Do I Need an SD Card Reader or Viewer for My Trail Camera?

SD Card Readers and ViewersWhen you go to the trail camera department at your favorite outdoor store or online retailer, you will probably notice that in addition to trail cameras they are also selling SD card viewers/readers.

If you have noticed these devices, you probably wondered if you should think about buying one of them for yourself.

So let’s talk about the different types of readers or viewers that there are to choose from and explain which situations are ideal for owning one.

What Are the Two Types of Memory Card Viewers/Readers?

People will use the terms “reader” and “viewer” interchangeably. In fact, you will see many products that use both terms to describe their product or on the product packaging.

Honestly, it reminds me of the “trail camera” vs. “game camera” terminology. I prefer to call them trail cameras, but ultimately nobody cares. At this point, we all know that both terms are referring to the same thing.

However, the difference here is that there are two distinctly different products that use these terms interchangeably. Both types of products will help you see what is on your SD cards, but how they do it is different.

So let’s break it down into these two product categories.

Smartphone Adapter Style (Reader)

The cheapest and smallest option is an adapter style SD card reader that plugs right into your smartphone. Since most people have smartphones these days, these adapters are very popular. You can typically find a lot of options to choose from between $12 and $20.

Features to Look For

These adapters can be used in a variety of ways with a variety of devices. So there are a few things you want to be on the lookout for when deciding which one to buy.

  1. Card slots for BOTH SD cards and micro SD cards – It used to be that trail cameras only used the standard size SD cards. Today micro SD cards are also being used in a lot of trail cameras. You don’t want to be forced to use a micro SD card adapter (and remember to bring that with you into the woods) to make it fit into your reader.
  2. Connections for all the devices you might use it with – You obviously want to make sure that the adapter has connections that will fit with your smartphone as well as any other devices you might want to use it with. Many readers have the following connectors: Lighting, USB Type C, USB, and Micro USB
  3. Smartphone App (if needed) – A lot of these adapters are plug and play, which means that they don’t require any special software for your smartphone to recognize the reader and allow you to view pictures and videos. If software is required, make sure that there is a version for the type of smartphone you are using (IOS or Android).

Tablet Style (Viewer)

What we refer to as an SD card viewer is something that looks a lot like a tablet, which was designed specifically for viewing pictures and videos that are on SD cards. These viewers are great for people who either don’t have a smartphone (so buy a reader/adapter isn’t an option), or for people who have a smartphone, but want to view the photos and videos on something with a larger screen.

Different Sizes

Screen sizes on SD card viewers can come in a variety of sizes. Some of them can be pretty small (about 4.3 inches), which others can be much larger (up to 7 inches or more). As you might expect the larger the screen size is the higher the price will be.

That said if I am buying a viewer I want it to have a screen size that is larger enough so I don’t need to zoom into every picture in order to make out the details. Constantly having to zoom in on everything can become time-consuming and tedious if you are going through a lot of pictures of videos. So I would prefer to spend an extra few dollars to get a viewer with a larger screen.

Do You, or When Do You, Need One of These Readers/Viewers?

As we have said before in our article about how often you should check your trail cameras, you really don’t want to be running out there every day. The disturbance you make and the scent you leave behind is likely to scare everything away for a while.

We also know that sometimes depending on what a trail camera has captured (or didn’t capture) you will want to move your camera. If you are using a trail camera for hunting, which is what we are talking about here, you are trying to figure out where the animals are. So if you have a trail camera that isn’t seeing any activity, you probably want to move it.

So when you get home and check the SD card only to find out that the camera it was in didn’t capture anything you will probably want to try moving that camera to a different location. Unfortunately, that means you need to go back into the woods and disturb everything again, which isn’t ideal.

The ideal time, or reason, to have something to read or view or read the information on your SD cards is when you are out in the woods standing next to the trail camera and need to decide if you should move it.

These situations happen when you are scouting an area as you try to figure out the ideal hunting location.

But Do You Really Need to Buy a Memory Card Reader or Viewer?

Maybe, or maybe not. Many of us already have devices that we can use to help us see the pictures and videos that are on our SD cards. Why not just use them? It all depends on your situation.

Are you checking trail cameras that are at your home (or close to it) or are you having to travel a distance to get to your cameras?

Home Use

If you are checking cameras that are on your home property you might get away with not having a card reader or viewer if the trail camera is placed at a location that you routinely walk or drive past. In these situations, it is not a big deal to swap out the SD card and go home to view the pictures and videos on your computer. If you find out that there wasn’t much traffic passing by the camera you really won’t disturb anything if you grab the camera the next time you pass by.

If you have a larger property and your trail camera is placed in a more remote and less traveled location on your home property the deer and other game animals aren’t used to seeing people or smelling human scent and going through that area is more likely to have the animals clear out for a while. The more you go out to these spots, the less likely anything will be there once the hunting season arrives. In this situation, If I have my trail camera in one of these locations I would want to have something with me that would allow me to read and view my SD card so I can make an on-the-spot decision about whether I need to put my trail camera in a different location.

So unless you have your trail cameras posted in places that you routinely go past on a regular basis, it might be a good idea to have an SD card viewer or reader with you when you check your cameras.

Away From Home (Hunting Property or Public Land)

If you are like me and hunt a couple of hours from where you live it doesn’t make a lot of sense to swap out the SD cards in your cameras and only find out when you get back home that you would like to move your camera to a different spot.

If you have a laptop computer I suppose it would be an option to bring that with you when you go out to this hunting land, but do you really want to have your laptop bouncing around in the vehicle as you go out to check your cameras? I don’t, because where I hunt the roads can be a little rough. So if you have a laptop that you care about you probably don’t want to expose it to such rugged environments.

Do you hunt and use your trail cameras on public land? If yes, you have probably heard stories about people who have had their cameras stolen or vandalized. If your camera’s location gets discovered the chance of someone stealing it goes up. When most people think about keeping cameras hidden they think about camo patterns or what type of flash the camera has (no glow or low glow flash). However, having people see you as you go into the woods is another big way to reveal the location of your trail cameras. The more trips you make out to the woods the more likely people are to see you and potentially decide to check out the area for themselves. So you are probably better off if you can consolidate your trips on public hunting land by checking your cameras and moving them (if necessary) during the same trip.

So when checking cameras that are further away from home the argument can be made that it is probably best to have a memory card reader or viewer with you. SD card readers and viewers are small and lightweight, which makes them easy to bring with you as you go through the woods. Plus, their compact size makes them easy to bring with you as you head out of town for a few days (even if you are bringing a lot of gear with you).

Final Thoughts

When I think about how much time, effort, and money that so many of us put into hunting the cost of these SD card readers and views is very minimal. Then when I think about how they can help you prepare for hunting season and make timely decisions, these little devices are well worth the investment.

Bestselling SD Card Readers and Viewers

Last update on 2021-07-30 at 15:53 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API