A trail camera, also known as a trap, game, or wildlife camera, has a passive infrared motion detector that activates the shutter when an animal (or trespasser) walks into its field of view. There are many reasons to buy such a camera, with the most obvious one being for hunting. However, today more and more people buy a trail camera to get into wildlife watching.
Many Aussies install trail cams simply to see what wildlife, or even their own pets, are up to when humans aren’t looking. Residents in rural and even suburban regions are occasionally astonished and amused by the diversity of animals captured by their cameras, as well as their antics. Trail cam “bloopers” of animals captured in amusing situations have become a popular category on blogs and video sites.
That said, having such a camera sure sounds fun. But the experience of shopping for trail cameras can be daunting considering there is a sea of choices with dozens of different features. To make it easier for you, here’s what to pay attention to.
A Fast Trigger
The shutter of a trail camera is triggered by movement. Trigger speed is the amount of time between when you move and when the photo is captured. Cams that fire in half a second or less are easy to come by and offer pretty decent snapshots of animals.
Recovery time, or how long it takes for the camera to get ready to take another picture, is another related factor. Although not every camera manufacturer offers recovery time, when they do, it’s worth considering.
A burst mode, which fires off numerous rounds in fast succession, is common, as is a multi-shot mode with a chosen period of time between shots. You may also set the time between triggered events so that your memory card doesn’t get clogged up with photographs of the same deer.
The detection range is also connected to trigger speed. It determines how close an animal must go to the camera to trigger the motion detector. A longer (far) detection range will, of course, capture more wildlife movement, but it will also fill your card faster.
The higher the resolution, like with most other cameras, the better the chances of getting a sharp image or video. However, keep in mind that the maximum resolution reported for a camera is sometimes an interpolation, or augmentation, of a much lower “original” resolution—the camera simply adds pixels to the data captured by the sensor.
However, even the native resolution is usually enough to take beautiful photographs and videos, and they’ll take up less memory card space. Additionally, many cameras allow the user to choose between still-photo resolution and video resolution.
Taking photos in the dark necessitates the use of artificial light. There are three types of flash available on trail cameras: white, which is becoming increasingly rare; “red” or “low-glow” infrared; and “black” or “no-glow” infrared.
Because they are less likely to scare the animals being photographed, infrared flashes are by far the most popular. Low-glow flashes work slightly above the visible spectrum (at a wavelength of roughly 732nm), thus they do emit some light at the source, but not a lot, and while this may startle the game, it also results in better images.
A no-glow flash, on the other hand, operates at wavelengths of 864nm, much above the visible spectrum, and is completely undetectable; the animal continues about its business unaffected. Because white light is likely to shock the animal and cause it to escape, it is rarely used. However, it enables colour photography at night, whereas infrared flash only allows for black-and-white.
A Good Lens
The majority of trail cameras use a fixed focal length (and thus a field of vision) lens. A fixed near-point of focus is included in this. Using a wide-angle lens allows you to capture a lot of detail, but individual subjects may appear small in the photograph. A zoom lens with a small field of view can overlook a lot of detail.
Some manufacturers offer a selection of factory-fitted lenses for a given make and model which can feature user-changeable lenses with a very close near-point of focus — ideal for photographing birds on feeders. Again, information on lenses may be found on manufacturer websites.
Your trail camera will consume a lot of battery power. A usual requirement is eight AA batteries, however, some cameras may require as many as twelve. Many cams can also be powered by an external source, such as a 6- or 12-volt battery or power bank.
Some cameras feature a built-in solar panel that charges an on-board 12 VDC lithium battery to power the gadget. A solar-powered cam can alternatively be powered by eight AA batteries or a plug-in DC power supply if necessary. Solar panels for some trail cams are available from brands like Moultrie, Bushnell, RECONYX, and Spypoint.