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Best trail cameras for wildlife photography and nature watching

best trail cameras - Attaching a trail camera to a tree

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. 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. 

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 on 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…

best trail cameras - Bushnell Trail Camera Essential E3

Bushnell Trail 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.

best trail cameras - Bushnell Trail Camera Aggressor 24MP Low-Glow

Bushnell Trail 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

Some £100 more than the ‘Essential’ budget model from the same manufacturer, 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.

best trail cameras - Spypoint Force-11D Trail Camera

Spypoint Force-11D Trail Camera

Best for speed, along with fuss free operation and commendable results

Stills resolution (megapixels): 11MP | 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: 6x AA batteries

Fast 0.07 sec trigger speed, 
Adjustable detection range
11-megapixel resolution is so-so, 
Powered by six bog standard AAs (not included)

This camouflaged trail camera captures color 11 megapixel photos (hence the model name) or HD video in daylight hours, or black and white shots/footage by night, whereupon it utilises an array of 42 LEDs to grab the shot – but what stands out here is its trigger speed. At 0.07 seconds it’s one of the swiftest on the trail camera market, while in multi shot mode it can capture a sequence of six images per subject ‘detection’. A curved motion sensor lens is said to improve the angle of detection, while its detection range can be adjusted from 5 to 80 ft. What we also get here is a useful time-lapse mode plus a two-inch viewing screen. Video is once again a so-so 1280x720 pixels HD quality, but sound is recorded too. A two-year warranty may provide additional peace of mind.

best trail cameras - Spypoint Solar Trail Camera

Spypoint Solar Trail Camera

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: 6x 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 100ft. 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 80ft 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. 

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.

Minox DTC 700 Wildlife Trail Camera

Best modular set up, meaning that the camera can quickly and easily removed from its protective housing

Stills resolution (megapixels): 6MP | Video resolution: 1280x720 pixels | Video length: Up to 30 seconds | Data storage: Via SD or SDHC card, up to 32GB | Night vision: Yes, via infrared | Audio recording: Yes | LCD: : 2-inch color LCD | Power: 8x AA batteries

Camera module can be removed and housing left in place/location
Low-ish 6 megapixel resolution
One-second shutter delay (reduced to 0.2 seconds with external power)

The innovative ‘spin’ on this weatherpoof trail camera is that the camera module itself can be retrieved from its housing for quick and easy access; in other words you don’t have to remove the whole camouflaged set up from, say, the tree you’ve attached it to. And, if you want, the same camera could even be used with multiple protective housings from Minox – purchasable separately, naturally – positioned in different locations. A mounting strap is included with the basic unit, the 8x AA batteries (not included) are claimed to last for six months, a USB cable is provided for transferring images to a PC or of course there’s the option to simply remove the SD card (allowing for up to 32GB of capacity), while the camera flash has a 15 metre reach, the same distance that its sensor can detect up to. A maximum 6 megapixel image from a 1/2.5-inch CMOS sensor may seem modest to some however, even if 1280x720 pixels video is par for the course for this class of trail camera.

Minox DTC 450 Slim

The name says it all – this one’s claimed to be the slimmest trail camera to date

Stills resolution (megapixels): 12MP | Video resolution: 1280x720 pixels | Video length: Up to 60 seconds | Data storage: Via SD or SDHC card, up to 32GB | Night vision: Yes, via infrared | Audio recording: Yes | LCD: : 2-inch color LCD | Power: 8x AA batteries

Adjustable stills resolution up to 12MP, 
Different trigger intervals, from five seconds to one hour
Video resolution remains bog standard HD rather than Full HD or 4K, 
Maximum video length is a ‘mere’ 60 seconds

Looking for a trail camera to mount on a tree that will remain undetected by both friend and foe? Enter the funkily camouflaged DTC 450 from Minox, which features polycarbonate housing claimed as weatherproof. Diminutive width apart, functions are largely similar to the maker’s DTC 700 model: 720P video resolution, SDHC card storage up to 32GB, 2-inch display and a claimed six month battery life. With the bonus of an adjustable stills resolution up to 12MP, comes with not one but two mounting straps this time around plus a USB cable for shot or video transferral. What’s different this time around is that the camera can shoot up to nine consecutive images and videos up to 60 seconds in duration. There’s also the ability to padlock the device for added security when left at a location. To help with capturing images at night with the aid of its 1/3-inch CMOS sensor, an infrared flash invisible to wildlife has a range of 15 metres.

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.

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.

Browning Trail Camera Extreme Series Spec Ops Extreme

20MP unit that has a reputation for reliability

Stills resolution (megapixels): 20MP | Video resolution: Full HD 1920x1080 pixels | Video length: Daylight not given, 20 sec cap on night videos | Data storage: Via SD, SDHC or SDXC card, up to 512GB | Night vision: Yes, via infrared | Audio recording: Yes | LCD: 2-inches, color | Power: 8x AA batteries

20 megapixel sensor, 
Full HD video
Can use high-capacity SDXC memory cards
Higher priced than competitors with a slightly lower level of spec
Weightier too at 703g

Running on 8xAA batteries (or external 12v battery) is this excitingly named 20-megapixel resolution unit for those who want to unleash their inner Steven Seagal whilst observing squirrels, while it also functions as a security camera, obviously. A key part of its appeal is that it can record onto higher capacity SDXC cards up to 512GB capacity, which is better than the 32GB of most competing units, meaning we can capture more footage. While it doesn’t offer 4K, at least we get better than average Full HD 1920x1080 pixels resolution video here, a 0.4 second trigger response speed, plus a 80 foot detection range and the usual IR night vision and time lapse options. The camera does however weigh a chunkier than average 703g. As usual and the case with all options here, batteries and memory cards are extra.

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