it. Higher-end cameras with infra-red flash and low-level light sources needed tend to actually use less battery life than cheaper cameras that use incandescent flashes and cost more in the long run to continually buy batteries for. You also want to consider the type of climate you’re in as temperature also influences the life of your battery. Luckily, most manufacturers will not only tell you the type of battery you need but how long it can operate while using all its features before dying. Even better, many trail cameras come with a battery level indicator that you can monitor. Alkaline and lithium batteries can last months while rechargeable NIMH batteries can last 3 to 5 years.
External Power Supply Option: This is an option for those who intend to position their trail cameras near their home or within range of an outdoor outlet. Make sure the extension cord you intend to use is rated for outdoor use. This also pertains to chargeable trail cameras in terms of where you intend to recharge the batteries (if not indoors, than with an outdoor outlet and extension cord). The main problem with 6 volt and 12 volt external-powered cameras is not the amount of voltage required, but how that voltage is dispersed. Some cameras can suffer a power surge with used with external power sources, so battery powered cameras are usually safer to use. Rechargeable batteries often have a lower voltage than their disposable counterparts, so their energy life is usually shorter as well or result in the camera shutting off prematurely even when they technically still have juice.
Solar Power Supply: There are in fact solar-powered trail cameras and they tend to range in price from reasonable to exorbitant. Usually you buy the camera with the solar panel, but panels are sold separately. Not only can you buy a solar panel specific to your trail camera, there are companies like Moultrie that make solar panels that work with most 12 volt trail cameras either with an A/C cord or wire clamps (usually cheaper than an A/C cord model).
The range of a trail camera’s sense detectors is known as its detection zone, which is usually measured in degree of width and distance from the camera. The worse thing to happen to those who don’t consider detection zones when purchasing a trail camera would be something like a trophy deer wondering a few feet outside its detection zone, thus outside of its visibility. Price tends to be an influence of camera detection zones, with the lower end camera extending to only 50 ft away with a 90 degree field of vision and more expensive models detecting as far as 80 ft away with a higher degree of field of vision.
Measuring the time elapsed between when a camera detects heat or movement and when it captures an image, trigger time is another important consideration when choosing the right camera. Faster trigger times increase the chance of capturing a shot of your target animal. Trigger times can range from the adequate (1 second) to the cutting-edge images captured in fractions of seconds. The best, and most expensive, brands tend to capture images in under .20ths of a second.
Recovery time is a subset of trigger time since it measures the time between shots taken. This means you also have to account for this recovery period when calculating how many possible images can be captured when your camera’s detection zone is triggered. You can have a camera with a .2 second trigger time, but if if has a recovery time of 4.2 seconds it can actually capture less images a minute than a camera with a .5 second trigger time (if that camera has a shorter recovery time like 2 seconds or less). In this case, shorter recovery times don’t necessarily correspond to price range. Don’t forget to check the video specs for both trigger time and recovery time for capturing video images using heat and motion detection as well. This is why it’s important to examine both trigger time and recovery time specs when comparing trail cameras to calculate the total time of your camera’s detection circuit.
Most trail cameras either have an internal memory card or an SD card for data storage. Internal memory cards are more convenient and less costly, but SD cards tend to have more memory in varying amounts of storage capacity (16GB to 32GB range). It’s easier to transfer images to a computer with an internal memory card, but SD cards offer the advantage of storing more data and saving time with multiple memory cards. This especially useful in the field when you didn’t bring your fully-charged laptop with you on the hunt. It also costs extra to upgrade internal memory cards, so weigh the costs with overall savings when examining memory card specs. Make sure to not get a high-speed SD card since those are for DSLR cameras and not trail cameras.
Most trail cameras come with either a RGB A/V cord or a USB cord to enable hooking it up to a digital television or a computer. Make sure you know whether you want to use SD cards or internal memory and if you want to transfer images to a computer or just want to use SD cards when looking at image cord specs.
A built-in viewer is is useful for more than just making it easier to see images faster. Cameras with viewers tend to have menu interfaces that are easier to operate and allows you to record how many pictures you’ve taken as well as view them in the field without a computer. This works especially well when your detection zone is a long distance from your home or camp site. You might be able to use the SD card from your camera with your phone or indoor digital camera to examine images in the field if your trail camera doesn’t come with a viewer, but make sure to not erase photos using these other digital cameras. This is because the other cameras you use to view trail camera images may use a different file structure to delete or write-over old data needed to save new pictures. You could render your memory card useless this way.
For capturing images remotely and automatically, the type of flash for night images is the second most important specification when choosing a trail camera (behind only image quality). The most common flash is incandescent, and these are preferable when you want to capture color images to pinpoint animal coat patterns and hues. These provide the best kind of night images, but incandescent flashes are more likely to scare game off and use more battery life than infrared flashes. This also affects trigger and recovery times as well since it takes more time for incandescent flashes to recharge for the next shot. Not only can bright flashes scare away animals, but they also attract cameras thieves as well.
No glow infrared flashes are ideal for capturing images without scaring the animals away when taking pictures. They also have the added benefit of using less power, having shorter trigger and recovery times and tend to capture more images a minute than incandescent flashes. The main downside of infrared flashes are the types of images it can produce; infrared pics are usually black and white and can be grainy if your object is in motion when your infrared lens captures the image. This problem is exacerbated with infrared flashes used on cameras with low MP resolution and/or larger detection zones.
There are also trail cameras that feature a low-glow infrared flash. Low-glow cameras differ from no glow cameras in that they utilize red LED lights emitted from the camera (low level spectrum of red lights barely detectable by mammals) when taking night-time photos or video. Even though these additional red lights greatly enhance night images, they still are barely noticeable unless you look straight at the camera during the flash and don’t spook animals that walk in front of your camera during this low-glow flash.
Wireless and cellular trail cameras can utilize local wifi networks or use cellular radio frequencies that work up to a mile away. Cellular cameras need a SIM card, a good cell phone service area and a monthly cellular subscription to work properly. Wifi cameras don’t require a monthly subscription to a cellular company, but they are limited because they can only operate within range of wireless networks and tend to have poor battery life.
As stated above, incandescent flashes tend to attract camera thieves, but you can still find measures to protect your invest with certain trail cameras security system.
Security Code Box: Probably the most effective feature on pricier security boxes, this allows access to opening your security box with a pin pad and an access code. Just keep in mind that this feature accompanies the more expensive trail camera models.
Security Boxes: Most security boxes uses a key and lock approach when protecting your investment. Not only is this cheaper, it is easier to prevent code hacking and otherwise circumventing your box’s security
Anti-theft cables: These are the cheapest option to explore if you can’t afford a full fledged security box. These often utilize either a security pin or use lock/key systems. Just be aware that bolt and cable cutters are often used by camera thieves to get around the cheaper security measures like cables and bolt locks.
Prices are accurate as of January 22, 2018 3:07 am. Product prices and available are subject to change. Any price and availablility information displayed on Amazon.com at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of any products.
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