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The best trail cameras in 2020: for wildlife photography and nature watching

best trail cameras - Attaching a trail camera to a tree

Looking for the best trail camera? This guide will tell you what to look out for, pick out the best camera traps around, and tell you the best deals on each.

Wildlife watching can be tough. Animals and birds are often skittish and will get spooked if it spots, or hears, a human lurking nearby. What's more you can spend hours or days without seeing anything. The best trail cameras or nature cameras make the job easier by acting as a remote pair of eyes, or rather, remote image capture device. 

Unlike your standard digital camera, trail cameras are activated by a subject’s movement and even body heat – the result is that you don’t have to physically be in the location where you’ve set your trail camera up to get the shot you want – indeed a shot that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. Think of these camera traps as home security cameras for the great outdoors.

They’ll also be able to capture images whether it’s day or night, without getting cold or exhausted, protected by a rugged build that will prevent moisture ingress or damage should the camera slip from its perch.

While some degree of protection against the great outdoors is guaranteed, as when choosing any camera, however, do take note of the pixel count and also the lens offered by a prospective trail camera, as well as the speed of its capture – critical for photographing wildlife, obviously – and its recovery time. 

Some trail cameras also offer infrared flash – light with a wavelength that won’t be picked up by the subject. You’ll also want to make sure it has sufficient memory and power to get the job done – just like any regular digital camera, plus that it is easy to set up and retrieve images from.

With the above in mind, we’ve got 10 recommendations for the best trail cameras around…

The best trail cameras in 2020

(Image credit: Bushnell)

1. Bushnell Core DS No Glow

Avoid spooking wildlife in the dark with pesky LED lights as this camera subdues those suckers

Stills resolution (megapixels): 30MP | Video resolution: 1080p at 60fps | Video length: up to 60 seconds | Data storage: Via SD or SDHC card, up to 32GB | Night vision: : Yes(up to 80ft) | Audio recording: Yes | LCD: : Yes | Power: 8x AA batteries

Two images sensors variably optimised for either day or night time use
Waterproof construction
No glow infrared lighting
Powered by regular standard AAs
No wireless capability 

The latest option in trail cameras from the Bushnell brand  features the advantage of two image sensors – one optimized for sharp and rich images during the day, and the other – you guessed it – optimized for night use, with high contrast clarity promised at up to 80ft in the dim. Being a camera for the great outdoors, it goes without saying that this one is also built to survive in both the cold and the heat. The Dual Sensor (DS) product gets its ‘No Glow’ moniker courtesy of LED lights that are described as ‘nearly invisible’ – thus making the unit ideal for both viewing wildlife and, conveniently, security purposes. Features Full HD video capture at up to 60fps with audio too, plus 30 megapixel color camera with a triggered response time of just 0.2 seconds.

(Image credit: Bushnell)

2. Bushnell Core DS Low Glow

Lower cost 'Low Glow' option is perfect for most uses

Stills resolution (megapixels): 30MP | Video resolution: 1080p at 60fps | Video length: up to 60 seconds | Data storage: Via SD or SDHC card, up to 32GB | Night vision: : Yes(up to 80ft) | Audio recording: Yes | LCD: : Yes | Power: 8x AA batteries

Two images sensors variably optimised for either day or night time use
Waterproof construction
Less covert than the No Glow option
Powered by regular standard AAs
No wireless capability 

To No Glow or to Low Glow, that is the question posed by Bushnell's superb new Core DS trail cameras. The difference between this model and the No Glow alternative simply comes down to the infrared LEDs used by the units for night time imaging. As the name suggests, it means that one is more visible to animals to the other (and also the humans). For situations where you just can't afford to miss the shot, then the higher wavelength of the No Glow option is a must (and this is also good when the light going off may disturb neighbors). But the lower cost Low Glow option is probably more than suitable for capturing nocturnal goings on of wildlife in your backyard. 

(Image credit: Bushnell)

3. Bushnell Trophy Camera Essential E3

Best for those on a budget looking to simply capture high res stills or video of wildlife

Stills resolution (megapixels): 16MP | Video resolution: 1280x720 pixels | Video length: up to 60 seconds | Data storage: Via SD or SDHC card, up to 32GB | Night vision: : Yes, including Night Vision flash (12 to 30m range) | Audio recording: Yes | LCD: : Yes, with B&W text display | Power: 8x AA batteries

30m (100ft) detection distance, 
Operates in temperatures from minus 20°C to 60°C
Powered by bog standard AAs 
No wireless capability 
No geo-tagging of images 

If you’re dipping a toe into the world of trail cameras here is an affordable and reasonably featured entry point that takes up to three still images when triggered, with intervals adjustable between one second and 60 minutes, or alternatively between five seconds or a minute of HD quality video. Powered by eight regular AAs, rather than rechargeable lithium battery or solar power, its manufacturer nevertheless claims these could last up to 12 months, so you won’t have to keep popping back to change them. Another bonus is that its motion-activated sensor can spot subjects up to 100 feet away, its operation can be set to 24 hours or day or night only, it has an infrared flash, the 16-megapixel resolution CMOS sensor provided is good enough to do the job and it comes with a one year warranty.

(Image credit: Skypoint)

4. Spypoint Solar Dark

The best solar-powered trail camera

Stills resolution (megapixels): 12MP | Video resolution: 1280x720 pixels | Video length: not given | Data storage: Via SD or SDHC card, up to 32GB | Night vision: Yes, via infrared | Audio recording: Yes | LCD: : 2-inch color LCD | Power: Solar, rechargeable lithium ion or 8x AA batteries

Solar powered 
Super swift 0.07 sec trigger speed
You pay a slight premium here over the non-solar powered alternatives

As the name indicates this model is interesting for the fact that it harnesses the power of the sun. Yes, it’s solar powered. Like other models in its range it comes with the core features of an ultra fast trigger speed of 0.07 seconds, plus 42 low glow LEDs. The resolution this time around is a modest yet perfectly serviceable 12 megapixels, while the flash range again extends up to 90ft. There’s an internal battery provided, though it can also be powered by six AA batteries, not included, should the sun presumably fail to shine. The ability to detect subjects up to 110ft away, time lapse movies, blur reduction built in, 720P video with sound plus a 2-inch screen tick the boxes for the attendant features we’d expect from a trail camera at its slightly more premium price. 

(Image credit: Spypoint)

The best trail camera with a cellular link-up

Stills resolution (megapixels): 12MP | Video resolution: 1280x720 pixels | Video length: 0-90 seconds | Data storage: Via SD or SDHC card, up to 32GB | Night vision: Yes, via low-glow LEDs | Audio recording: Yes | LCD: : 2-inch color LCD | Power: Solar, rechargeable lithium ion or 8x AA batteries

Sends images over 4G LTE mobile network
Solar powered 
SD card storage
Monthly charges for cellular service

Standard trail cameras are great if you can monitor things in your back garden – or can check the recorded footage at regular intervals. But what if you want to put a camera somewhere more remote – where wifi coverage is not enough? The answer is a trail camera with cellular capability – which will beam footage to you, and give you notifications to your camera phone, tablet or laptop wherever you are – even if you are in the next state. The Skypoint Link-S has the same solar-powered independence as the Skypoint Solar-W , and similar features. The unit is usually supplied with a pre-activated SIM card to get you going with your remote wildlife watching – but do check the running costs. In the States, you can find different versions for use with Verizon or AT&T - so check which gives the best cellular coverage at your location.

(Image credit: Bushnell)

6. Bushnell Trophy Camera Aggressor 24MP Low-Glow

Best for maximum ruggedness, with super fast trigger speed and recovery times

Stills resolution (megapixels): 24MP | Video resolution: 1280x720 pixels | Video length: up to 60 seconds | Data storage: Via SD or SDHC card, up to 32GB | Night vision: : Yes, including Night Vision flash (up to 30m range) | Audio recording: Yes | LCD: : 2.4-inch color LCD | Power: 8x AA batteries

Color LCD, 
Motion-activated sensor
Powered by bog standard AAs, 
No wireless connectivity option

Don’t be put off by the Aggressor’s product name, which translates into a trail camera with a rugged camouflaged exterior that looks like it would withstand a fight with a stag. The five-way button control panel is illuminated for operation in the dim, while its responsiveness – a 0.2 seconds trigger speed and 0.5 seconds recovery rate – also makes for a sound choice. Like the budget model we also get a useful 100-foot range – which its infrared 32 LED flash can also reach – and a promised one-year battery life. Resolution has been usefully bumped up to a more detailed 24 megapixels (there’s also a 20MP version) plus we get a color rather than black and white LCD. Video has, however, remained a standard 1280x720 pixels, with all data written to an SD card of up to 32GB capacity.

(Image credit: Spypoint)

7. Spypoint Force-20 Trail Camera

Featuring low glow LEDs and a 20 megapixel camera, this is a decent mid range trail camera option

Stills resolution (megapixels): 20MP | Video resolution: 1280x720 pixels | Video length: not given | Data storage: Via SD or SDHC card, up to 32GB | Night vision: Yes (up to 8oft) | Audio recording: Yes | LCD: : Yes | Power: 8x AA batteries

Inexpensive all rounder
Suitable for beginners and beyond
Video not Full HD, 
20MP shots are generated from a ‘mere’ 3MP sensor

Resembling the face of a Cyberman or some other Doctor Who automaton, this recent intuitive-to-use update from the Spypoint brand features a built-in 20-megapixel camera and the ability to illuminate night-time subjects without unduly distracting them – thanks to what are described as 48 ‘super low glow’ LEDs. Video is a high definition 1280x720 pixels rather than Full HD, while the motion activated sensor can register subjects up to 80ft away. A certain amount of flexibility is offered via the addition of a time-lapse recording mode. Just don’t forget a ready supply of Jelly Babies to while away the time with when you’re crouched hiding in the bush.

(Image credit: Stealth Cam)

8. Stealth Cam G42NG

Entry-level 10 megapixel stills and HD video shooting trail camera option from established brand

Stills resolution (megapixels): 10MP | Video resolution: 1280x720 pixels | Video length: Up to 180 seconds (up to 30 secs with night vision) | Data storage: Via SD or SDHC card, up to 32GB | Night vision: Yes, via infrared | Audio recording: Yes | LCD: : Yes | Power: 8x AA batteries

External power jack for operation via a 12v battery as well as via 8x AAs, 
External LCD status display
Slower response time than some rivals, 
‘Just’ HD quality video

US brand Stealth Cam has been in the trail camera market for around 15 years and offers this affordable entry-level option with a 10 megapixel stills option – you can also opt for 8MP, 4MP or 2MP shots from the unit – plus HD quality video with between and five and 180 seconds of audio. With a respectable trigger response time of 0.5 seconds, there is a backlit LCD for making selections from the camera’s menu, plus a 16:9 image ratio. As with competitors, ‘no glo’ (hence the ‘NG’ suffix) infrared flash can illuminate subjects up to 100ft away, while this camera purports to offer advanced blur reduction. Usefully there is an external power jack for operation via a 12v battery; otherwise power comes courtesy of 8x AAs. Durable weather proofed housing is a must, and thankfully included here.

(Image credit: Stealth Cam)

9. Stealth Cam DS4K

The pitch here is again found in the name, with this unit claimed as the world’s first 4K-trail camera

Stills resolution (megapixels): 30MP | Video resolution: 4K, 3840x2160 pixels | Video length: 180 secs (30 secs with night vision) | Data storage: Via SD or SDHC card, up to 32GB | Night vision: Yes, via infrared | Audio recording: Yes | LCD: Yes | Power: 12x AA batteries

4K video resolution, 
30 megapixel stills
The higher the resolution, the higher the price of the unit, 
Requires a whopping 12 AA batteries (not included)

If you’re looking for the ultimate in image quality for your wildlife photography and videography then seeking out the highest resolution possible at the time is an obvious choice. This unit, resembling a piece of alien hardware from Star Trek, is pitched as the world’s first 4K digital trail camera, offering 3840x2160 pixels video in daylight. Not only that, but it boasts a trigger response of 0.4 seconds, a whopping 30 megapixel still image resolution plus a useful infrared flash range of 100ft. A burst mode allows between one and 9 images to be captured sequentially, while a hybrid capture mode as it sounds can record both stills and video in 16:9 wide image ratio when this camera is triggered. The only obvious downside is that the Stealth Cam unit requires 12 AA batteries for power, adding to the weight and bulk.

(Image credit: Spypoint)

10. Spypoint Force-10 Trail Camera

Best ultra compact trail camera for being discrete and avoiding spooking the local wildlife

Stills resolution (megapixels): 10MP | Video resolution: 1280x720 pixels | Video length: not given | Data storage: Via SD or SDHC card, up to 32GB | Night vision: Yes, via infrared | Audio recording: No | LCD: : 2-inch color LCD | Power: 6x AA batteries

Compact dimensions yet plenty of sophistication 
Keeps shooting whether it’s day or night
Video without sound, 
LCD screen is for configuration rather than viewing

An entry level model in the aptly named Spypoint range of trail cameras, this one can capture 10 megapixel photos (hence the model number) and HD video in color during the day, plus black and white by night, due to its infrared camera functionality. Like others in its manufacturer’s line up it is powered by 6x AA batteries, though a rechargeable lithium ion pack is available as an optional extra, as is, like all the options here, the SD media card onto which stills and video are recorded. Once again we have a curved motion sensor to improve the angle of the unit’s ‘detection’, a 2-inch screen, HD video (albeit here without sound), a six image multi shot mode, a flash that can reach 90 feet, plus a subject detection range that can be adjusted from just 5ft to 80ft, and all within rugged plastic casing.

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