Best Trail Cameras: Capture Animal Movements on Film
Get great images day or night with these trail cameras
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BY Norah Tarichia / LAST UPDATED ON October 10, 2019
The best way to make documentaries about animals in their natural habitat or hunt game is to be absent from the scene and let the animals roam freely. This is possible with a high-end trail camera that blends in with the background and takes clear images during the day and night. Here are some of the top trail cameras to consider.
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Benefits of Trail Cameras
- Time tracking. Most trail and game cameras keep an accurate timestamp of events. This is useful when you want detailed documentation. It gives you accurate data that can be used for pinpoint analysis.
- Safety. Most animals are nocturnal and can pose a risk if you gather live footage at night. Trail cameras have amazing night vision and can record night activities on their own, keeping you safe.
- Stealth. Animals are easily startled by sudden lights and noise. Trail cameras (stealth cams) are designed to stay concealed, and they operate in silence. They allow you to take pictures and videos with ease.
- Easy to protect. Due to their size, protecting trail cameras is not very costly. Steel boxes and extra camouflage can protect the cameras from theft or tampering.
- Home use. Once you are done with your outdoor assignment, you can use a trail camera as a home-monitoring device (a security camera). Set it up outside your house to keep track of any suspicious activity.
Types of Trail Cameras
Motion-Activated Trail Cameras
These are some of the best cameras for exploring the outdoors. A top-shelf, motion-activated trail camera has a wide detection range and can sense motion from a distance, thanks to built-in motion sensors. Since movement in the wild is unpredictable, some motion-activated cameras have high sensitivity to quickly track movement and take videos.
Cellular Trail Cameras
As the name implies, a cellular camera uses a SIM card to connect to another cellular device. It captures footage and transmits it to your device through a cellular network, allowing you to remotely access real-time coverage. However, its key limiting factor is poor coverage in a low-network area. While it may still capture footage, you have to manually extract it if it can’t be transmitted.
Wireless Trail Cameras
In theory, these are the best trail cameras, as they can transfer footage over a Wi-Fi network. A wireless trail camera has transmitters that allow it to connect to a range of devices in an area. However, in a place with no Wi-Fi access, its functionality is severely affected. You may have to take extra measures—like getting a concealed, portable Wi-Fi kit—to make sure there’s coverage.
Infrared Trail Cameras
Infrared trail cameras are best suited for night coverage. They emit a low glow to take footage and capture images in dark places. The image quality is usually above par; although, the images are not in color. In most cases, a good infrared trail camera has infrared LEDs and automatic on/off capability.
Bushnell Corporation is a brand best known for innovative outdoor optics gear, such as sports cameras and spotting scopes. The company was founded in Japan in 1948 by David P. Bushnell. Today, it continues to delight trail enthusiasts with trail cameras such as the Bushnell Trophy Cam Trail Camera.
Browning is better known for its firearms and fishing gear but boasts an impressive range of trail cameras that complement the brand’s signature products. It has a long history dating back to 1878 in Ogden, Utah. Hunting enthusiasts will benefit from its full range of products that include footwear, hunting rifles, and trail cameras like the well-received Browning Strike Force Extreme Trail Camera.
Wildgame Innovation was founded in the early 2000s after the owner, Ryan Busbice, sold his previous company, Ace Transportation, an oil and gas company. With headquarters in Los Angeles, California, Wildgame Innovations has made a name for itself in the hunting gear space. One of its top cameras is the Wildgame Innovations Wraith 14 Megapixel Lightsout Trubark Trail Camera.
Trail Camera Pricing
- $30-$60: There are a wide range of options in this price range. The cameras can take basic pictures and videos and have image resolutions reaching up to eight megapixels. Their detection range usually varies but can reach 50 feet. The cameras here have trigger speeds of around one second.
- $70-$100: The trail cameras found here are considered mid-range; although, they offer impressive results. Their trigger speeds range between 0.7 and 0.9 seconds. Their image sensors can reach up to 16MP, and they take clear photos and acceptable videos, even in low light. If you’re looking to upgrade your trail camera, this is a great place to start. The biggest drawback of cameras in this range is poor audio quality.
- $200-$300: Cameras in this price bracket are for the outdoor trackers and hunters who don’t mind spending more for high-quality products. They have fast trigger speeds and are able to sense movement from a distance of 80 feet. They offer wide-angle coverage and have zero blur for clear videos. They also have long-lasting batteries or back-up power sources.
One of the key features to check in a trail camera is the resolution of the images and video. Basic cameras have 2MP-8MP image sensors and can take videos with 720p resolution. If you want amazing picture quality and high-quality videos at night, get a trail camera with at least a 12MP sensor and 1080p video resolution.
Decide whether you’d like LED flash or infrared flash. LED flash provides powerful light that enables you to get illuminated pictures. However, its downside is that bright light is not recommended at night, as you risk scaring animals away. Infrared light, on the other hand, is great for nighttime coverage, as it emits invisible flashes that do not frighten animals.
Trigger speed is the rate at which your camera detects movements and performs an action. The faster the trigger speed, the better images or footage you will get. Trigger speeds vary between 0.14 seconds and four seconds.
The detection range is the distance from which a trail camera can detect motion. The best trail cameras are those that can detect motion from as far as 80 feet and have wide-angle coverage. They cover wider areas, allowing you to take better videos or more photos.
- Power: Trail cameras are usually left unattended for long periods. During this time, you need to know whether the camera is running as it should. Most cameras can be used with batteries. Some premium ones, however, can draw power from the sun. It is also worth noting that extra features drain batteries faster.
- Sensitivity Adjustment: Sensitivity adjustment makes a difference in what cameras cover. Cameras with high sensitivity adjustment are able to record even small movements by smaller animals. Those with low sensitivity adjustment may fail to capture smaller animals and only capture bigger ones.
- Memory: Memory is a sensitive issue, as it determines how much footage and images a camera can store. Most cameras don’t have built-in memory; however, they have slots for memory cards. Some premium models are compatible with 256GB memory cards, while most utilize 32GB cards.
Best Trail Camera Reviews & Recommendations 2020
- Trail cameras only give you a fixed perspective in the direction the camera is facing. Consider installing several cameras at different positions to get a diverse view of what’s happening in the field.
- It’s easy for an animal to destroy or take down a camera strapped to a tree or branch. To prevent that, buy a camera with a camouflage design and buy more straps to secure it.
- If possible, set up the camera at a high level above the ground where it can go unnoticed by most animals and humans who might try to steal it. Just be sure not to compromise the camera’s viewing angle.
- Do not handle the gadget with your bare hands. Your hands can get sweaty, and the human scent will transfer to the camera. The animals may avoid coming close to the area and some may even destroy it.
Q: What is the best battery for a trail camera?
A: Rechargeable batteries may be an inconvenience if you want to monitor a single activity throughout the month such as plant growth rate. Plus, you have to go back frequently to the shooting scene to charge the batteries. Consider buying non-rechargeable lithium batteries, which have a high voltage output and are more resistant to weather changes compared to alkaline or rechargeable batteries.
Q: Can a trail camera send images to a phone?
A: A wireless trail camera can send images to compatible smartphone devices. The best wireless cameras are 4G enabled and have a storage capacity of at least 32GB. You also have to set up the camera to your phone's cellular network provider. It may take about 40 seconds for the camera to send the image to your email or a phone app.
Q: Where should I set up a trail camera?
A: The best place to set up the camera is on a tree or branches that are located next to food or water sources. The animals are more likely to frequent the location. Also, if it's a wireless camera, ensure that you can get a signal from wherever you place it. Carry your phone with you to test where the signal is strongest.
Q: How often should I check a trail camera?
A: Checking the camera too often may interfere with animal movements. The animals are sensitive to human activity, so they may avoid such areas. You should check or inspect the camera once a month to reduce your impact on the animal's environment.
Our top pick is the Reconyx HyperFire Covert IR Camera. It captures unparalleled color photographs and has low-light imaging to produce night pictures with great contrast.
If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a camera that you’ll only use for a short project, consider the Moultrie A-Series Game Camera.