Identify Critters and Vandals with Wildlife Cameras
Homeowners are often frustrated by damage or vandalism that occurs on their property. Short of staying up all night to see who or what is causing the damage, what can one do? Wildlife cameras are digital cameras that can shoot still images and video. These weatherproof cameras are intended to be mounted in the wild, hidden from view if necessary, where they can be set to capture still images at specific intervals or capture still images and/or video when they detect motion. The cameras can be left in place for months with the hopes of capturing some unique images. Many rare creatures have been documented using wildlife cameras.
B&H carries a wide range of wildlife cameras. Many of them cost less than $100, so you don’t need a small fortune to buy one. And there are multiple applications for wildlife cameras, even if you’re not interested in wildlife. Maybe you want to find out what kind of varmint keeps digging up your tulip bulbs or whose dog keeps going on your lawn. Or perhaps you want to determine what kind of critter keeps getting into your garbage cans. Or you may want to identify some trespassers or vandals that keep destroying your mailbox. You might even be well aware of a problem, say with wild hogs destroying your property, but need a wildlife camera to determine roughly how many animals you’re dealing with.
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Like conventional digital cameras, wildlife cameras offer a certain resolution, or number of megapixels. Sometimes a wildlife camera will offer more than one resolution, with the higher resolution good for capturing the most detail and the lower resolution better for fitting as many images as possible onto a given memory card size. Trail cameras typically record on SD cards up to 16GB or 32GB in capacity, and they don’t usually come with one, so be sure to add a card to your order if you want to be able to use the camera right away.
Because trail cameras must be powered by batteries, and because one might leave a trail camera unattended for many months at a time, it’s a good idea to get one that will hold a lot of batteries. Most trail cameras require a certain minimum number of batteries, say four AA cells, and many of them will accept extra batteries to extend their run time, say, a maximum of 12 AA cells. If you are using a trail camera in an area that you can revisit often, such as your backyard, then it doesn’t matter how many batteries it holds. But if you will be setting up a trail camera in a remote, snowed-in forest to photograph bear cubs exiting their den in the spring after a winter of hibernation, then you’ll want to be sure your trail camera holds a lot of batteries.
Speaking of batteries, some trail cameras can be powered by rechargeable battery packs whose charge can be maintained using solar charging panels. The solar chargers are typically optional. The beauty of a solar charger is that, provided that enough sunlight reaches the solar panel, a charge can be maintained indefinitely.
Because trail cameras are often deployed for many months at a time with no available power source other than batteries, it’s important that trail cameras conserve battery power as much as possible. One way to conserve battery power is to take a series of time-lapse pictures at intervals set by the user, every minute, every hour and so on. Another way to conserve power is to use passive infrared, or PIR sensors to detect motion, while leaving as much circuitry as possible turned off. A PIR sensor detects the moving heat pattern given off by an animal (or person) against the cooler surroundings. When motion is detected, the sensor activates the camera circuitry, which takes a certain amount of time to become ready to take a picture; this time delay is known as the Trigger Time. The camera can then snap one or more pictures or capture video for a set period of time.
In the daytime, no flash is needed to take pictures. But at night a flash is needed. An standard flash tube lets you capture color images but it could also startle any animals within range, causing them to run away and you to miss the shot. That’s why trail cameras are available with infrared flashes (a cluster of infrared LEDs) that shower the scene in infrared light, which animals and people cannot see but nonetheless illuminates the scene. The tradeoff is that the images look as through they were captured using night-vision equipment. You will usually see a range for this flash listed in feet in the product specifications, and it’s basically the distance from the camera that the flash can illuminate.
All trail cameras have weatherproof cases, so you don’t have to worry about inclement weather. However, if you’re setting one up in an area where people you don’t know will come and go, you might want to invest in a security case. Made specifically for certain model cameras, or certain brands of cameras, metal security cases can be locked onto a tree or other sturdy object. The camera could still be damaged, but it won’t be easy to steal without some heavy-duty tools.