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Trail cameras are fit for hunters and wildlife enthusiasts alike. These motion-activated cameras capture images day or night, whenever an animal passes into the field of view. For hunters, trail cameras can replace days of sitting in a blind, fighting the elements, to determine an area’s game. For nature enthusiasts, the camera, placed near a game trail or area where wildlife regularly feed, can reveal a rich variety of species. But picking the right trail camera can be a challenge. The camera should be weather-resistant and take clear pictures, but that’s just the start. How do you pick the right trail camera for you?
Start here. At BestReviews, we do the research, ask the experts, and poll real-life customers, so you don’t have to. And because we never accept free products or perks from manufacturers, you can trust that our reviews are honest and unbiased. Our goal: to help you make the best shopping decisions.
If you’re ready to buy, check out the matrix above for our top five trail cameras. If you want to know more, including what extra features are worth the money and how to get great pictures any time of year, just keep reading.
If a trail camera can’t stand up to the elements of rain, snow, sun, and wind, all of its other features are useless.
A high-quality lens is essential to get clear, sharp, detailed pictures, whether day or night.
While the number of megapixels isn’t the single deciding factor in the quality of a trail camera’s images, look for cameras offering 10 megapixels and up.
Location and timing are important. If watching for deer, pick a spot they will frequent according to the season — a water source during the summer, a reliable food source in the winter, or an ideal “scrape area” during rut season.
The interval between the time a deer or other wildlife comes into a trail camera’s field of view and when the camera’s shutter opens is critical.
It’s the difference between getting a great picture of a buck, antlers and all, or just his rear end as he leaves the detection zone.
While a faster trigger can capture deer trotting down a game trail, it may not take good pictures of game ambling up to a food source. A slightly slower trigger speed works better in more static setups.
This is an important feature if you want to capture nighttime activity.
Instead of a visible, bright white flash, an infrared flash is a burst of light on a wavelength that people and game can’t see. This prevents game from being spooked into avoiding the area.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Browning Strike Force Sub Micro 10MP
High-Resolution HD with Fast Recovery
The Browning Strike HD camera offers 1280x720-pixel video with sound, giving wildlife observers an even bigger window into the behavior of deer, rabbits, and other game. Its TV output and USB port allows users to quickly view videos on their televisions or laptops. It’s trigger speed, at 0.67 seconds, is extremely rapid. And the Browning’s market-leading recovery time of just 2.3 seconds means the camera is ready to take the next picture faster than any other model. Owners love the superb images (one owner caught a bobcat on the run, which is quite a feat for any camera) and the flexibility of image capture, battery life, and ease of setup.
Camera performance is about more than resolution.
In this part of our review, we look at the different images that each model produces, how they're captured, and the different flash types provided.
If your trail camera has a time-lapse feature, use it at dawn and dusk, when deer and similar game are most active. Set the time lapse to capture images every five to 10 minutes.
A trail camera should have enough memory to hold hundreds of pictures or several minutes of video (if the camera has that option).
Consider how long the camera will be in position, how difficult it will be to access the camera to retrieve images, and how frequently the camera will take pictures or video.
HD trail cameras take bigger, more detailed daytime images, but they also use more memory.
Batteries should have a long life.
They should also stay dependably charged even in challenging weather conditions.
Dry the outside of the camera case before opening to prevent moisture from getting into the internal works.
Don’t get frustrated if your first storage card is filled with pictures of an empty clearing or maybe a glimpse of a deer’s hindquarters. Just reposition the camera and adjust its sensor sensitivity.
If sensors are set too high, they can be triggered not just by creatures darting or flying by but by foliage or brush moving in the wind. If the camera is aimed at a spot with a lot of tall grasses or brush, lower its sensitivity. If it’s aimed at an open area, such as a wide clearing, set the sensitivity higher.
Detection range is an important factor in proper positioning. A camera with a sensor range of 80 feet isn’t going to pick up movement beyond that. An infrared flash range of 80 feet is not going to capture nighttime images beyond its limit, and game may not show up clearly when moving at the edge of the flash range.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Moultrie A-Series Game Camera
With two resolution settings, video capability, and additional storage capacity of up to 32GB, the Moultrie A-Series Game Camera packs quite a few features into its water-resistant shell. A resolution of 12 megapixels is as good as any of the competition. Owners find the Moultrie very easy to set up, and the majority — novices in particular — were delighted with their results. It’s also a popular choice among those who want a camera to photograph activity in their yard. The Moultrie offers tremendous value given its all-around capabilities and budget price.
When game enters the detection zone, the camera begins snapping photos or taking video. The zone’s size is indicated in degrees. A detection angle of 45° means the camera won’t be triggered until a subject walks into that cone-shaped 45° zone.
Set up your camera far enough from trails and feeding and watering areas that it won’t be easily detected.
For daylight pictures, avoid placing the camera at an angle where it will catch the sun’s glare.
Take note of the background. A dense tangle of brush or leaves can affect an image’s contrast, causing the finer features of an animal — such as a deer’s antlers — to blend into the background.
Blowing snow can block the lens and sensors, so research the prevailing wind direction of the area where you’re setting up. Adjust the camera’s position during winter months to reduce snow piling up on the lens.
Placing a camera on a game trail? Set it at a 45° angle to the trail, rather than head on. Deer will be less likely to notice the camera, and it will give a wider field of view.
There’s a large selection of trail cameras on the market today, ranging in price from $60 to $700.
Low-budget models retail for $60 to $70. The lower the price, the fewer the features.
Quality and durability can be an issue with the lowest-priced cameras, too, though many are fine for those just starting out.
To conserve battery life, dial down the sensor’s sensitivity. It will capture larger game and not every bird that flits in front of the camera.
In the $100 to $200 range, you’ll find trail cameras with 1080p HD resolution and limited video capability of up to 60 seconds per trigger.
At the high end, expect to pay between $300 and $700 for cellular-equipped, high-memory, top-resolution trail cameras with every extra feature.
Q. Where is the best place to mount a trail camera?
A. Set up your trail camera in a relatively sheltered area, such as under the cover of a branch, where rainwater won’t fall on it directly. Position it away from straight-line wind if possible. Many owners build a camouflaged blind for their camera, using branches and leaves from trees or shrubs in the area. This hides the camera from game and people in the area. Just make sure not to cover the lens, sensor, or infrared flash.
Q. How often should I check on my trail camera?
A. Check on the camera regularly. Not only will you want to make sure it’s taking good pictures, but you’ll want to transfer those pictures to another storage device or computer to free up space. You can also make adjustments to its position and sensitivity settings, change the batteries if needed, and make sure the housing is clean and dry.
Q. Is it okay if water gets on my trail camera’s lens?
A. Water droplets on the outside of the camera are pretty much unavoidable; wind-driven rain or snow can impact any viewing device. However, moisture inside the camera housing can shorten the life of the entire camera.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.