Technology has come a long way in improving our lives, including in the field of photography. Trail cameras, for instance, are an example of outdoor recreation technology that has become an essential device for lots of different people.

Trail cameras are primarily used by hunters for tracking patterns of animal movements. However, photographers use them as well to take nice photos in tough environments or to spot game that is rare or shy. Regular people can use them too for home security or theft detection purposes.

Whatever your intended purpose is for using a trail camera, know that there are numerous options available. Since trail cameras come in several types and have a multitude of features, it can become quite confusing to choose the best option for you.

Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you figure out which one fits your needs.

What is a Trail Camera?

Trail cameras, also known as game cameras, are primarily used for sport and game hunting. They were first created to record a trip without a photographer being there. They are specifically designed to help you have a hands-off approach to observing animals by capturing their picture and location, which is difficult to do in the wild.

They are weatherproof, can be installed in a distant location to sense movement, capture photos and videos during night or day, and can save the images into an internal memory. This way, you can track which types of animals visit a hunting ground, how they behave, where they go next, and what time they come, among others. This ensures that you don’t waste your time in a location if it’s a dead spot.

Trail cameras are rugged, waterproof, self-powered, self-operated, and designed to fit in nature. They have long-lasting batteries, so you can just strap them on a tree and leave them there for weeks or months.

Other uses for trail cameras include scientific research and security purposes, such as protecting property from theft or animal damage.

Types of Trail Cameras

There are three main types of trail cameras and they serve different purposes.

Flash trail cameras

A flash trail camera is very easy to install. They are portable and available in many different sizes. They can be used during the day as a normal trail camera, but they are really made for night shots. At night, they switch to flash mode and emit a small flash when the detection zone is activated by movement.

Flash trail cameras have some of the best zoom capacities, producing very good picture quality. Day photos are usually colored while night ones are black and white. These cameras also usually make a shutter noise. Another benefit is that the flash can serve as a warning to possible intruders. However, it can scare off animals as well.

Infrared trail cameras

Infrared (IR) trail cameras are a newer invention that looks at the temperature of the surroundings and are typically used in low light or darkness. They come with sensors that automatically switch the infrared function on and off. An infrared light, usually red or white, is emitted when a picture is taken, providing light for the exposure. This light is less likely to scare off animals, unlike the traditional white flash.

When it comes to resolution and sensitivity, no other type of trail camera can compare to the infrared camera, making it a popular choice for scientific researchers. Pictures have high resolution and even night images are very clear. Due to the color of the light though, images are slightly tinted green, red, or white.

They are also easy to install, very sturdy, and designed to withstand tampering more effectively. Their numerous advantages come with a huge price tag though and so they are not that popular for use by small establishments or homes.

Wireless trail cameras

Wireless trail cameras have fewer attachments and no wires, which is especially great for indoor use. They are very innovative and extremely user-friendly, especially for tech-savvy individuals.

They have a built-in transmitter that transports images via a 4G or WiFi connection. Once the image is taken, you simply link the camera to the wireless network of your receiving device, such as your phone, tablet, or computer. It can even be set to send you notifications, which is a great feature especially when the camera is used as a security or surveillance device.

They are not suitable for outdoor use though because exposing them to the natural environment can hamper the wireless signals. Their use is also limited to areas with strong internet connection or else the transmission feature will not work. You also need to be wary of potential cyber attacks.

Choosing the Best Trail Camera

Trail cameras come with a variety of features. Determine which ones are essential to you before you make your purchase.

Flash

The type of flash you use is critical because it can either hamper or facilitate your game. The different flash options are as follows:

  • Infrared. Taking photos at night is easier because infrared flash does not emit a bright white flash. Also known as invisible flash, it is hard to spot and will not spook your game at night. Also, due to faster recovery between snaps, you can take photos more frequently, although infrared cameras can only produce black and white versions of your night shots.
  • Incandescent. Incandescent flash is a slower option. It also uses a lot of battery power. It flashes a bright white light when pictures are taken, which makes photos clear and refined even when taken at night or in the dark. Both day and night shots are colored although the picture quality of day shots are better. The downside is that it can spook your game at night. It may also alert others regarding its presence and attract other hunters to the area.
  • No Glow Infrared. Also known as Blackout Trail Cameras or Invisible Flash Trail cameras, this one can illuminate an animal without it detecting the flash, making it increasingly popular for wildlife surveillance and home security. However, the flash is less powerful, has a shorter range, and has lower overall quality.
  • Red Glow Infrared. Unlike the no glow version, this one emits a light red flash when they take a picture or video at night. However, the glow is faint, and you wouldn’t notice it unless you stare at the camera. This also produces clear and bright photos.
  • White LED Flash. This is similar to the incandescent version in that it emits a very bright white flash that stays on the entire time of the snap or the video. It can take a colored night picture or video. Some animals may be spooked by the light though.

The bottom line is, you should choose a trail camera depending on what you want to use it for. If your primary concern is surveillance and stealth, a Red Glow Infrared trail camera will be a great option. However, if photo quality is of more importance, then an Incandescent trail camera will be the way to go.

Image Quality

A hunter and a photographer will have very different needs and requirements when it comes to image quality. Also called resolution, image quality is measured in megapixels. The higher the megapixels, the better the picture quality although we recommend at least 8 MP minimum. However, the higher the megapixel, the more expensive the camera. You also need to consider the type of flash and the camera’s performance at night versus day.

Video option

Most trail cameras these days now come with an option to record videos as well. These videos can be as short as 3 seconds to as long as 300 seconds. Some may record only in black and white while others can produce colored ones with HD quality. However, bear in mind that some do not have an audio function and that recording videos takes up more battery life and memory.

Memory

How much memory you need will depend on your usage. High-resolution photos need more storage space. However, they take up less space than videos. If you are continuously recording videos, expect that the files will eat up the entire memory in no time. The same goes for cameras that take multiple shots wherein just one trigger produces more than one picture.

When buying an SD card, use the recommended brand and quality to ensure that it will run properly on your camera. Lastly, check to make sure that it is easy for you to switch out the SD card without having to take the entire camera down. You’ll want to stock up on a bunch of them.

Security

While not all trail cameras are expensive, there is a lot of demand for them this makes them a target for theft. We’ve gotten some great shots of people trying to steal our cameras, even climbing trees for them, and then not being able to break our locks. Aside from this though, trail cameras can also be dislodged in the wild even if they are usually sturdy.

To secure your camera, consider how many people may be walking through your area (Don’t worry, we’ve never seen a bear steal a camera before!) and based on that decide on the security options your camera will need. Options range from simple cables to more advanced locks and security boxes. Security boxes protect the camera from direct blows and scratches. Choose one with a foolproof but simple lock mechanism. Anti-theft cables, on the other hand, are used when mounting your camera.

Screen and Playback Options

Some trail cameras come with a screen, so you can ensure the angle is right before leaving the camera to run or to easily see if there’s been any activity without having to switch memory cards. It’s also more comfortable for configuring everything. You can also use it to review pictures so that you can delete the unwanted ones immediately.

There are models that come with an LCD viewing screen with HD support. This type of screen is better but also more expensive. Take note that an external viewing screen can make your camera bulky too so make sure to choose the right size for you.

Detection circuit

The detection circuit is what detects the animal using a combination of heat and motion. There are three aspects to the detection circuit that should be considered.

  • Response / Trigger Time. This pertains to how quickly the camera takes a photo or starts a video after spotting movement. Anything under a second is good and the priority of this will again depend on your use case.
  • Recovery Time. Recovery Time refers to how quickly the camera can be ready for a second photo after storing the first. The usual range is between 3.3 to 5.5 seconds. Depending on your use case, you may want to take several photos a minute or maybe even a second. What if your first photo did not work out? The intruder’s face was covered? The animal turned its head? Keep these in mind.
  • Detection Zone. You’ll want to see how far away objects can be for the camera to trigger. Detection Zone pertains to the area in which the camera can sense motion and trigger a photo. This can be determined using the Detection Width and Detection Range. Long range cameras are usually preferred for hunting in the wild while low range ones are only meant for covering a very limited area. If you’re covering a huge area, you may need several cameras (or a more expensive solution). Take note of the field view as well. It is the width of the angles within which the camera can detect movement. The wider the field view, the better.
  • Battery life. A hunting session can last for many hours or even days so the last thing you want to worry about is your battery dying out. Battery life can range from weeks to months depending on the type, how the camera is configured and what flash type it has.Trail cameras accept different types of batteries such as rechargeable, AA, C, and D among others. Th type of battery determines long-term maintenance costs and most importantly, the frequency of replacement. Keep in mind how many cameras you have as well as where you’ll be using them. If you have a lot, then you’ll want to save on costs. Also, if you’ll be placing the cameras on hard to reach places, then you probably don’t want to have to change the batteries too often.The most common types of batteries are:
  1. Alkaline batteries
  2. Rechargeable NiMH Batteries
  3. Lithium batteries
  4. External batteries
  5. Solar power panels
  • Design. This might be an obvious criterion but the most important thing to think about is which type of design will help the camera blend in the best. Think about where you plan to place the camera, so you can decide whether to use camouflage or not. Most trail cameras come with camouflage already in the package.
  • Additional Features. Modern technology has allowed for new features in trail cameras such as time lapses, slow-motion videos, photo filters, videos with full audio and high-quality microphones, and even audio-based detection systems. There are also lots of new filters coming up in the market.

Common Mistakes

Using low-quality batteries

Not all batteries are the same. Use only high-quality ones, preferably those recommended for use in your particular camera. Cheap batteries will cost you more money in the long run. Go for lithium ones, which last longer and work better.

Mounting the camera in the wrong direction

Mounting the camera either facing the east or west is not a good idea because it will be facing the setting or rising sun. Mounting it too high or too low will also not give you high-quality results. Make sure to mount it only 2 – 3 feet above ground and facing either the north or south for optimum results.

Not all SD cards work well with trail cameras. This includes high-speed SD cards meant for digital and high-end point and shoot cameras only, which don’t write fast enough for trail cameras.

Using a digital camera to view SD card files

While it’s fine to view your SD card files using a digital camera, do not delete them there. Deleting them on a digital camera may cause it to rewrite the files because trail cameras use a specific file structure in saving them on the SD card. It’s best to reformat the files on the trail camera first before deleting them on the digital camera.

Best trail cameras

Apeman Trail and Hunting Camera

The new version of the APEMAN Trail and Hunting Camera captures 12MP crystal clear images and 1080P HD video with super clear sound recording. It uses 940nm infrared flash illumination technology equipped with 26 LEDs. Featuring an IP66 spray water protected design, it is compact and sturdy and housed in a weatherproof plastic case that stands up to the elements.

apeman trail camera 12mp game and hunting camera with night vision

We like

  • Dust-proof, drop-proof, and waterproof
  • Different mounting options
  • 0.5-second motion sensor trigger speed is impressive
  • Uses glow infrared technology
  • Multi-shot mode that can take up to 3 photos per detection
  • High-quality images

We don't like

  • Batteries not included
  • Nighttime images are unclear and blurry
  • Strap and tripod mount are only made of plastic

Victure Trail Camera

This camera captures 12 MP images and 1080P HD videos. It has a fully automatic IR filter and 24 Pcs 940NM Infrared low-glow black LEDs. It also features an impressive 0.5 seconds trigger time and has an IP66 Waterproof housing, making it dust-proof, drop-proof, and rain-proof.

Victure Trail Camera 12mp wildlife camera

We like

  • 100% quiet
  • Durable - can withstand different types of weather
  • Has external and internal power source ports
  • Comes with ready-to-use mounting equipment

We don't like

  • Instructions are vague (best for use by those with experience in trail cameras)
  • Low field of view for nighttime photos and videos
  • Trigger is too sensitive
  • Batteries not included

Enkeeo PH730S Trail Camera

This trail camera features a 0.2 – 0.6 high trigger speed with a 120-degree wide detection angle. It produces 12MP high-quality full-color resolution photos and 1920x1080P HD videos with audio. It comes with a built-in 2.4″ TFT LCD display and 42 pieces 850nm black low glow IR LEDs.

Enkeeo Trail Camera 12mp Wildlife Game Hunting Cam

We like

  • Easy to set up
  • 3 modes available: photo, video, and hybrid
  • Clear HD pictures and videos
  • High trigger speed
  • Long range
  • Black low glow IR lights

We don't like

  • Battery limitations in cold weather
  • Menus can be difficult to navigate due to multiple features

Browning Strike Force Trail Camera

This camera features an incredible 0.4-second trigger speed and 0.8 second recovery time with 16MP picture quality along with a new video processor that produces incredible quality 1280 x 720 HD video clips with sound. It also takes night pictures using Browning Trail Cameras Zero Blur technology with eliminates motion blur from wildlife in pictures up to a range of 120-feet at night.

Browning Trail Cameras Strike

We like

  • Solid and compact case design
  • High image and video quality
  • Detection circuits are one of the best
  • Very fast trigger speed and good recovery
  • Long battery life

We don't like

  • Night videos up to 20 seconds only
  • Temperature readings are inaccurate
  • Battery not included

Moultrie A-30 Game Camera

The Moultrie A-30 Game Camera features a flash equipped with 24 LEDs and 850nm nighttime infrared technology, 2 resolution settings (low and high, and HD), and a sturdy case with a weatherproof plastic exterior. It can work with SD/SDHC class 4 cards or higher and can handle up to 32 GB.

Moultrie A-30 Game Camera

We like

  • Effortless to install and use
  • Sturdy and weatherproof
  • Impressive 0.7-second trigger speed
  • Sharp picture quality
  • Budget-friendly

We don't like

  • Battery not included
  • Light is somewhat detectable
  • No time-lapse option
  • Can't detect small creatures in far distances

Stealth Cam G42 Trail Camera

This 10MP camera features HD video recording with audio from 5 to 180-seconds. It has 42 No Glo invisible infrared emitters and includes EZ Dial programming with QuickSet capability as well as burst mode and time lapse with PIR override. It uses Matrix Advanced blur reduction technology for capturing clearer moving objects as well as Retina low light sensitivity technology for detailed and evenly lit scenes.

Stealth Cam Wildlife Camera

We like

  • Great battery life
  • Easy to set up and use
  • Very durable
  • Fast trigger speed
  • High-quality video with sound
  • High-quality images
  • Good detection range

We don't like

  • Recovery time is not the best
  • Does not support all types of memory cards
  • Can't use rechargeable batteries
  • Batteries not included