Trail cameras that send pictures to your phone....Everybody wants them but most folks know very little about them. And that's ok. Wireless trail cameras aren't all that new but we're just getting to the point of mass social acceptance and demand amongst deer hunters. We can say that because we have a very good pulse of the trail camera market, in fact over the last 24 months we've talked about the wireless shift inside the industry quite often.
I'm writing this, March of 2020, almost 2 months removed from exhibiting at the largest hunting consumer trade show in North America, The Great American Outdoors Show. While exhibiting, our team talked with 10's of thousands if not 100's of thousands of attendees. 90% of those conversations were geared towards cellular trail cameras and 20% of folks asked this exact question, "Do you have cameras that send pics to your phone"? As we answered that question for folks we quickly received a ton of follow up questions, so naturally, we went into some deep, lengthy conversations that people found extremely helpful.
We feel it is extremely important for folks to know the difference between wireless technology in trail cameras and also understand not all wireless trail cameras function the same. As deer hunters, the vast majority desire the same baseline function out of wireless cameras and that is to simply receive photos/videos remotely while being able to manage the camera from our phone or computer so we can keep pressure off the deer we hope to harvest. So, in this article, we are going to break down all the different types of trail cameras that transmit data (aka photos and videos) to phones, computers, and other connected devices.
Bluetooth technology essentially works by using short-range wireless communication between devices using a frequency ranging between 2.0 through 2.45 GHz. Traditionally this type of hardware tech has been utilized in audio devices, personal computers (mice/keyboard), gaming consoles, phones, etc. Basic use cases are where the two devices communicated are in relatively close proximity due to the technology limits. You'll likely never see a trail camera marketed as simply a Bluetooth device but more jazzed up along the lines of "free photo transition" or "wireless trail camera with free downloads". While there are many different Bluetooth versions, each having different specifications, we generalized the pros and cons.
- Transmit photos/videos without data charges
- Simple device setup or syncing
- Relatively low power consumption
- Limited operational range
- Slower transmission rates vs other options
- Possible security vulnerabilities
Overall, for most deer hunters wishing to stay out of the woods wireless trail cameras that send photos to your phone via Bluetooth technology are not a viable option. The limited operating range, often less than 100', is simply a deal-breaker.
WiFi technology is somewhat similar to Bluetooth in that WiFi-enabled devices work inside a similar range as Bluetooth, keeping that same drawback consistent when talking about trail cameras. WiFi works as a local area network or LAN, allowing local network-enabled devices to communicate and transfer data through radio signals. A general rule of thumb Wifi bands is either 2.4 GHz or 5GHz, with 2.4GHz operating out to 300' outdoors without obstructions and 5GHz only one-third of that range but offers faster transmission speeds. While most areas you place trail cameras will not have existing WiFi signal there are cases where trail cameras can be used for security or applications where the WiFi signal is present. However, because those opportunities are limited, there are not a lot of trail cameras that utilize WiFi hardware, most cameras marketed for this type of use are home security cameras.
- Transmit photos/videos without additional charges assuming WiFi signal is present
- Simple syncing and device setup
- Faster transmission speeds
- WiFi signal must be present for use
- The connective range is extremely limited when obstruction such as elevation and/or vegetation exist.
- Higher power consumption and may require hard wired power
Again, WiFi trail cameras aren't all that readily available on the marketplace due to the limited applicable opportunities most deer hunters have. Currently, WiFi trail cameras are still not a viable option for 99% of us.
Cellular trail cameras are without a doubt the best wireless option for hunters and anyone wanting to use wireless trail cameras in remote areas. The current marketplace is a direct reflection of that statement, nearly 99% of wireless trail cameras utilize cellular technology. Cellular trail cameras work by transmitting data over the existing cellular infrastructure of network carriers such as Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, US Cellular, etc. Pending the operational network the cellular trail camera will have specific hardware optimized to run on the carrier requirements of the network. There are more than enough options available on today cellular trail camera marketplace to fill anyone's need. While the performance and capabilities will vary greatly between different models, below we noted the general pros and cons.
- No limit on operational range pending signal strength
- Ability to manage and control the device remotely
- Accessories like security boxes and external power sources are widely available.
- Fast data transmission speeds
- Data plans are required due to utilizing carrier networks
- The cellular signal must be present for proper function
While makes and models will vary greatly with different functions, capabilities, and performance cellular trail cameras are the best bet for the vast majority of hunters looking to use wireless trail cameras.
The term "mesh network" may be foreign to some but the technology has been around for a very long time. Using RF transfers, which both receive and transmit radio frequency, these types of products have the ability to move data from one camera to the next, in turn creating a network of talking devices amongst themselves directed to a "home" base type device where the data can then be retrieved or uploaded.
- Provides the ability to run wireless cameras where cellular signal is limited
- Allows for efficient efforts while running multiple wireless cameras
- Can be cost effective long term
- Upfront cost. Must have several cameras to create the system
- Connective range is limited by terrain, vegetation, and/or obsticals
- Data transmission is still limited by terrain and vegetation
- Networks can be difficult to setup pending the camera models
- Data transmission is slower when compared to cellular devices
- When using a cellular "home" base data plans and service are still required
While the idea of building a network of wireless trail cameras all communicating within a mesh network is very appealing, the list of challenges are many. In fact the entire topic is deserving of it own article.
All in all, that's a general outline of the different types of wireless trail cameras that are available in the market place today. For most folks cellular technology is going to be the best fit when considering wireless trail cameras. Cell cams offer the most familiarity for practical use, operations, functions, and model options. More additional information on this topic and other celluar trail camera information please head over to the Exodus YouTube Channel or list to the Trail Cam Radio Podcast! You could also just check out the video below!