On the Trail of Trail Cameras
Trail cameras are great tools for capturing close-up photos and video of wildlife remotely, without running the risk of scaring them off or sustaining personal injury. Strap a camera to a tree or post and set it to take shots automatically while you go about your business elsewhere. When you return, you’ll have great shots that would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, to pull off while holding the camera. B&H offers a broad array of trail cameras that will suit your needs.
The resolution of the image sensor is a key factor. Sharper photos and videos will allow you to pick out finer details in the subjects of your photos, and will lend themselves better to large-scale computer or television viewing or print reproduction. The Minox DTC 600 features a 5.1MP image sensor, while the Bushnell X-8 offers 6MP. Bushnell’s Trophy Cam HD, Trophy Cam HD Max, and Nature View Cam HD, as well as Moultrie’s Panoramic 150, D-444, D-555i, and M-880 have 8MP sensors. Moving up in resolution, the Moultrie M-990i utilizes 10MP, while the Wildgame Innovations Crush 12 features an even greater 12MP.
All of these trail cams utilize both infrared motion detection and time-lapse modes, allowing them to shoot photos or video whenever their sensors are triggered by movement, or at specified time intervals. Motion detection and time lapse are huge advantages, considering that you are not going to be there to capture shots whenever you see opportunities. A trail cam with both of these features is a luxury for some and a necessity for many.
This image is interactive: Hover over cameras and click to explore each.
Motion detection will likely give you the greatest number of shots and will also ensure that you don’t miss opportunities when animals step into the coverage zone. But time-lapse photography will allow you to create a video showing change over time, which is crucial when tracking and studying game. It will let you observe patterns and behaviors, including activity or inactivity at certain times of day or night, and will give you options for the time interval. Many trail cameras even include time-lapse software to help you combine your captured pictures into videos.
Cameras with selectable options for delay time can be programmed to keep shooting at intervals, as long as motion is detected and a subject remains in range. The Bushnell cameras listed above, along with the Wildgame Crush 12, feature a range of up to 45-60', and the Moultrie Panoramic 150, D-444, M-880 and M-990i are effective from 35-45' away.
Some cameras can be set to motion-detect mode for a certain period of time, such as overnight, and time-lapse mode for the remainder of the day. These include the 150, D-555i, M-880, and M-990i. Certain models, including the 150, D-444 and X-8, will continue to capture images via motion detection in time-lapse mode. This will enable you to see change over time without missing what goes on during the delay interval.
Continuous-shooting capability allows you to capture at least three shots in quick succession each time motion is detected, increasing your chances of getting a truly stellar photo. The X-8, Trophy Cam HD, HD Max, Nature View, DTC 600, and Panoramic 150 all capture up to 3 images per trigger, while the D-444, M-880, and M-990i capture 4 images. The D-555i leads the pack in this category with the ability to shoot 10 images in a fast sequence.
Since you’re trying to be as unobtrusive as possible when photographing game in the wild, you don’t want a flash that will alarm your subjects. Most trail cameras and all those featured in this article have built-in infrared or nearly invisible LED flash units, which provide illumination while remaining inconspicuous. Consider the effective flash range to get an idea of how close wildlife will have to get to be properly exposed in low light.
A long-standing issue with trail cameras has been their limited field of view. The solution is the Moultrie Panoramic 150 camera. It features 3 PIR motion sensors that together cover an extremely wide 150-degree angle of view, revolutionizing trail photography. Utilizing a rotating lens that allows a shot to be captured at each sensor in quick succession, the camera effectively triples the lens's angle of view, allowing it to capture activity that would be missed by a standard trail camera. It then stitches these 3 images together to create a panoramic shot.
Trail cams that can automatically increase minimum shutter speed help counteract motion blur in low light. This advanced function could mean the difference between a clear shot of an identifiable animal and a blurry photo of little use, especially in situations where the game is moving quickly. The Trophy Cam HD, HD Max, Panoramic 150, D-555i, M-880, M-990i, and Crush 12 all make use of this technology for sharp low-light shots.
To see the game in action, you’ll need a camera that records video. Some shoot HD 720p movies, while others allow standard-definition capture. The Trophy Cam HD and HD Max are even capable of shooting video and still images simultaneously. All of the trail cams featured in this guide record video, and the Trophy Cam HD, HD Max, Nature View, 150, D-555i, M-880, and M-990i offer HD 720p resolution. Video-clip length can vary but is generally pretty short, up to 30 or 60 seconds for many of these cameras and 90 seconds for the 150, D-555i, M-880, and M-990i.
If you want to capture the sounds of wildlife, you’ll need to get your hands on a trail cam with a microphone. Audio recording will help you identify animals and choose the proper sounds to attract them on your game call device. The Trophy Cam HD, HD Max, Nature View, 150, D-555i, M-880, and M-990i all capture sound.
Many trail cameras feature black-and-white text monitors for menu navigation and settings selection, but others offer color screens, which are usually LCDs. Not all trail cams offer photo or video playback, so you may need to purchase a separate viewer that will allow you to see your images in the field from the camera’s memory card. The DTC 600, M-990i, D-555i, and HD Max feature 2-2.4" color displays with playback capabilities—but Wildgame’s Crush 12 holds the trump card with its large, playback-enabled, color LCD touchscreen.
The ability to adjust the picture and video resolution of your trail camera is very useful, as it ensures you won’t run out of memory before you retrieve the camera. If you want to record for longer periods of time, you can select a lower resolution; if the duration is shorter, bump up the quality for sharper images. Virtually all trail cams, including all those discussed in this article, provide multiple selectable resolutions.
A unique feature on select trail cams, such as the Minox DTC 600, is a manual shutter release. This allows you to use the device as a normal, handheld digital camera, framing and composing shots on the display and capturing photos and videos at the touch of a button.
When setting up a trail camera, make sure you’ve got plenty of battery power. The majority of these cams run on replaceable batteries, such as AA or C-cell types, which are conveniently available almost anywhere. However, it’s certainly an advantage to have an input like a 12VDC jack for the connection of an optional power pack to extend shooting time. It would be a shame to miss some great shots because the camera ran out of juice. The Panoramic 150, D-444, D-555i, M-880, M-990i, and Crush 12 are all configured with such inputs for added power.
A nice feature of many trail cams is time, date, temperature, and moon-phase recording. This data is stamped on the images at the time of capture. Time and date stamping will help you track wildlife by indicating the time of day, month, or year when they’re most active, while temperature tells you whether they prefer warm or cold weather. Moon phase allows you to see what animals are inactive during a full or nearly full moon—when brighter lighting conditions will make them more visible to predators. It also helps you determine whether brighter or darker backgrounds in images are due to the fullness of the moon.
Select trail cameras also enable you to enter longitude and latitude for GPS geo-tagging. You can enter the coordinates down to multiple decimal points for an extremely high degree of accuracy, and the data will be conveniently stored in your images. The Panoramic 150, M-880, M-990i, both Trophy Cam HDs, the Nature View, and the D-555i all offer this convenient feature.
Since you’re going to be leaving your camera outside for a while, weather resistance is critical. You don’t want the elements damaging your equipment. Virtually all trail cams and every one we’ve covered here are protected by water/weather-resistant housings, some of which have features like rubber gaskets, for an extra-tight seal.
There are a variety of ways to mount a trail cam to a tree, post, or similar structure. Eyelets for a mounting strap and a standard 1/4"-20 threaded mount on the bottom are common to many cameras, but some are also configured with an attachment point on the rear. This gives you additional options, allowing for connection to a mount with a horizontal screw.
It’s important to think about security, too. If you’re going to leave your investment in the wild for extended periods of time, you want to be sure it’s safe. Many trail cams allow you to enter a security code to prevent unauthorized use, and most feature built-in loops or eyelets for optional padlocks or cables, such as Python cables.
Once you’re finished shooting, you’re going to want to transfer your images to a computer. It’s nice to have a USB port as an alternative to removing the memory card and inserting it into a reader or card slot. Every trail cam in this guide features a USB interface, to make your uploads quick and easy.