The Ultimate Trail Camera Buyers Guide (2017 Edition)
There are hundreds of trail cameras out there on the market. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the number of features they’ve got to offer and confused by what would be the best trail camera you need to choose.
The features offered by the trail cams are diverse. Without knowing the features that these cams have got to offer you, you may settle for a mediocre cam that doesn't serve you well.
This blog post will be a buying guide for buying trail cameras discussing features that you need to consider when buying good trail cameras.
Build and quality
Undoubtedly, as you’ll be using the trail camera outdoors, possibly in harsh environments, they should be built well to withstand any climatic conditions. Buying a trail cam, shelling out huge money, only to realize that the trail cam is not for wild is a big disappointment.
Before buying trail cams, you need to make sure that the trail cam is not flashy and camouflages quite nicely when mounted on the tree. The design of the trail cam should not attract any stalkers or appear flashy to those wild animals.
Ther trail cams usually consists of a waterproof box with the lens and other parts inside it, so rain should not be a problem for 95% of the trail cams available in the market. This makes sense as they are self-operated and like set it and forget it. Due to their waterproof nature, they can also be used underwaters. However, you do need to read the instructions.
You are a passionate hunter. Let’s face it. Not everybody is happy with what they are doing. That’s how the world is. The trail cam theft is not an uncommon topic. That’s why, if you are planning to mount the trail cam in potential places with some traffic, I highly suggest you getting a good lock box for your trail cam.
Again, go for steel lockboxes as they are more secure and come with padlock and Master Lock Python Cable. You also need to make sure that the lockbox you get should match well naturally to your hunting environment. After buying a good lockbox, you just need to strap the back plate with lag bolts provided.
The camera is the most crucial feature of the trail or game cam next to the build and design. There are some of the most crucial features you need to look into before buying a good trail camera. Or else, your sole purpose of buying one won’t be fulfilled.
Image Quality - Megapixels
The first thing that obviously comes to your mind when you think of the camera is the quality of the images it can capture. So, you obviously consider the megapixels of the camera.
When it comes to DSLR or mirrorless cams, you can easily find the resolution in the range of 10 - 18 MP. But this is not the case with trail cams. With these game cams, you can expect the average resolution to be 2MP - 10MP. However, there are exceptions. For example, Boly MG983G comes with 30MP.
The higher resolution or megapixel number corresponds to the higher quality in captured images.
Flash - Incandescent or Infrared?
Flash is the crucial part of any trail cam if you want to capture photos at night or in low-light conditions. Mainly there are two types of trail cams when it comes to flash. The first one is the incandescent and the other one is infrared trail cams.
In incandescent trail cameras, the flash will be fired up bright. It will brighten up the scene and captures really high-res images. The images in incandescent cams are colored and vivid. But they come with two major downsides.
The first one is that the bright flashlight can easily scare the wild off. The flash will be visible to the animals which are in the distance. If you study the animal behaviors accurately at night, incandescent may not be the way to go. Added to this, the incandescent trail cams consume a lot of power when compared to their counterpart.
The infrared trail cameras work by flashing an invisible infrared spectrum. The flash is not visible at all. If any animal stands right in front of the cam, that too waiting for the flash to fire, it can see a light red dot on the cam, and that’s it. These cams require significantly less amount of power almost 40 times less than that of incandescent ones. The only downside of these cams is that the image comes up monochrome and image resolution will be poor. There’ll surely be grains in the picture.
There are many capture modes the trail cams come with. Those are normal capturing, burst mode, video recording and time lapse. Not all the trail cams available in the market have these capture modes. So, you need to be careful while buying them.
Conventionally speaking video recording is not really necessary for hunters. The video recording capability is only suitable for home surveillance or other purposes.
Other than normal capture mode, burst mode proves to be useful at times when you want to capture a sequence of images to determine what the animal is doing. But, you need to be aware that this capture mode can take a toll on memory, and not recommended if you are skipping a week of it.
If you are using video recording, time-lapse or burst mode, you need to keep an eye on the batteries and memory.
Trail cams either come with inbuilt memory or a swappable SD card slot. I recommend the latter one, as it gives you more freedom. The trail cams that come with storage built in will often come with WiFi features for you to easily transfer files. Some best selling cams, come with both internal and external storage like most of the Android devices.
Having a storage of 32GB and having an SD card slot is what I recommend. With this, you can swap out the SD card and view the images and footages in your external viewfinder or a tablet.
You need to remember to check the storage remaining before playing the game.
There are various ways to power up your trail cam. Having sufficient power at disposal is very important.
Here are some of the powering options for you:
These are the most widely used battery types for trail cams. Most of the cameras are designed to be perfectly functional when powered with Alkaline batteries. They have a 1.5V output which is pretty good.
As these are the most used type of batteries, you can easily find them in all shopping marts and stations. These are the cheapest batteries of all of them.
You need to avoid using these batteries in extremely cold conditions as the freezing of electrode inside the battery can shut things down. On ideal conditions, these batteries last for at least 7,000 pics if not more.
Rechargeable NiMH Batteries
These batteries cost you a lot less money in the long run as they are reusable. These batteries have come a long way and are reliable if you are a regular trail cam user.
They have a 1.2V output and has a capacity around 2,000 mAH.
Unlike, Alkaline batteries these have a metal electrode which makes the battery to perform well in cold climatic conditions. They hold more power than Alkaline ones and as well have rapid discharge rate.
However, these advantages come with their own downsides. These batteries have a high rate of discharge. It’ll be out of the juice even kept idle for 3-4 months. It has the low voltage output of 1.2V when compared to Alkaline ones with 1.5V. This means, the older trail cams tend to shut down randomly because of lower power - however, this may not be your case.
They are the best batteries in the market. There’s a reason why these batteries are most used in Smartphones. They have double the capacity of a standard NiMH batteries. They offer you a consistent output of 1.7V until they run out of juice. This adds to reliability, and peace of mind when using trail cameras.
These are really the best batteries the money can buy for your trail cam. You can get a dozen of them for like $15 - $18 bucks.
If you are reluctant to use any battery to power your trail cam, you can use solar power panel. For this, you need to make sure that there is enough sunlight in the area you are mounting it. This is very suitable in case if you are planning to mount your trail cam for months or even years without worrying about your trail cam shutting down out of battery.
However, the solar panel is not suitable for all seasons. You need to make sure that the panel is exposed to bright sunlight for some hours in a day.
This is where the things get interesting. The ability of a trail cam to take accurate and timely shots is really important.
Let us look at some of the specs you can look into in this regard.
Trigger speed refers to the time the cam takes between sensing the heat of the animal through its infrared sensors and taking a shot. The trigger speed of the trail cams should be quick to capture the moments as they are.
You need to look for trail cams that have trigger speeds of below 1 sec. Or else, you may complain that the cam is picking up non-existent animal.
Recovery time refers to the time that the camera takes to rearm itself after taking a shot. Anything below 2 secs is ideal if you are planning to take burst shots. Most of the trail cams have a recovery time of below 2 secs. However, there are some low end trail cams that have a recovery time of above 10 secs.
So, you need to consider this aspect before shelling out money.
This refers to the maximum distance and width of the area that the trail camera can capture. You need to always look for a trail cam that has good detection range. Because the cameras that have narrow detection zone tend to miss animals that are just out of the range.
Having a wider view of what’s going on in front of the cam gives you a sense of satisfaction and more chances of getting something that matters.
Most of the low-end trail cams have a detection range of 40-50 ft. Whereas, some advanced game cams have a range of 80-100ft.
Some trail cams come with cellular (SIM) or WiFi functionality to remotely send you the pictures and videos over email. This kind of feature is very helpful when you won’t bother to monitor your trail cam physically to make sure everything’s going right and it’s not stolen.
Wireless trail cams depend upon own signal or user-created network to communicate and send photos. However, the cellular trail cams need to be placed only where there is a good AT&T or Verizon network. Your smartphone and the cam should both operate in the same network.
You also need to be aware that the wireless trail cams draw a lot of power when compared to other non-wireless trail cams. The good news is that some of the trail cams can be programmed to operate wirelessly only in a specific time of the day so that it is easy on batteries.
Whatsoever, Lithium batteries are the best bet in this case.
Not all the trail cams come with an inbuilt viewfinder. If you are willing to open up your wallet little bit wider.
Below are the benefits that a viewfinder can offer you.
Having a viewfinder is just very convenient and gets you rid of lots of hassles.
These are some of the things you need to consider while buying a good trail cam. As you may have noticed there is a wide variety of trail cams available in the market. So, you need to research the right cam that suits your needs and has all the essential features for your application.
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