The best trail camera – also sometimes known as a camera trap – is invaluable for anyone looking to photograph wildlife or peek at the local animals visiting their patch. Trail cameras use motion or heat detectors, and can be placed in a natural environment and left to be triggered the moment an animal crosses nearby.
Trail cameras are the perfect way to capture and watch animals that are naturally shy, making it difficult to get near enough even to use the best telephoto lenses (opens in new tab). Unlike the best cameras for wildlife (opens in new tab), they're designed to be left in a location and regularly monitored for signs of life.
The best trail camera also lets you capture images of nocturnal animals, or see how animals behave when there are no humans about them, thanks to their infrared imaging capabilities that kick in during low light conditions.
The best trail cameras are hardy and weatherproof, with a rugged build that can handle water, snowfall, and extreme temperatures. They're also camouflaged to fit in with their surroundings, and even if you don't want to shoot wildlife, they can also make good outdoor security cameras (opens in new tab).
A good trail camera can lie in wait for days or weeks until something comes by to get its attention. And because they don't have to be active all the time, the batteries usually last a long time. Some use rechargeable batteries, while others rely on trusty AAs. Others are even solar-powered (opens in new tab).
In this guide, we've picked the best trail cameras right now, including both budget buys and high-end models with the latest features, including some of the best cellular trail cameras (opens in new tab). If you're not sure what to look for, though, skip ahead to our section on how to choose the best trail camera (opens in new tab).
The best trail camera in 2023
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The Bushnell Core DS-4K No Glow (opens in new tab) is the best trail camera overall for most people. The clever touch here is the fact that it includes dual sensors, one for the day and one for the night. The day sensor prioritizes sharpness and vivid color, while the night sensor focuses on high-contrast clarity, and promises clear images at distances of up to 110ft in the dark.
This trail camera is built to survive inclement weather, and its 'No Glow' LED lights are just that, meaning that wildlife won't be put off by them. It can capture 4K video (or Full HD video at up to 60p), with audio too, and having 32MP at your disposal with a trigger time of 0.2 seconds pretty much seals the deal. In short, this is everything you need a trail camera to be.(opens in new tab)
The Spypoint Force-Pro (opens in new tab) is relatively expensive but it does enable you to capture great-looking footage at a whopping 4K resolution (or 30 MP stills). Its basic LCD menu is easy to use and you can set it up in minutes to record animal action all day and night. It lacks the solar panel of the similarly priced Solar Dark but the quality of its clips is superior to that trail camera.
As reflected in its price, the Spypoint Force-Pro is the most powerful Spypoint trail camera. This power is present in good quality 4K footage and 30 MP stills. On the downside, the monochrome LCD is fairly simplistic and you can’t view the SD card’s footage on the screen (like you can with the similarly priced Spypoint Solar-Dark’s color display).
You also have to buy batteries for the Force-Pro (while the Solar-Dark can coast along on its built-in rechargeable battery which is topped up by a solar panel). However, the Force-Pro produces much better-looking footage than the Solar Dark (opens in new tab) so it gets an extra star and a much stronger recommendation.(opens in new tab)
Our top recommendation for a mid-priced trail camera is the Spypoint Force-20 trail camera (opens in new tab). For a quite affordable price, you get 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. And a certain amount of flexibility is offered via the addition of a time-lapse recording mode.
With up to 32-megapixel stills combined with up to 4K videos at 30fps, the Stealth Cam DS4K Ultimate (opens in new tab) is a capable contender for covert observation. It has a rugged, hard plastic shell with a rubberized inner that protects the camera element, and the operation is as straightforward or customized as you need it.
You can set up the camera to be always on, choose certain times of the day or night for it to be operational, as well as alter the resolution of stills or tweak the duration of any video, as well as selecting capture with the audio or without.
Add in the ability for time-lapse operation and the automatic enhancement of images while reducing blur – an issue if capturing subjects in motion in complete darkness – and we have to say this is one of the most comprehensive feature sets to be currently found on a trail camera in its price bracket.(opens in new tab)
If you're getting started with trail cameras, you'll love this affordable entry-level model from US brand Stealth Cam. It offers 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 weatherproofed housing is a must, and thankfully included here.
The little Spypoint LINK-MICRO-LTE is a much simpler proposition than many of the other trail cameras on this list. It doesn't shoot video for example, just 10MP stills, though it can do so with an impressive trigger time of 0.5 seconds. You can also set the camera to trigger multiple photos once its infrared system detects motion, allowing you to get a series of images in quick succession.
In an unusual touch, the Spypoint LINK-MICRO-LTE also comes packaged with a preactivated SIM card that can transfer photos straight from the camera to your phone. A little odd perhaps, but a nice addition. It's fully controllable via the Spypoint apps too, letting you properly incorporate your smartphone into your workflow.(opens in new tab)
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 Wi-Fi coverage is not sufficient?
The answer is a trail camera with cellular capability, which will beam footage to you, and give you notifications to your camera phone (opens in new tab), tablet (opens in new tab) or laptop (opens in new tab) wherever you are. The Skypoint Link-S has solar-powered independence, and 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. Outside of the USA it's getting a little harder to find, but keep an eye on second-hand sites in case you can snap up a bargain.
The biggest strength of the Spypoint Solar Dark (opens in new tab) trail camera biggest is the fact that it has an internal battery that can be topped up by a solar panel. This saves the expense and time of buying and charging batteries and gives you a low-maintenance camera that will shoot for nights on end – something that's helped by the 42 LEDs on either side of the lens that illuminate your subject during night shoots.
It is a relatively expensive trail camera because of the solar element, and the cost of the camera doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality of the footage that it produces. If power isn't so important to you, you might find the cheaper Spypoint Force-20 to be a more sensible option.(opens in new tab)
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.
The Browning Strike Force HD Pro X (opens in new tab) is another brick-like trail camera designed for remote surveillance and observation, day and night. While the operational controls are bare bones and require an initial degree of familiarization, the provided screen is, unusually in this price bracket, a color one.
You need your own SD card (up to 512GB capacity) and six AA batteries to power it, but overall it's a good value option for those looking to take their initial steps in the trail camera / remote surveillance world – or those simply wanting an affordable fuss-free device that will do the job.(opens in new tab)
The Bushnell Cellucore 20 is a popular product from the hunting supply firm Bushnell and it’s priced with accessibility in mind. Despite that, Bushnell has snuck in a number of good features, including a 20MP sensor and a well-sealed battery tray. The 25m / 80’ night range from low-glow LEDs is as good as most for the money. We also like that it’s compatible with the firm’s trail camera solar panel (though it costs the same again), and we did appreciate that the first 30 days were cost-free for data; a nice touch.
How to choose the best trail camera
Just like regular cameras, trail cameras with higher megapixel counts will produce images of greater quality and detail. But other specs you want to look out for include the focal length of the lens, as this dictates the field of view. The wider the angle, the more of a scene you'll capture, but this will mean an animal will have to get closer to make for a usable picture.
Another important factor is the trigger time; how fast after detecting something will a trail camera capture an image? With how quickly wildlife moves, every millisecond really does count. It definitely needs to be less than a second, otherwise, all you'll end up with are images of animals' back feet disappearing from the image.
Some trail cameras also have an infrared flash, which illuminates scenes on a wavelength that wildlife won't notice. If you're after nocturnal subjects, this is definitely worth getting.
Many trail cam models can be bought in multi-packs – allowing you to buy two, four, or more trail cameras together at a discount – so that you can monitor several locations simultaneously.
If you're interested in watching wildlife, you might also like the best portable hides for wildlife photography (opens in new tab), plus the best binoculars (opens in new tab) for spotting faraway subjects. Check out the best night vision goggles (opens in new tab) if you need to see at night.