What To Look For When Buying A Trail Camera


by Chris Larsen

Buying a trail camera can be a little intimidating. There are dozens of choices on the shelves in big box stores, in archery shops, and on the pages of outdoor catalogs. The prices range from as little as $50 to well over $500. The question many people ask is “what is the difference?” They all take pictures. But what do you get for $500 that you won’t get for $50? Here are the options to consider when purchasing a trail camera.

As a general rule, more megapixels lead to higher resolution photos. However, don’t let megapixels be the determining factor when purchasing a trail camera. Unless you plan to use the photos on a highway billboard, there isn’t much noticeable difference between a three or four megapixel camera and one with eight or more megapixels.

Battery Life
Battery life is a big factor. If you place your camera in an area with a lot of activity it won’t take long to rack up thousands of pictures. Some cameras will only take three or four thousand pictures on a set of batteries while others will take tens of thousands. Another thing to consider is the size of batteries used. A camera that uses 4 D batteries to take three thousand pictures will cost a lot more to operate than a camera that uses 4 AA batteries to take twenty thousand pictures.

Photo Settings
This one is probably the most important for many trail camera enthusiasts. Some cameras take photos only when triggered by motion and will only take one photo every second or two. If a deer or other critter walks through the frame and isn’t positioned well, the photo may be worthless. Other cameras are capable of taking several photos per second. This can lead to an abundance of photos but there is a good chance you will get at least one good shot of the subject. Deer hunters really like cameras like this because they get multiple angles of a deer’s antlers. Other settings to consider are auto time lapse modes. These cameras can be set to shoot a series of photos at a given time whether the camera is triggered or not. This can come in handy if you have your camera set up on a large food plot or field. The camera will take photos of what is in the field, even if the animals are in the distance. I love this mode for scouting turkeys. You can get a good look at the exact point turkeys enter and exit fields. If you were relying only on photos taken when the camera is triggered, you may get photos of turkeys but you’ll miss out on some of the key information that can help you hunt them.

Trigger Speed
Many buyers don’t think about trigger speed when buying a trail camera and then become frustrated when they see their photos. Trigger speed is the time between when the animal first walks into frame until the camera takes a photo. Some cameras can take a second or two to trigger. If the camera is on a bait station or food plot, slow trigger speed may not be much of a factor. But if the camera is on a game trail, you may end up with a lot of photos of deer butts, which is less exciting than deer heads.

daytime trail camera photoGetting a daytime photo of a big buck is a thrill. These photos signal a big deer using the area during legal hunting hours. However, the majority of buck photos are taken at night. Using a traditional flash to take nighttime photos would run deer off in a hurry. Imagine if every time you opened the refrigerator someone took a picture of you. You would find somewhere else to get food in a hurry. The same thing happens with deer. Infrared allows cameras to take nighttime photos with less intrusion. Keep in mind not all infrared is the same. Some emit an beam of infrared light while others filter the light. Filtered infrared can be completely invisible. Cameras with this technology are often called “covert”. Semi-covert cameras have some filtering but are not completely invisible.

LCD Screen
If you can’t wait until you get home to see your photos, a camera with an LCD screen may be right for you. Instant viewing is fun but I find this feature to be highly overrated. Standing in front of the camera to look at hundreds of photos is a good way to spread your scent all over the area. I prefer to get in and out as quickly as possible. If you can’t wait to see your photos, bring along your personal digital camera and pop in the SD card as soon as you get back to the truck.

Trail cameras are becoming increasingly advanced. One of the latest features is video. In fact, many cameras shoot HD quality video. This can be fun to watch but is priced into the camera and may not have much scouting value to you.

Remote Access
Speaking of advanced features, some cameras allow you to access photos from a remote location via cellular phone technology. These cameras literally send photos to your email inbox without you having to leave your house. This feature allows you to access the photos without spooking game while walking in to the woods to swap out SD cards. Remote access is great for hunters who are particularly conscious of their scent and people who hunt on property hundreds of miles away. It does have a few drawbacks. The main one is cost. These cameras cost more at the checkout and there is a monthly fee to activate the remote feature. Another thing to consider is cellular reception. If your phone doesn’t work there, the chances of the remote feature working is slim.

New technology is constantly upgrading trail cameras. The features found in a $100 camera today would have cost hundreds more a few years ago. Take a good look at several cameras and decide what is important to you before buying.


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