Three best trail cameras
A good trail camera enables you to monitor all kinds of wildlife without the hassle and discomfort of sitting in a blind all day and night. It automatically captures images of anything that wanders by.
To help you choose the right model, we've produced the following guide highlighting the features you should look for in a trail camera, including a few favorites for your consideration.
Considerations when choosing trail cameras
There are two elements of detection: the angle of capture (field of view) and distance.
Angle of capture: 45° is common, but it can be up to 55°.
Distance: This is often given as the range of the flash - from 50 feet on entry-level models to 120 feet on high-end devices. Actual detection range (where the sensors pick up movement) can be the same, but caution is needed. It might be up to 50% less.
Trigger speed and recovery
Trigger speed is how quickly your trail camera reacts to the movement it detects. Recovery time is how long it takes for the camera to reset for the next shot. In both cases, faster means you'll capture more images.
Image quality and memory
Almost all trail cameras capture still images and video. Higher resolution and longer video make greater demands on memory, so some cameras offer switchable resolutions and/or variable length. You can usually expand memory with an SD card.
Still-image quality depends on the lens and definition (in megapixels).
10MP and up is reasonable quality.
16MP to 20MP offers more detail
The length of video varies from four seconds to one minute.
720p (standard HD) is common for video.
1080p (Full HD) is also available.
Image capture modes
In addition to stills and video, many trail cameras offer time-lapse - the ability to shoot images at specified intervals, from one every minute to one every hour, depending on model. Some cameras will override time-lapse if they detect movement, so you never miss a picture.
There are three types of camera flash: white light (incandescent), standard infrared (or low glow), and invisible infrared (no glow or black LED).
White flash illuminates well but spooks most animals, which can lead to poor results.
Standard infrared can only be seen if the animal looks directly at the camera. It's effective in most cases.
Invisible infrared is the best option but adds to the price of the camera.
Batteries and battery life
Most trail cameras use six or more standard AA batteries. Battery life is given as a time period or number of pictures (often 10,000 or more). Outdoor conditions - particularly cold - drain batteries more quickly, so it's impossible to be precise. Check your camera regularly to establish a pattern. For longer life, use lithium-ion batteries.
Several high-end trail cameras can store photos for later download or send them directly to your phone or computer. You can also control some camera features remotely, which often requires a subscription. Currently, wireless trail cameras don't offer the range or resolution of other models. Many are complex to set up and expensive.
While a few trail cameras cost close to $1,000, there are excellent models available in the $100 to $200 bracket. If you prioritize the features you want most, you can save big and still get great results.
Q. Where should I position my trail camera?
A. It depends on the wildlife you want to capture. You might have to experiment for best results, but these suggestions will help:
Position camera level with the animal's chest, around three feet for deer, for example, and lower for hogs or big cats.
Mount the camera at an angle to compensate for a sloping trail.
Fix 25 to 35 feet from the target zone to give best field of view.
Aim directly along the trail if shooting single stills. If shooting time-lapse or video, set at 45° to allow for the animal's progress through the field.
Avoid overhanging branches that could move across the lens.
Q. Why do trail cameras only take black-and-white images at night?
A. White flash trail cameras are capable of taking color images and video. We've spoken about the problems associated, and white flash trail cameras are also expensive. Infrared flash seldom causes disturbance, but the technology only allows for black-and-white images.
Trail cameras we recommend
Best of the best: Browning Strike Force
Our take: A feature-packed trail camera that delivers high-end performance without an exorbitant sticker price.
What we like: Excellent detection range, rapid trigger and recovery times, plus a wide variety of image options mean higher success rates and better pictures.
What we dislike: Instructions could be clearer (check YouTube for help).
Best bang for your buck: Moultrie 2017 Game Camera
Our take: Proof that if you look carefully you can find a great trail camera for surprisingly little money.
What we like: Despite the basement price, you get above-average range, good trigger speed, and a choice of medium- or high-resolution stills. It's even wireless compatible, though it requires a separate modem.
What we dislike: Video capture could be longer. Modem is expensive.
Choice 3: Bushnell 16MP Trophy Cam
Our take: Well-respected manufacturer delivers a high-end camera at a mid-range price.
What we like: Astonishing trigger and reset rates mean nothing sneaks by! Also has excellent range, multiple time-lapse options, and high-quality night vision.
What we dislike: Some quality control issues. Two-year warranty should cover returns.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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