A trail camera, also called a game camera or camera trap, is used by hunters, wildlife observers, and researchers to accurately capture high quality images of wildlife without disturbing them. Hunters often used trail cameras to prepare for a successful hunt by surveying potential hunting areas for specific wildlife such as deer, elk, or bears. As most of you know, preparation for your hunt can be a long process and using a trail camera can be a great way to scout before the big hunt. The purpose of this blog post is to provide you with detailed information about game cameras and reviews of the best camera traps to help you make a decision on which camera is best for you.
Trail Camera Buying Guide
Buying a trail camera can be a challenge. With all the different brands, models, and features one can get caught up in all the small details and find it difficult to choose the best trail camera for their needs. Some are programmable, wireless, some take pictures and videos, varying quality of megapixels, some offer the ability to use an external power source as compared to solely batteries, some are infrared while others use a white flash, detection ranges differ, and the list goes on. Choosing the best game camera should be in the form of a selection process which I will go over.
Trail Camera Flash
One of the best ways to narrow down your list of trail cameras is to decide on the type of flash that you will require. The main choices are infrared, and incandescent/white light flash.
- Infrared Trail Camera – Also called red glow cameras because they produce a faint red light when looking at them straight on. Infrared trail cams offer the fastest trigger time because they don’t have to warm up like the white light flash and they also will require less battery meaning that they will have a longer life as compared to white light trail cameras. These trail cameras don’t need to flash like the others so there is no chance of spooking the animal however without a flash, night time photos will be a bit grainy and in black and white but day time photos may in in either black or white depending on the camera. Infrared trail cameras will probably cost you a bit more however there are definitely a lot of benefits as compared to white light game cameras.
- White Light/Incandescent Trail Camera – These trail cameras will provide full color shots in both day and night and the picture quality and resolution will generally be higher. White light trail cameras will use more energy because of the flash so that translates into a lower battery life as compared to infrared cameras. The flash sometimes has to “warm” up so the reaction time will be slower and the bright light will potentially spook your target. This can cause the animals to not come back to the area and it can also attract unnecessary human reaction around your detection zone if other hunters or observes see the flash. Overall, if you are looking for quality photos of animals, an incandescent trail camera will produce better results.
Infrared game cameras will typically cost a bit more, however because it doesn’t require a flash, the camera will last longer on a set of batteries and it won’t spook the animals. If you are looking to just purely scout a potential hunting zone, an infrared camera will likely be the best choice. However if you are on a budget and looking for the best quality photos from your camera, perhaps the best option is a white light or incandescent trail camera.
Game Camera Detection Circuit
The detection circuit is made up of the detection zone (length and width), trigger time/speed, and the recovery time. More about each of the trail camera detection circuit below.
Trail Camera Detection Zone
Trail cameras will each have their own detection zone which is part of the detection circuit, the area in which the camera detects movement and is able to take the picture and is a combination of detection range and detection width. When choosing the best trail camera, make sure you check out the specifications on the detection range and width so you get the camera that will work for your needs.
With a narrower detection zone, you may miss a lot of potential shots, however the quality of the pictures will typically be better.
The detection range and width will vary depending on the trail camera brand, model, and price range. Lower priced game cameras may have a detection zone of 40 feet whereas some of the more expensive and higher quality cameras may go as far as 100 feet. Again, make sure to consider your purpose when selecting the best detection zone for you.
You trail camera trigger speed is how fast it takes the camera to detect and snap the photo. It is the time that it takes the camera to actually take the photo after the animal enters the detection zone and can often be the difference between getting a photo of the elk versus a nice panoramic valley view. Although a faster trigger time is often more desirable, some guys that point them at a feeder will often choose a slower trigger time as it will be less costly if the animal will be spending time in one area.
The best advice would be to look for a trail camera that has just a few seconds for trigger speed. This will probably provide the best camera for the money.
As it reads, the recovery time is the amount of time between multiple photos. Technology has come a long way in trail camera development so what used to range between 30 or 60 seconds has now shrunk to just a few seconds or even fraction of a second with more expensive trail cams. This means that you will get more photos of the animal but use more battery.
Cellular and wireless trail cameras (discussed more below) will typically have a longer recovery time because they need time to send the photos taken.
Power Options for Trail Cameras
Technology and battery life has come a long ways and you can now get trail cameras that last up to a year if using quality lithium batteries whereas others can last a few weeks with your standard AA batteries. Trail camera battery life is important. Some are compatible with external power sources which will give you additional life and allow you to use 6 and 12 volt batteries. The rule of thumb is that the higher priced cameras will typically have a longer life whereas less expensive trail cameras will not last as long on a single set of batteries.
Consider the location that you expect to mount the trail camera. Is it easily accessible and wouldn’t be too much of a hassle to visit the location every few weeks to check on it and replace the batteries? Or are you mounting the game camera in a remote location that takes a few days to hike into? These decisions will help you narrow down the best trail camera. I would also suggest using the highest quality brand name batteries for added battery life.
Another technological development that has been used with trail cameras is the use of a solar panel. They can be relatively inexpensive and are a great addition for added battery life in conditions where it is open and they have access to the sun.
Trail Camera Memory
Trail cameras come with either internal memory or an external SD card. I would suggest that by far the most common is the use of an external SD memory card on most game cameras because it will provide more storage capacity and you don’t need to physically bring down the camera for transferring photos onto your computer. You will be able to buy different SD cards depending on your budget but make sure you check to see if your trail cam comes with an SD card. The larger the capacity of the SD card, the better. It will avoid missing the big buck when your small SD memory card runs out of room!
Wireless and Cellular Trail Cameras
The amount of features has increased over the development of trail cameras used for hunting. You can now by wireless trail cameras that allow you to instantly monitor the pictures being taken as the photo is sent over a network to your phone or laptop. Cellular cameras will use the same network as your cell phone to transmit quality images from almost anywhere. Note that cellular trail cameras will require you to pay a small monthly fee. These trail cameras can be programmed to send you a message when a photo is taken so you can view it instantaneously.
Other Available Options for Game Cameras
Some trail cameras have a built in viewing screen which allows you to scroll the photos without having to upload the pictures to your computer or other device. This is a nice feature but not always necessary.
More expensive trail cameras may also come with video as an option instead of just standard pictures. Note that this will require a lot more memory so be prepared to upgrade your external SD memory card to store the videos. The last thing you want is to miss the prize because lack of memory!
Security Options for Trail Camera
It’s unfortunate, but trail cameras are often targeted by other hunters if they are in a popular area or happen to be seen by others. Thieves have been known to take other hunter’s cameras or simply destroy them. Besides picking a hidden and well concealed area to mount your trail camera, there are security steps that you can take to prevent your game camera from being stolen. You can buy heavy duty straps to mount your trail camera or you can buy secure boxes to store them in. Not that these will provide you with security 100% of the time however they will make it more difficult for them to be stolen.
Construction and Durability
Trail cameras are meant to be durable which allows you to leave them in the bush for weeks on end however different brands and models will over different levels of durability. Most are built out of a rugged plastic which houses all the more important components and are resistant to rain and snow. Some are meant for warmer temperatures whereas others perform well in both cold and warm weather. Make sure to check the specs out before you buy the trail camera. Compare these specs to the conditions that you expect to use the camera in.
You may think that the more expensive the trail camera, the more durable it will be in all conditions. That is mostly true however the amount of additional features and “nice to have” gizmos often times brings down the quality and durability of the core features. Brand is also a factor when looking for trail camera durability. Trust brands like Bushnell, Browning, Stealth Cam, and Primos to name a few.
Best Game Camera Review
The Bushnell 12 MP Trophy Cam HD features an infrared flash with external memory and uses 8 AA batteries that can last up to a year however it is also compatible for external power. Bushnell trail cameras are typically better than comparable products within the same price range because of their quality and exclusive features. I would suggest purchasing a 32 gig memory card for added storage.
The Trophy Cam offers a range of features including adjustable still image and camera settings that can provide 1-3 images per trigger and it can also record video clips up to 60 seconds. It can be set to take 3 MP, 5MP or 12 mega-pixel images that are high quality and full color.
-Compact & durable design
-Up to 12 MP
-Records video clips
The Bushnell 6MP is a slightly cheaper model that is comparable to the 12 MP Trophy Cam however it will take slightly lower quality images. It features a day/night auto sensor and programmable trigger interval for added functionality and ability to customize it for your purpose. This trail camera is of exceptional for those hunters that are looking for performance and reliability and a great price. It has 32 low-glow LEDs, 6MP, video mode and Bushnell’s Field Scan technology. It has a .8 second trigger with a 45 feet reach which is on the low to mid range of field distance.
The Bushnell Trophy cam requires 8 AA batteries that can last up to a year in optimal field conditions! With that in mind, your game camera will probably not last quite that long on the settings that you require but it is nice to know that it has that long of life. Batteries are not included in this product from Amazon but make sure you buy a good set of Lithium batteries for added performance.
-720x480p video resolution
-32 GB SD card capability
Stealth Cam, a brand you may not know, came to market in 2000 and quickly became a dominant player in scouting camera innovation. The G30 IR Trail Camera features up to 8 megapixels and HD recording video capability of between 5 to 180 seconds. It has a range of up to 80 feet which is impressive for a trail camera in this price range and features their Reflex Trigger system with .5 second trigger speed. It is small, easy to set up, has a great batter life, and has a lighted LED display which is useful in low light or dark conditions.
I would say that this is one of the best trail cameras for the money and consistently gets top reviews from hunters.
-Up to 8MP
-HD video recording
The Browning Strike Force 10MP game camera is for serious hunters looking for unbelievable quality with all the bells and whistles. Browning is one of the best trail camera brands. This trail camera takes high quality images and videos, useful for any hunter that is scouting a potential hunt. This game camera is fast with its .67 trigger time and records HD videos of up to 2 minutes with a 100 foot flash range!
The Strike Force 10MP takes great daytime pictures with a good IR flash range. In the dark, it takes great black and white images with its lightning fast trigger speed and great detection range. With only 6 AA batteries, it actually has a very long useful life which surprises some hunters because many trail cameras require 8 batteries. Again, make sure you buy quality lithium AA batteries for added performance.
-10 MP image
-HD video recorder
-.67 second trigger time
-100 foot flash range
Moultrie is a brand that may not come to mind when you are considering buying a trail camera, however it should. They produce a range of high quality trail cameras that will any hunter scout land for their upcoming hunt. They manufacture industry leading hi-definition infrared models with No Glow technology with a variety of features that will benefit any hunter and they are known for building durable game cameras that can withstand the harshest of hunting conditions.
The Moultrie M-990i features a 10 MP camera with a fast 1-second trigger and up to 70 feet of range. What is really cool about this trail camera is its built in 2″ LCD screen which allows you to instantly view photos and videos without having to download them on your computer. Each photo will be stamped with a range of data including temperature, time, and date which will allow the hunter to really distinguish between all of the photos. The invisible flash remains undetectable and it takes high quality black and white shots in complete darkness.
Moultire specializes in trail cameras and the M-990i Game Spy is a best in class small game camera.
-10 MP camera
-70 feet night range
-Built in LCD viewing screen
The Stealth Cam STC-P12 6MP digital scouting camera features an external LCD display and is one of the top selling game cameras on Amazon. It is made out of a durable and long lasting plastic that can withstand tough conditions and has a detection range of 50 feet. This is a great entry level game camera for the money and has a pretty decent battery life. Programming the P12 Stealth Cam is simple and has a quick set dial with 3 preset modes along with the ability to manually set it up based on your preferences.
If you’ve used a Stealth Cam before, this P12 model will probably be smaller and more compact than previous versions. It takes high quality color shots in the day and the infrared night time photos are solid.
-Up to 15 second video recording
-External LCD Display
Best Trail Camera Conclusion
If you are a serious hunter looking to scout your next hunt, make sure you do your research before buying a trail camera. Hopefully this post has given you enough information about trail camera basics and reviews on the best trail cameras for the money.
Our top trail camera pick goes to the Browning Strike Force 10 MP. It features a great detection range and is built to withstand the harshest hunting conditions while taking some of the best day and night photos. For the price, the Browning Strike Force is hard to beat.
Stay safe and happy shooting!