A trail camera, also known as a wildlife or game camera, is used to record wildlife when you are not around.
It can help you catch a glimpse of animals you’d otherwise never see and monitor them without disturbing them.
Read on for more information on what is a trail camera, how it works and the key features to consider when purchasing one.
Trail cameras are weatherproof, motion-activated devices designed to automatically record videos and images when triggered.
Trail cams are not active all the time. Most of the time they are in a state of electronic sleep, much like a TV left on standby, but they contain one part that is fully awake—the motion -sensor.
Most trail cameras come equipped with a PIR (Passive Infra-Red) detector that works similarly to burglar alarms and monitors motion and temperature changes in front of the device.
When the PIR sensors detect a change in motion or temperature, the camera is triggered and it starts shooting images or video. When the photo or video is completed the camera goes back to its static state until it is triggered again.
Even though trail cameras were reserved for wildlife management research in the past, thanks to technological advances, they have become affordable and available to the public.
As their popularity grew, so did the number of uses for this handy gadget.
Here are a few situations where one could benefit from having a trail cam:
Now that you know what a trail camera is and its many uses, it’s time to go over the most important features you need to think about when purchasing one:
A higher number of megapixels (MP) leads to better image quality and higher resolution, which in turn means you can zoom in on pictures and see all the details.
That said, there are some downsides to images with a higher MP. For one, they take up more space on your SD card. Also, if the quality of the lens is bad then even the higher number of MP won’t make the image better.
Basically, the necessity of quality photos depends on what you are using them for. Image quality might not be a useful feature for security purposes, but for wildlife researchers and photographers this factor is crucial.
The best way to see if the image quality of the camera is up to your standards is to look at real-life photos taken with the trailcam you are interested in buying on the official company website, forums or in online reviews.
The detection range measures the farthest distance an animal should be from the camera to trigger the device and is crucial for getting good quality pictures. The detection range can be as close as 12 metres or as far as 37 metres.
Note that some cameras let you adjust the detection range so it best suits your needs—fields and open areas would need an extended detection range, while longer detection zones are not a necessity if your trail camera is placed in the woods.
Trigger speed is the amount of time between the movement that triggers the trail’s camera shutter and the time a picture is taken. On trailcams, this usually ranges between 0.1 to 1 second. The shorter the trigger time is, the better the camera.
Trigger speed is essential when you are trying to film a fast-moving subject as it allows you to take the photo before the animal moves out of the frame.
The time that the camera needs to store the first photo and take the second one is called recovery time, and though often overlooked, it is a feature worth taking into consideration when you’re on the market for a new game trail camera.
Even if you have a camera with fast trigger speed, slow recovery time may cause you to miss out on important details, or pictures of other animals if you have more than one moving in the frame.
The trail camera flash type may be one of its most important features, as it determines how noticeable the camera would be while taking photos and how the images will look.
The three main types of flash found in trail cams are:
White light flash, which is the same type used by traditional cameras, allows the trail cam to take full-colour photos at night. The downside of a white flash camera is that the bright light might spook the subject. So if you’re planning on using the cam for surveillance you should definitely choose another flash type.
IR (infrared) or the low-glow flash takes black and white images at night, but it is less likely to scare off your subject. These cameras produce a barely visible red glow when taking pictures, so when it comes to shooting wildlife at night with a trail camera, they are the perfect choice.
Black infrared or no glow cameras also take black and white photos, but their flash is completely invisible, thus they are considered the best for home security and hunters.
The images and videos taken by the trail cam are typically stored on an SD card.
Most SD cards have a minimum of 32 or 64 GB of memory which is more than enough for the average user. However, if you are planning on taking high-resolution images, photo bursts or are unable to go to the site and clean the SD card frequently, you might need one with more memory.
For an extra price, you can choose a trail cam with a wireless feature which allows you to view the captured photos or videos without actually removing the SD card from the camera.
Some trailcams have a small screen used for reviewing photos or videos without taking the SD card out, though, this could also increase the price, so it might not be the most budget-friendly option.
Another feature you want to look out for in a motion-activated wildlife camera is the focal length of the lens which dictates the field of view. The wider the angle the more you get in the picture, though there is a risk of the object appearing small in the photo.
The good news is that some trail camera models come with user-changeable lenses and most manufacturers offer several factory fitted lenses to pick from, so it’s best to take a look at the manufacturer’s website and see what options they have.
Battery life is another aspect to consider, particularly if you can’t afford to travel to the location of the camera often.
Though AA batteries are the cheapest option, they don’t last very long. Rechargeable batteries, on the other hand, can save you money in the long run, as they’re longer-lasting and work better in cold weather conditions.
If you want to go the eco-friendly way, you could opt for field cameras charged by solar power. However, this will not be of any use if you are putting the camera on a site with dense vegetation.
There are some additional functions that you can add to a trail camera, and although not completely necessary, they do provide some interesting functions.
The average price of trail cameras in the UK is between £20 and £50, although a good quality trail camera would fall into the £100 to £120 range. That said, you could find more expensive models of £300 and over, which come with a slew of advanced options and functions.
Also keep in mind that most trail cameras in the UK have a warranty of one to two years, so compare prices and brands to find the best deal.
As with other features, you are the one that decides how much you feel comfortable spending and what functions of a trail camera are absolutely necessary for your requirements.
Setting up a trail camera is quite easy. These cams come with a nylon strap, so you can quickly secure them to a tree or a post. Alternatively, you could attach them to a tripod or spike on the ground.
The tricky bit is where to place the game camera.
Here are a few tips to help you make the best decision:
Choose a place where you’ve seen signs of animals. Walk around the area and look for trails on the ground, natural paths or travel corridors.
In general, though, the best location to place a trail cam would be near food or water or on a trail or path.
Note: If you are setting up the camera on a trail, try to put it at a curve as this way the animal will be walking towards the camera and you will get better pictures.
Always aim the camera at a 45-degree angle to a game trail or path, to get the most of the picture. This will also boost visibility in areas with more vegetation as well as increase the likelihood of seeing both smaller and bigger animals.
Make sure that the trail cam is placed on something stable as a thick tree trunk, strong fencepost or a specially designed support. You don’t want it swaying in the wind and triggering the motion sensor for nothing. Also clear away branches, leaves and shrubs as these will not only get in the frame but might trigger the cam as well.
Consider the animals you are trying to capture an image of. The ideal height would be to place it level with the animal’s chest. But, if you are on the lookout for snakes or small animals, placing the camera on the ground would be a much better idea.
Since the trail camera is triggered by motion and heat, be sure to always place it in a shady spot. Putting it in the sun can start its heat-sensing mechanism as well as reduce the difference between the temperature of the camera and the animal, lowering the chances of the motion sensor wildlife camera getting activated and taking the shot.
Lastly, once you have set up the camera, do a test run to see if it captures what you want. Walk past it a few times to trigger it and check the SD card. This way you will ensure that the camera is on and working properly.
There is a wide range of trail cameras on the market today, from the most basic device to advanced cellular trail cams.
Before you purchase one make sure you do your research and carefully consider all the factors outlined above, so you can get the most out of your camera.
Not all trail cameras take videos. Depending on the model of the camera, it can either take just still photos or both still photos and videos. There are also hybrid cameras that can take photos and videos at the same time, but these tend to cost more.
It depends on the camera. If you have a model that allows you to access the pictures and control the camera settings from a remote location or a cellular trail camera that sends recorded photos or videos to your phone, then you need a WI-FI connection.
Yes, if you use a traditional white flash camera. To avoid using flash, opt for a low-glow or no-glow camera.
Though they’re designed to be discrete, some trail cameras that use an IR filter make a click sound when the lighting conditions of the photo\video they are taking are different from the ones taken before. Also, other trail cams can produce an ultrasonic “squeal” from the camera’s power supply.
If you are interested in wildlife or want a low-cost way to monitor your property, then trailcams are a good idea. These small devices also come with additional bells and whistles so they are practical as well as fun and educational.