Buying your first trail camera can be a confusing process. There are a wide variety of models and manufacturers to choose from. As technology has continued to advance in recent years, these cameras are now equipped with features that could never have been dreamed of 20 years ago. So how do you decide which best trail camera is right for you?
Basically, the game camera you should buy will depend on the specific tasks you plan to use it for, as some game cameras are better at doing certain things than others. This guide will break down the different aspects of a trail camera and give you an idea of what you should be looking for as you do your shopping.
Trail Camera Picture Quality
- 1 Trail Camera Picture Quality
- 2 Flash Type and Range in Game Cameras
- 3 Detection Sensors
- 4 Shooting Modes, Trigger Speed and Recovery Time
- 5 Memory Cards & Storage
- 6 Battery Life
- 7 Date and Time Stamp
- 8 Ease of Use
If you are going to be spending a lot of money on a buying the best trail camera, you obviously want it to take the best quality photos possible. Many people make the mistake of being fooled by high megapixel counts, automatically assuming that this number is the be-all and end-all when it comes to determining the quality of pictures that a camera can take. If you were buying a traditional camera, this may very well be the case.
However, trail cameras are a different story entirely. If you buy a camera with a high megapixel count and a low quality lens, the overall quality of the photos you take will be dramatically reduced. Fortunately, when you buy a trail camera online, you can look at many sample pictures provided by the manufacturer than allow you to see the exact quality of photos the camera is capable of taking, so you can judge for yourself.
This is much better than the old days when you simply had to take a salesman’s word as to which camera took the best pictures. If you are looking at a new model and no sample pictures are available, you can try to contact the manufacturer directly and ask them to send you some sample pictures. In many cases, they will be happy to oblige.
The resolution of a digital photo refers to its quality and size. This is denoted by using megapixels and it is a digital camera’s defining characteristic. Cameras that are capable of producing higher resolution photos typically offer the user an option to choose a desired resolution. This is an important decision because the resolution you choose will play a direct role in how long your battery will last.
While it is true that megapixels by themselves are not a complete indicator of the quality of photos a camera is capable of taking, it is safe to say the more megapixels a camera has, the larger the size of the image can be before it begins to degrade. You will be able to stretch a photo to a degree much larger than its actual size without details becoming distorted.
If you are interested in buying a trail camera for the sole purpose of tracking animals and not printing out quality photographs, this will not be a consideration that will play into your selection of a camera. However, it is advisable to buy a camera of at least eight megapixels if you plan on taking photos of wildlife in their natural environment. It is important to keep in mind that the more megapixels a camera has, the more expensive it will be.
Flash Type and Range in Game Cameras
Infrared flash vs Regular flash
The two types of flash units you will find on trail cameras are regular and infrared. However, most of the models sold today are equipped with infrared flash units. Here are some important details regarding both types of flash units:
Regular Flash Units
- It is not suitable for use as a security camera because people will see the flash going off and be alerted to its presence.
- Animals will be scared off when they see the flash.
- Because of the time needed for the flash to recharge, it has a slower trigger recovery time.
- Batteries do not last as long because of the amount of energy regular flash units use.
- The quality of photos taken during the night is generally better.
- It can produce full color images taken during the night.
Infrared Flash Units
- Humans will not be able to see where the camera is located when the flash goes off.
- Animals will not be scared off.
- The trigger recovery time is faster than regular flash units.
- A small amount of battery power is needed, allowing batteries to last longer.
- Blurry photos are common.
- Inferior quality of photos taken at night compared to regular flash units.
- Photos taken at night are black and white.
For the most part, an infrared flash should be used if you plan on using your camera for the purposes of surveillance, hunting or scouting. However, if you want to take excellent quality photos during the night, a regular flash is what you need.
You just need to remember that your batteries will not last as long and animals will be frightened. Most trail cameras have a range of 10 to 50 feet. However, there are cameras with ranges of longer than 50 feet, if you are willing to pay more money.
The detection sensor will determine a camera’s detection area. It basically determines the number of photos you will be able to take. In the vast majority of trail cameras, infrared radiation allows motion detectors to pick up movement in the area.
This basically comes down to the motion and body heat of the animal. The camera snaps a photo when heat or movement in the area is picked up by the detection sensor. The bigger your detection area is, the larger the area you will be able to scout. This will mean you will be able to get more photos.
Two factors define a detection area; detection width and detection range. A trail camera’s detection width can vary. At its most narrow, it is roughly 10 degrees. At its widest, it can be anywhere from 48 to 90 degrees. The detection range is usually identical to that of a camera flash. This is typically between 45 and 65 feet.
For a camera with a narrow detection angle to take a photo, the animal is required to be directly in front of the camera. The good news is your camera will take less photos, allowing you to save battery power and memory card space. The bad news is all animals not directly in the camera’s line of sight will not be photographed.
Wide detection angle cameras are capable of capturing fast moving animals, as well as animals that appear anywhere within the camera’s field of view. There are cameras that contain a detection area that is wider than the camera’s field of view. However, empty photos can be produced by these cameras when the animal does not move fast enough.
Shooting Modes, Trigger Speed and Recovery Time
The shooting modes typically found on most trail cameras today include video mode, time lapse mode, time delay mode and burst mode.
The number of pictures taken during one trigger is determined by the burst mode. This is generally up to six photos. The amount of time between triggers is determined by picture delay mode. This is usually anywhere from 15 seconds to 30 minutes.
A newer feature is the time lapse mode. It is capable of taking a specific amount of photos or videos with a delay. A time lapse presentation is then compiled that is able to be viewed on your computer. The majority of trail cameras use AVI to record their videos. Their resolution is usually VGA (640 x 480). Cameras that record in HD with sound are going to be more expensive. The maximum length of the videos will vary between cameras.
Trigger recovery time refers to the length of time the camera requires to take a photo. The trigger recovery time of a camera can literally be the difference between taking a photo that is centered perfectly and a photo that is blurry. The trigger recovery times in trail cameras can vary from a fraction of a second to as long as six seconds. The more expensive the camera is, the shorter the trigger recovery time will be.
Memory Cards & Storage
You are going to find most of the trail cameras available on the market today use SD memory cards. These cards have a large storage capacity. There are cameras that have an SD memory card included. The majority of cameras you will find are capable of supporting a 32GB card. There are also 64GB cards available if you want to spend a little more.
These high capacity cards will allow you to leave your camera outside for an extended period of time and take a large amount of high resolution photos.
Most trail cameras you will come across are going to be powered by batteries that are either C or AA. C-cell batteries have a capacity that is considerably higher than AA batteries. This means that if you ever need to use your trail camera for an extended period of time in temperatures of at least 32 degrees F, C-cell batteries can keep it functioning for several months, depending on the number of photos or videos it takes.
It is important to note that C-cell batteries can be affected by cold weather. If the temperature dips below freezing, the life of these batteries will be half of what it usually is.
There are a few very good reasons for you to consider using AA batteries. For starters, Nimh and Lithium batteries are able to be recharged, allowing you to save money on batteries. They also don’t suffer the massive loss of power that C-cell batteries do when they are exposed to freezing temperatures.
There are also several external power source options you can choose from to power your trail camera. Certain models are capable of being powered by solar panels or external battery packs.
Date and Time Stamp
The majority of trail cameras you will come across will automatically stamp the date and time information on the picture. However, there is usually an option provided for the user to turn this feature off. There are also camera models that can stamp other information such as barometric pressure readings, temperature and moon phase.
There is usually some sort of identification for the camera that was used to take the photo. This can be helpful if you regularly use more than one camera. Using your computer to access the properties of each photo can also provide you with the date and time that each photo was taken.
Ease of Use
Manufacturers are now primarily producing trail cameras that are intuitive to use. While some of the controls will be slightly different depending and the manufacturer and model of trail camera you are using, you will most likely not need to read the owner’s manual unless you want to use one of the more advanced features.
It is advisable to give the owner’s manual a quick glance so you avoid damaging the camera you just paid a lot of money for.
As with many other products, it can be a huge benefit to read online reviews of various camera models to get a feel for the experiences other people have had while using that particular model of trail camera. This is valuable information to have before you pay a lot of money for a camera.
While you will always be able to get a refund if you are not satisfied, reading reviews can let you know what the camera does well and what it does not. Depending on what you intend to use the camera for, these reviews can impact your decision making process. They can also save you a lot of time buying a camera and having to return it because it did not live up to your expectations.