The Cost of Inexpensive Trail Cameras

Learn the real cost of cheap trail cameras.

By: Reese Johnson 

Like many other areas in life, cheap isn’t always the best answer. There’s something to be said about quality work. And that includes the trustworthiness of a good trail camera. Reliability matters.

Patience comes easier with age and it really seems that my short fuse has gotten a little longer over the years. However, one of few things that really gets me going is the let down following the build up of anticipation once you discover that trail camera you’ve been waiting a month to check didn’t take a single picture. It’s a lesson that most of us will learn the hard way and is one reason I’m overly weary every single time I put up or check a camera. Nearly every hunter I know will tell you there’s a trail camera out on the farm that they regret purchasing, mostly because of these problems.

Trust Issues

Is your SD card locked? Do the batteries have enough life to make it until you will be back again? Are there any limbs or debris that could possibly set it off in the wind? Will your target walk into the center of the frame and is the angle right? Is the camera facing so as to eliminate potential blurry pictures? Most folks will have at least a couple different models and brands of trail cameras as the technology is advancing so quickly. The cameras will quickly rank themselves and you will find yourself putting the ones you trust most in your “best spot”. The ones you trust less will end up in the exploratory setups. However you end up with your collection of cameras, knowing there’s a chance you might miss getting a picture of the buck you’ve been waiting to see is a terrible feeling. Hunting season is only so long and you may only have the opportunity to check some cameras once or twice a year. When you know this could be a likelihood, going cheap is always more trouble than the piece of mind in a quality camera.


My target buck for this year, labeled “turndown” was a ghost. With 4 cameras on 200 acres, this 5.5 year old buck managed to get his picture taken only 3 times in nearly 5 months. He’s slick. Of those 3 sets of pictures, only 1 was clear. While some deer are very photogenic (even mature bucks), some seem to be extra leery and getting any pictures of this beast has been a challenge. In this case, it has been extremely frustrating not being able to show off this brute’s special rack without a clear picture. Sometimes a deer will come through running or a picture may not come out crystal clear, it happens with the best cameras. However, the technology in cameras today easily give you enough detail to determine which buck or animal you may be looking at. The sensors in trail cameras have a direct correlation with pricing, which also directly correlates to the frequency of blurry pictures. Ranking right up there on the frustration list with a camera that doesn’t work is a camera that leaves you with too many unclear and fuzzy pictures.

Battery Life

Once upon a time, C and D batteries were commonplace among trail cameras and thankfully that time has passed (at least for most cameras). Some brands still use this setup and, from experience, seem to be less reliable than the 8 AAs that have taken over. Cheap batteries are no better and can also add to the frustration list. Cheap cameras may use batteries less efficiently, regardless the type, than some others that are now making it 3-6 months on one set of batteries. Finding a camera in the field that hasn’t been running because of dead batteries leads to that same sinking feeling.

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