Trail Cameras: What You Must Know Before You Buy

This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. If you make a purchase, I may earn a small fee at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support.
trail cameras 101

Trail cameras are popular for hunting, wildlife viewing, home security, and surveillance. With so many different types and features, where do you start? From the main types of trail cameras, to how to set them up and how often to check them, here are the basics you must know before you buy.

What is a trail camera?

A trail camera is a heat and motion-sensitive camera that is used to photograph wildlife both in daylight and at night. It can also be used for security or surveillance.

How do trail cameras work?

Trail cameras take a picture when they sense heat or motion. These images are stored in the camera on an SD card. These images can then be viewed either on the camera itself or on a computer or laptop. Wireless trail cameras can send the images and video through text or email.

Are Trail Cameras Good for Security and Surveillance?

Trail cameras, especially black flash trail cameras are useful for security and surveillance. They work well for home security, outdoor security and they are also used by conservation police officers. Flash trail cameras and low glow models can also be used but are easier to spot.

trail cameras 1

What are the different types of trail cameras?

There are three main types of trail cameras.

White Flash Trail Camera

The white flash (incandescent or LED flash) trail camera operates like a regular digital camera with flash. A lot of people avoid flash trail cameras because the flash can startle or scare away animals. One benefit is that it produces a color image. Great for wildlife photographers, this is also a useful feature for researchers when identifying certain animals. It does, however, take more battery power to operate the flash.

Red Glow or Low Glow Trail Camera

The red glow or low glow trail camera uses infrared transmitters which have a faint red glow that can be seen when looking directly into the camera. Because of this, they’re not the best option for security cameras.

Opinions differ on whether or not they frighten wildlife. While less intrusive than the white flash cameras, they are noticeable by deer. According to Jeff Sturgis, founder of Whitetail Habitat Solutions, “By far, in my own experience since 1999 and those of my clients, IR (red glow) trail cameras can be highly invasive for spooking game. I have even captured deer looking 14′ into the air to stare at the glowing red bulbs of an extremely hidden elevated IR trail camera.”

But there are several benefits to red glow trail cameras. They produce clear, bright images in black and white. Not only are they less expensive than black glow trail cameras, but they also have a larger flash range, too.

Black Flash or No Glow Trail Camera

Black flash or no glow trail cameras have the latest in flash technology. They use LEDs that emit light above the 940 nano-meter spectrum. No red glow is visible making them ideal for hunting, security or surveillance. While they are invisible to most people, some can see a very faint glow if they are very close, within several feet, when the camera is triggered.

More expensive than the low glow trail cameras, they have less of a flash range and the images tend to be more grainy.

trail camera

What do you need to know to choose the right camera for you?

In addition to the type of flash, here are some other features that you need to know about to determine the best trail camera for you. Trail cameras come in many price ranges from expensive, to affordable trail cameras and even cheap trail cameras. With such a range of options and prices, it’s easy to find the camera that best fits both your needs and your wallet.

The trigger time and camera delay time determine how fast the camera can take and process images. For shots of quick-moving animals on a game trail, a faster trigger and camera delay time will capture more images.

Trigger Time

The trigger time is the time it takes for the trail camera to take the picture. Generally, the faster the trigger speed, the more expensive the camera.

Camera Delay Time

Camera delay time is the amount of time required by the camera to process the image, store the image and recharge the flash before taking another photo.

The flash range and detection range determines what the camera will illuminate and detect.

Flash Range

The flash range is how far the flash will extend from the camera to the intended object.

Detection Range

The detection range is how far the camera can detect motion and/or heat. The detection range spreads out from the camera in a fan-shaped area with the narrow end at the camera and growing wider. Once the camera detects motion within this range, it takes the image.

trail camera batteries

Best Batteries for Trail Cameras

Always use high-quality batteries in a trail camera. They need to be able to withstand heavy use and fluctuating temperatures. The best to use are lithium batteries or high-quality NIMH rechargeable batteries. Avoid alkaline batteries. They may be cheaper than the others but they have a shorter life span and don’t perform well in cold temperatures.

Where to Place Trail Cameras?

Place trail cameras in an area where wildlife usually travels such as food sources or mineral sites. Trails near water sources make good locations, but be aware of possible flood areas. Waters can rise and fall quickly. Make sure the trail camera is above the waterline.

Mounting a Trail Camera

A trail camera can be mounted on a tree, fence post or a stake. To prevent theft, use a security box and a heavy-duty cable or chain.

Examine the area first. Aim the camera so that it does not face the sun. Too much light will wash out the images. Face it north for the best images. For a wider field of view, place the camera at least as high as your head or taller, then angle it down to your target area.

Notice the background. Tall bushes or low hanging branches brush can move in the wind causing false triggers. Animals should be within a clear line of sight to the camera.

To photograph deer, mount the camera at least 10-20 feet from the trail. This puts the camera far enough away to get a clear photo of the entire animal instead of a large, blurred close-up. This is especially important for a food or mineral site.

If you’re targeting big bucks, use gloves or a cover scent when handling the camera. This includes not only when you mount it, but also when you check it or change batteries later.

How Often Do You Check a Trail Camera?

Check a trail camera every few weeks. While it can be checked sooner, try not to get your scent on it more often than needed.

Also, whenever you check the camera or change batteries, take a moment to check the aim and make sure it’s working again before you leave.

These are the basics of choosing and using a trail camera. Whether used for hunting, wildlife viewing or for security and surveillance, trail cameras allow you to monitor your property even when you can’t be present yourself.

trail camera

Leave a Comment