The best trail cameras allow you to capture images of wild animals without being anywhere near them! Also known as camera traps, trail cameras can be placed in wild environments and left to be triggered the moment an animal crosses close by. Here, we've picked out ten of the best.
There are loads of reasons you might use a trail camera. Some wildlife is simply too cautious or skittish for a photographer to get anywhere near, even with the best telephoto lenses at their disposal. They also allow you to capture images of animals that are exclusively active at antisocial hours, or get a glimpse of how animals behave when there are no humans about.
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Trail cameras or camera traps work by using motion or heat detectors. This means they don't have to be active all the time, only capturing footage when there's something to capture, and this allows the batteries to last a considerable amount of time. Some use rechargeable batteries, while others rely on trusty AAs. Some are even solar-powered! A good trail camera can lie in wait for days or weeks until something comes by to get its attention.
As you would probably imagine, trail cameras also tend to be hardy and weatherproof, with a rugged build that can handle water, snowfall, and extreme temperatures. Even if you have no interest in wildlife photography, trail cameras can also make pretty good outdoor security cameras, as they'll capture human movements just as capably as animal ones.
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 useable 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 infrared flash, which illuminate scenes on a wavelength that wildlife won't notice. If you're after nocturnal subjects, this is worth getting.
In this guide, we've picked the ten best trail cameras right now, including both budget buys and high-end models with the latest features. Whatever your budget, there should be a trail camera here for you. So here are the best trail cameras you can buy right now...
The 10 best trail cameras in 2021
The clever touch in this Bushnell trail camera is the fact that it includes dual sensors, one for day and one for night. The day sensor prioritises sharpness and vivid colour, while the night sensor focuses on high-contrast clarity, promises clear images at distances of up to 80m in the dark. It's 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 Full HD video at up to 60p, with audio too, and having 30MP at your disposal with a trigger time of 0.2 seconds pretty much seals the deal. This is everything you need a trail camera to be.
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. Invest in some rechargeables!
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.
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.
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.
The little Spypoint LINK-MICRO-LTE is a much simpler proposition than many of the other trail cameras on this list. It doesn't even shoot video – 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.
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.
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.
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. This is another one that can be hard to find outside of the US, so again keep an eye out in case a second-hand seller starts offering it.
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 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. Outside of the States it's getting a little harder to find, but keep an eye on second-hand sites in case you can snap up a bargain.
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