How to Buy a Trail Camera: A Buyer’s Guide for Beginners

Thinking of buying a trail camera? Cool!

Trail cameras are amazing and provide a great way for hunters to track and identify their game. It has redefined the way hunters hunt and has proven itself invaluable.

trail camera

Whether it’s for deer hunting or tracking other animals, these cameras are proving themselves useful.

Any hunter worth his salt most likely has a trail camera in their arsenal. You should too. But, with the many options that are available today, choosing and settling for one can be a tough decision.

This is why we’ve created this super-concise guide to help you understand what’s important in choosing one. By the time you’re done reading this article, you should have enough information to decide on the best trail camera for your situation. 

Picture Quality

The key thing about your trail camera is that it must be able to take clear, high-quality pictures and videos. This is the single biggest reason why you’ll be buying them.

If you’ll be switching to the video mode, make sure that it produces clear, non-blurry images. Some wildlife cameras come with VGA and HD modes on them, as well as ample storage space. 

It must also show a distinct contrast with the subject as well as highlight the foreground and backgrounds. The point is the camera should have a clear resolution; enough to highlight all parts of nature and scenery that you want. 

Most importantly, picture quality in regular and low light. Remember here that high megapixels don’t mean anything. In fact, they’re mostly selling gimmicks used by manufacturers to get you to buy their wildlife cameras. Don’t fall for it.

Instead, ask to see pictures shot by that exact trail camera. Most online shops will show you samples that you can compare. But, if you have access to an offline store, walk in and see how they perform. 

Trail Camera Night Mode

Also speaking of pictures, make sure there’s one with a night mode option on. Even if you won’t be hunting at night -many hunters prefer daytime hunting- you want to make sure that you at least know where what subjects are and at what time of the day. 

The night mode feature is what separates all trail cameras from other cameras. It’s the ability to track animals at night. Make sure that it has infrared and black LED flash. The latter is very crucial because regular flash bulbs are bound to scare away wildlife at night. 

Nocturnal animals tend to scare easy. So, when there’s a sudden burst of light, it’ll cause them to scamper away, and avoid that area for a while. 

Understandably, nighttime pictures will not be as clear as daytime ones. Not to worry, just make sure that the trail camera produces clear crisp pictures that’ll help you clearly highlight the game’s features. 

If you can, get the one that doesn’t give animals the red/orange eye. Those are better and produce better night mode pictures. 

Detection Circuit

This is a collection of features that detect when the game is near or around the trail camera. It’s made up of the trigger speed and time, detection zone, sensors, and recovery time. Each of these components plays a crucial role in getting game images. 

The trigger speed, for instance, is the speed at which the camera takes its shots once the game enters the detection zone. The detection zone itself is like the maximum area/range that a trail camera can cover.

It’s like a motion sensor. There’s a limit beyond which it won’t detect animals. But, once the animals are within range, it automatically starts taking pictures or recording videos. 

Speaking of sensors, this is what tells the camera that the animal is close, thus triggering it to take the necessary pictures. These are usually infrared sensors in the camera. 

Recovery time is the length of time it takes for a camera to store its images and be ready to take other shots. So, bottom line, you want a detection circuit with a wide detection zone, speedy trigger, sensitive sensor, and fast recovery time. 

These make the best trail cameras. And they don’t have to be expensive either. There are always good deals for the best trail camera under 100 dollars online on eBay or in a local store.  

Memory and Battery

It goes without saying that your trail camera must have enough juice to last as long as necessary, and good storage capacity. The good news is almost all of them come with both these days. 

Some units, however, have the added advantage of a power saving mode, while others don’t. Ideally, the 8 AA batteries that they come with, are often enough to take about 16,000 pictures. Others with power saving mode can store a lot more. 

As for memory, you want one with ample storage space, particularly if you’ll be using the video feature, and leaving the camera on for days. Most trail cameras come with an internal storage capacity. But that’s not enough. You’ll want to get one with an external storage option.

A 64GB micro SD card should suffice. Get two of these. This makes it very easy to swap out and replace memory cards. It also takes very little time to do that. In fact, you can be in and out in 3-5 minutes.

All you have to do is remove the precious memory card, and replace with the empty one. Then, go download the images on to your computer or phone someplace else.  

Making a Final Decision on a Trail Camera

The aforementioned are the basics that every trail camera must have. There are units with remote viewing capabilities. These are often called cellular or trail wireless cameras.

These send pictures directly to your phone or computer while you’re miles away from the location. They are convenient and provide you with real-time feedback. 

At the end of the day, you want something that works and meets your hunting needs. A good trail camera with all the mentioned features will.

If you want more information on trail cameras and other hunting gears, check out the Plans Outdoor Blog. 

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