Choosing the best trail camera can be time-consuming and at times quite difficult. There are so many trail cameras to choose to range in many different aspects such as different brands, memory capacity, night vision and resolution just to name a few.
We have put together a trail camera reviews guide below to assist with the decision making in finding the best trail camera for you. There are various elements to consider before purchasing, and we hope the below interactive chart will make this process easier. It was created so that a user can sort any of the columns based on their specific preference or requirements. Included in the guide are 9 columns:
Trail Camera & Image – The product image of the camera being reviewed.
Resolution – The megapixel of the images taken by the trail camera
Video Rec – If the trail camera has video recording capability
Flash – The flash technology used
Night Range – The distance in feet the night flash can capture
Trigger Speed – Time taken from detection to image recorded
Memory – Maximum removable external memory
Price – The approximate prices. $ = under $100, $$ = $101 to $149, $$$ = $150 to $199, $$$$ = $200 or more
Rating – The average user rating from Amazon.com out of 5
What is a Trail Camera?
Trail cameras, also known as game cameras, remote cameras or camera traps, are very popular with sportsmen and researchers who find it pleasurable or necessary to photograph wildlife. Although their popularity has increased in recent years, trail cameras have been used for decades to conduct ecological and wildlife studies. Their primary purpose is to capture photos in a way that eliminates human interference, thereby preserving the integrity of the natural landscape.
The earliest examples of trail cameras functioned just like the traditional cameras which existed before the digital age of photography. The film had to be loaded into the camera and taken for processing to a laboratory. Today it is much more common to find trail cameras that function as a digital camera, allowing for more pictures to be taken and transferred to an internal memory card. Photos can then be transferred to a computer or copied to a disc for archival storage.
Most trail cameras operate on a trigger mechanism. The trigger can be motion-activated, snapping photos when motion is detected in the camera’s field of vision, or they can operate via an infrared sensor which cues the camera to take pictures when a light beam is broken. A few trail cameras are non-triggered, meaning that they either capture images continuously or on a schedule which is determined by the camera user. As with any digital camera, battery life is a concern, and this makes triggered cameras a preferred option.
One of the most important aspects of any trail camera is its ability to withstand the elements. These cameras are designed to withstand water, the wind, and excessive heat. Most are housed in a hard protective case that will prevent captured images from being destroyed.
Why Use a Trail Camera?
The uses for a trail camera are limited only by the creativity of those who use them. While they were originally designed for scientific purposes, trail cameras today are being used in many different capacities.
Hunters use trail cameras to photograph game trails or observe feeding areas to determine the best time to hunt wild game. A deer hunter can use them to determine if deer are passing in the vicinity of a stand or blind. A trapper can use them to see if an area is suitable for their traps. Some farm owners have even used trail cameras to identify a predator that might be raiding their hen house at night. The majority of trail cameras today are used for these and similar purposes.
Of course, researchers still use trail cameras to collect data and analyze the behavior of animals in the wild, especially those that are nocturnal. Being able to eliminate human interference has given animal scientists the ability to record behaviors that would have been almost impossible to observe otherwise. This type of scientific data is very important to protecting and developing new habitats for endangered animals.
Trail cameras are even used by paranormal and crypto zoological researchers! The popularity of paranormal television shows has encouraged armchair ghost hunters to do their investigations, and many of them use trail cameras to photograph areas where there are claims of paranormal activity.
Trail cameras have also become very popular for security purposes. Many people are using them for their home or a business they may own to catch out burglars, vandals, and trespassers. This is thanks to their compact size and being slightly more affordable than most home security systems.
What to look for?
Resolution/Quality of Image – Trail cameras ranges anywhere between about 3MP to 12MP. They all get the job done, but obviously, the higher the megapixels, the better the image quality will be. Just keep in mind that this also means that the images will be larger. We found that the sweet spot is usually around 6-8MP.
Night Range – This relates to the distance range the camera has to record images using the flash at night. The higher the range, the better, but just beware that the night conditions such as moonlight and cloudiness may affect the accuracy of the manufacturers claimed range.
Trigger Speed – The trigger speed is very important. If the speed is slow, you may not have the best images captured. The trigger speed refers to the amount of time it takes from when the wildlife is detected in the area to when the photo is taken. The faster the trigger speed, the better.
Battery Life/ Memory Capacity – Many of the trail cameras offer battery life of at least 6 months to a year. This allows you to place the trail camera in a discreet area for a long period before you check what has been captured. Larger memory capacity will allow the camera to store more images if there is more activity than anticipated. Most trail cameras do not come with built-in memory. Therefore an external SD memory card needs to be purchased separately.
Design – Probably one of the most important aspects of a trail camera is the design. The idea is for it to be discreet and not noticed, so a design that is camouflaged and also easily mountable to a tree is key here. The best game cameras are also light and compact which make them no fuss to carry around to the desired location.
Reviews of Best Trail Cameras
Moultrie M-880 Low Glow Game Camera
- Moultrie is a popular brand among fellow hunters. However, we found that their customer service has room for improvement. Many users have reported that Moultrie’s support team’s response rate is quite poor. Having said that, there is no doubt that the M-880 is one of the best trail cameras for shooting in the dark. It provides crystal clear images with a very long range of 90-100 feet and a wide peripheral to capture a broad detection range. Also, the trigger speed is phenomenal at .88 seconds.The HD video recording on this trail camera is not used as widely, as it offers a rapid multi-shot function, which takes up to 4 images per second. The LED flash is quite visible at night, but it doesn’t affect the performance or scare the wildlife away. It is pretty bright when the flash goes off, but the images captured are fantastic! At under $120, the price is quite reasonable; in return, you get very clear night shots.
Reconyx HyperFire HC500 Semi – Covert IR Game Camera
- Reconyx is a reputable brand offering high-quality trail cameras. The majority of users have found that the battery life of this camera is excellent. It takes about 40 to 50k photos a year, and after this period, the battery life is still at around 90%. You can’t get any other camera better than that! We have to agree this game camera is reliable; always works at its best and it never turns off. Most importantly, Reconyx provide great customer service! This little device captures everything even little nitty gritty insects.The HC500 Semi works well in all kinds of weather conditions, whether it is cold or hot and humid weather. Unfortunately, this camera doesn’t have a video function, however with the fast trigger speed and a wide and high detection zone, you don’t need it. The picture quality it great, however, night shots are not always clear and can be blurry at times. At around $450, it is quite pricey compared to other trail cameras. However, this is expected when receiving quality customer service and a battery life that lasts longer than most.
Simmons Whitetail with Night Vision (6MP)
- Simmons Whitetail Trail Camera with Night VisionThe Simmons isn’t our first choice, but it is a great game camera for under $100. It’s real simple to operate and setting it up is pretty straightforward. The battery life is not as good as the Reconyx, but it is still pretty reasonable. This game camera takes great day shots, but night shots are limited to about 30 feet and are sometimes unclear.The trigger speed on this Simmons is a little slower than others, so when the fast game runs past, the images taken may be blurry. We found that even though this camera claims to be weather resistant, moisture or rain can still get inside the camera damaging the functions. A solution is to purchase a security box to keep the moisture out as well as keeping your game camera secure – killing two birds with one stone!
Browning BTC 2 Trail Force Recon, Camo
- The Browning Force Recon is one of the best trail cameras for those who are not very tech savvy. It is simple to set up and easy to operate. The camera is designed to blend in with the tree bark really and the camo color and pattern makes this camera pretty much invisible to the naked eye. The daytime images are high quality with a wide angle and night images are not bad either. One of the biggest highlights is the HD video with sound function. Force Recon takes really clear videos even in the dark!One strange annoyance is that it automatically turns to night mode even though it is still bright out which sometimes make the images not as clear. Night mode provides a grainier image, but with this 8-megapixel camera, it is still clear enough to distinguish what has been captured. For under $90, it is a great game camera, to begin with if you don’t want to spend too much. However, the battery life is dependent on the number of images captured.
Products from Amazon.com
Bushnell 8MP Trophy Cam Standard Edition
- Bushnell is one of the most well-known brands in outdoors optics such as rifle scopes, GPS, binoculars and trail cameras to name a few. One of the main reasons Bushnell is so popular is due to their warranty and fantastic customer service, no it’s no surprise the Bushnell Trophy Cam has made out top 5. This Trophy Cam has a fast trigger speed so you can capture fast moving wildlife. The sensitivity setting can be adjusted, if you set it to the highest sensitivity level, even strong winds will trigger the camera, and you will end up capturing air. So we recommend setting the sensitivity level from medium to high to capture most animals.The Bushnell Trophy Cam works perfectly during the day. However, night shots are not as clear and can be slightly blurry at times. With this model, the red LED light is very noticeable in the dark, so if you’re using it as a security camera to spy on humans, you may want to choose something else. For just under $140, this 8-megapixel game camera works like a champ during daylight.
The Browning Trail Cameras company was started in America by John M. Browning, and their desire to be the most innovative trail camera company has been realized over recent years as their company has developed some of the most truly ingenious designs in the industry. Such things as their invisible night-vision capability are unequaled by their competition.
There are a few series to choose from, the most basic and least-spendy of the group being the Range Ops XR series. You’re looking at an average online price of $95 or thereabouts, and you’ll wind up with 8 megapixels, HD video capability, and day or night photo capability, as well as sound capturing. It’s very compact and comes with a one year warranty. Picture delay can be set from as low as 5 seconds to one minute, ensuring you see everything that’s going on when the action starts.
The next series up, is the Recon Force XR. You get everything the previous series offers, plus an upgrade to 10 megapixels, and 100+ feet of night illumination shots, 6 rapid fire shots in 2 seconds, up to 2-minute clips of HD video, and if that’s not enough, zero-blur technology, ensuring crisp, clear images even at night. All this, at an average online price of $130, and you’re going to have some fun!
Next, is the Spec Ops XR series, which gets even better. For about the same price as the Recon Force Series, you get the added perk of invisible night-vision illumination (invisible flash), and a 2” color viewing screen, so you can review your images and videos out in the field.
The Strike Force, 10-megapixel camera, is in a class by itself and is a new offering from this company. It is purported to be the smallest camera like it in the business and has all the features the other cameras have, with the added advantage of being super small and silent. It’s almost invisible, and it only costs around $150.
Then, there’s the Dark Ops 10 megapixel sub-micro camera, with all of the features above, plus the added coolness of being practically invisible. It doesn’t have the 2” playback screen, but if you’re looking to catch super-sensitive pictures, trespassers, skittish game, etc., this is the camera you want, and it will set you back about $180.
For more information on the various options available with each series of camera, click here:
Each of these cameras is practically invisible, not only just because of their small size, but also because of their effective camo-housings. Strong lock hasps allow a cable-lock to secure your camera to its moorings, and protect it, as well as the batteries and SD card, from being taken. It is also insulated to protect it from the reasonably cold weather, but if you are expecting severe cold, you’d better bring it in.
There are multiple accessories available to go with your Browning trail camera. Not only does Browning make their SD cards that are easier to configure to your camera, but there are also some really useful things like the trail camera power pack, which holds 8 AA batteries and super-extends the length of time you can leave your camera out before having to replace the batteries. All-steel construction, camo paint security box will keep your camera safe from theft and vandalism, and a variety of tree mounts are also available to make installing your camera and keeping it installed an easier experience.
Let’s recap: Browning trail cameras get consistently favorable reviews, and provide some cool tech to the field, whether you just want to observe what kind of wildlife is in the area, or catch a night prowler, or strategically plan your hunting based on your continual observation of photographic evidence of animal activity. Whatever you are planning, there are enough options for you to find something awesome within your budget. Happy shooting… Of pictures!