To start, what one person likes in a camera another may hate. That might largely be due to the use case and/or the interpretation of what "good" actually means. For the average trail camera user, they simply compare marketed specifications found on a box. Sometimes those specifications can just be marketing jargon and have no real meaning, but sometimes those specifications can be related to performance. In this article we're going to explain what trail camera specifications actually matter and why, in a non subjective manner.
When it comes to longevity, a true length of time cannot be put on a box. Only a multitude of vetted users can give an accurate length of time a trail camera will last out in the elements 365. However, you can get an idea based around the warranty policies on the specific trail camera. Typically, companies will warranty a product just inside the expected life expectancy under normal use, this holds true across many different consumer marketplaces not just trail cameras.
With this in mind, it's a good idea to quickly vet the warranty policy and terms of the trail camera of interest, if product longevity is high on your priority list. To get an accurate, apples to apples, cost comparison you can take the cost of the product and divide the warranty period to provide you with an yearly cost basis. IE a $60 trail camera with a one year warranty period has the annual cost of $60 where a $150 trail camera with a three year warranty period has the annual cost of $50. Breaking the upfront cost into time of use cost based around the longevity of the trail camera is an easy way to measure the longer term cost of having that specific camera in your fleet. Most deer hunters are after volume and having a fleet of properly functioning trail cameras collecting data far outweighs a fleet of improperly working trail cameras. The opportunity costs of missed information has no price tag. And of course the warranty is only as good as the people behind it so do your due diligence. Take a quick look at the best trail camera warranty and policy in the game found right here.
If you ask this question on social media or other networking websites there's no lack of answers. Unfortunately, just about every single one of them will be subjective. To make matter worse, a lot of trail camera manufacturer list battery life as 1 year run time or 2 year standby time...what they are telling you is IF THE CAMERA TAKES ZERO PHOTOS it will run 2 years. This is a classic example of smoke and mirrors. So how does one know what the actual battery life of a specific trail camera is? Ask these questions:
- What is the camera's resting current draw?
- What is the camera's current draw when taking a day photo?
- What is the camera's current draw when taking videos?
- What is the camera's current draw during it's recovery period?
If you have those metrics, you can easily calculate the expected and accurate battery life over any period of time that is NON SUBJECTIVE! Outside of those tangible measurements you'll need to know how many batteries the camera operates on and the capacity.
Going to social media and asking "what trail camera has the best battery life" or "what batteries last the longest" is absolutely the worst way to get accurate information. If you are looking for specific battery information you can simply google the data or cut sheets for the specific batteries of interest and compare, like what is shown below.
"I get blurry photos, I need something with a fast trigger speed." Ever hear that? It happens at every trade show and it still amazes me. The cause of blurry photos is shutter speeds and/or exposure tables. It has nothing to do with trigger speeds of the trail camera. So what are trigger speeds? While there is no official definitions, industry professions claim trail camera trigger speeds to be defined as THE AMOUNT OF TIME IT TAKES THE TRAIL CAMERA TO WAKE UP FROM REST AND START THE PROCESS OF RECORDING A TRIGGER EVENT.
This is a critical trail camera specification to understand when purchasing cameras in relation to how you plan to use them. For instance, if you plan to run cameras on feeders, bait stations, mineral sites, or other static environment sets there is no real need for trail cameras with a super fast trigger speed. Flip the script and run cameras to monitor trails, open areas like ag fields and food plots and/or other dynamic environments and you will want/need a faster trigger speed.
Another overlooked aspect to trail camera trigger speeds is how the overall detection circuit of the trail camera is built. For more detailed information on that check out the article "HOW DO TRAIL CAMERA DETECTION CIRCUITS WORK"
Recovery time is a trail camera specification that most people think about but often gets overlooked with more sexy terms being marketed. Also, be clear recovery times and trigger delays are two separate terms but are somewhat related. To further explain the recovery time of a trail camera is the amount of time it takes the device to "recover" from recording a file and then be able to be triggered again. Trigger delay is just a setting that allows the user to specific the length of time the trail camera is inactive between trigger events. Often the minimum trigger delay will reflect the recovery time, if the recovery time is not listed. Also keep in mind, this specification will often be different in photo mode vs video mode due to the file size differences.
Again, understanding where you want to use your camera, static or dynamic environments is a telling sign of how fast you need recovery times to be! A trail camera placed on a feeder does not need the same recovery time as a trail camera placed on a trail.
IMAGE SENSOR SIZE
Not to poke too much fun at end consumers here but the "how many megapixels" question is the worst of all to ask and quite frankly exploits the individuals lack of knowledge around trail cameras. Luckily over the past 8 years, companies like Exodus and influencers focused on providing value inplace of sales numbers have had a huge impact on educating the marketplace to have better experiences with trail cameras.
When it comes to mega pixel specifications of trail cameras, most companies used interpolated sizes as marketing specifications to sell more cameras. The bigger the number the more attractive the product becomes to the average end consumer. If you found this article, you likely not average or at least on your way out of that bucket. The question you should be asking or specification you should be comparing is what is the native sensor size being used in the trail camera. While interpolation software is certainly getting better and better, larger files made by artificial pixels are still not match for native size files. At the end of the day, trail cameras are not high end DSLR or mirrorless cameras and a 32 MP image from a trail camera is never going to match a 32 MP native image from high end photography equipment. Megapixel is absolutely the most overrated trail camera specification and also the most over exaggerated!
White Flash, Red Flash, Low Glow, No Gow, Black Flash....what the heck do they all mean? It's actually relatively simple, these are simple trade names for the wavelength of light emitted by the trail cameras flash unit. While the topic can get technical, click here for that article, below is a quick reference guide to what matters to the end user
-Produces color images
- Produces a visible flash like a point and shoot camera
-Typically a shorter flash range
-Typically consumes more power
Red Flash/Low Glow
- Produces black/white night images
- Produces a red glow
- Typically longest flash range capabilities
No Glow/Black Flash
-Products black/white night images
-Produces no visible light
- Typically lowest of night image quality when comparing flash types
When comparing flash types, end users really need to weigh what is important to them. What can you live with and what can't you live without. Is that flash distance, color images, no visible light, etc? Only then can one classify what flash type is the "best".
With SD card capacity it's really important to thing about two things.
1. What are the files sizes being stored to the SD card? Photo mode and/or video mode?
2. What is the planned time duration between card pulls?
Meeting these two criteria points is ultimately the most important factor when trying to get the most out of your trail cameras from an SD card perspective. Outside of those two points make sure you are following the manufacturers recommendations. Not all trail cameras have the same SD card requirements but there are some general best practices around SD cards and trail cameras found here.
While every trail camera is different on top of each use case being different, the commonality between most end users is deer hunting. We just want trail cameras to assist us in our scouting to help us become more effective deer hunters. To maximize our efficiency in accomplish that goal, it is imperative we understand the devices we are purchasing for tools and I hope this article aids you in your personal journey of accomplishing just that.
Author: Chad Sylvester, Exodus Co-Founder/Owner