Best Trail Camera – Reviews & Guide for 2017
Are you looking for the best trail camera? The good news is there are a lot of products to choose from, but they’re not built equally, Some of these trail or game cameras are barely adequate for taking wildlife images, while others are good enough for professional photographers to use. What we did was round up the seven best cameras and we put them through the paces and highlight their features, benefits and the pros and cons.
Our Top Seven Trailer Camera Picks
Here they are:
1. Reconyx SC950
The SC950 is one of the best game camera for your money, and one of the things you’ll notice is that it is covert, so human or animal eyes cannot sense the infrared LED glow. The case design is compact and durable and the set up is straightforward. There’s programmable software included so you can turn the camera and off at specific times and as far as customization goes the 950 is right up there with the best of them as you can adjust the time lapse settings, photo stamp, flash setting, detection circuit, PIR settings and more.
The image quality is top of the line and photos taken during the day produces more color but those shot at night are pretty good as well. The battery life is long, but do bear in mind it uses a dozen AA batteries; either the Nimh Rechargeable or lithium type will do, but alkaline doesn’t work.
Another thing about the 950 is that it is a rollover type, meaning it is going to roll over and replace photos if the SD card gets filled up. However it’s going to take a while before that happens as an 8 gig card can store up to 28,000 photos. As far as detection circuits go it’s one of the best in the business with a trigger time of 0.19 seconds. The detection range is 70 ft. solid numbers all around.
- Dimensions: 5.5″ x 4.5″ x 3″
- Battery Type: 12 AA
- Photo resolution: 3.1 megapixels
- Recovery Speed: 1.0 s.
- Picture Trigger: 0.19 s.
- Long battery lifespan
- Detection circuit is fast
- On and off setting can be customized
- Has no video features
2. Bushnell Aggressor Red Glow
Trail camera reviews usually give the Bushnell Aggressor high marks and it’s not surprising. Programming is straightforward and easy to understand, and the Aggressor even comes with a PM, AM or 24 hour run timer if you want the device to run at particular times during the day.
Among the settings you’ll likely tinker with are the photo stamp which includes not just the date and time but also the moon phase and temperature. The Picture + Video Mode is easily accessible and you can adjust the PIR settings from low, to regular to high, or you can have it at auto.
There are three options for flash (low, medium and high) and with a 0.13 second trigger is one of the best right now. With recovery time at less than a second, the Bushnell can snap a picture of an animal in 1.2 seconds once their movement has been sensed.
The video trigger time is a bit slower at 2.4 seconds but still impressive, and the 5 second video recovery is also solid. The detection is good for up to 110 ft. and that is good enough to beat most other trail cameras. The picture quality is very good and those taken during the day have depth and color. Overall the Aggressor lives up to the hype and delivers outstanding pictures and images.
- Dimensions: 5.75″ x 4.25″ x 3″
- External Battery Jack: 6 Volt
- Battery Type: 8 AA
- Detection Range: 110 ft.
- Video Recovery Speed: 5.0 s.
- Video Trigger: 2.4 s.
- Photo resolution: 14, 8 or 3 megapixels
- Video Resolution: 1920 x 1080 with audio
- Detection range is up to 110 ft.
- Solid case design
- Outstanding picture and video quality
- Good battery life
- Superb detection zone
- Batteries can be difficult to remove
3. Covert Extreme HD 40
Game camera reviews for the Covert Extreme have been positive and that is not surprising given the design and quality. The case design is not that different from the Red 40 cameras that Covert has used, and that’s not really a bad thing. There is a threaded insert measuring 1/4″ x 20 for the Slate River Mount, and there is a bracket built in for a python cable lock.
The Covert Extreme comes with a picture viewer so you can see the pictures inside the Covert, and it comes with a wide range of programmable elements including PIR controls, password protection and overwrite function. There’s also a start / stop feature that allows you to turn the Covert on and off at specific times.
There are a lot of settings here including PIR, SD Card Overwrite Picture + Video Mode, time lapse and more. While there are a lot of configuration options, it’s not difficult to figure them out as the interface is intuitive.
The picture quality is good, with those taken during the day having deep color, clear and crisp. The Covert also shoots good pictures in the night with some sharp contrast. The same high quality is present in the video as well, with those taken during the night and day superior to what you usually get in these cameras.
The battery life is good, as is the case with most of the cameras here: if you set this camera to take 35 night pictures and 35 day pictures every 24 hrs. the Covert battery will last for over ten months, impressive to say the least.
- Dimensions: 5.5″ x 4″ x 3″
- Battery Type: 12 AA
- Photo Resolution: up to 12 megapixels
- Video Resolution: 720p with audio
- Flash Type: infrared red glow
- Detection Range: 60 ft.
- Video Recovery Speed: 5.6 s.
- Picture Trigger: 0.76 s.
- Very good photo quality
- Internal picture viewer built in
- Good battery life
- Detection circuit is average
4. Browning Strike Force Elite
The name sounds right for the best pick, and the Elite certainly lives up to it. Compared to the 2015 Strike Force HD, the Elite has a quicker picture trigger speed (0.65 s. vs. 0.88 s.) and faster video trigger speed as well (1.04 s. vs. 1.51 s.), and the night video length has been doubled from 10 seconds to 20 seconds.
The Elite sports a camo pattern and the setup should be familiar if you’ve used these types of camera before. The SD card overwrite is one of the new design elements and the dynamic video is great for trail videos. At the camera’s rear is a bracket for a python cable lock.
The picture quality is excellent and images taken during the day are top notch and the color just right. The pictures taken at night are also good with the contrast clearly defined. Unlike those shot with other trail cameras, there is no whiteout here and the edges look fine whether it’s day or night.
The video resolution is as sharp as those on previous models, but the big difference here is the dynamic video or smart video technology. When you activate this, the Elite will record videos as long as activity is sensed in front of it. If there is no activity for 4 seconds, the Elite stops recording.
The runtime for the Elite is solid too as it can last 7 months, a significant improvement as the older versions could only last 4 months. Another thing that should be noted here is the Elite runs on just 6 batteries whereas others require 8 to 12 batteries.
- Dimensions: 4.75″ x 4″ x 3″
- Battery Type: 6 AA
- Picture Trigger: 0.65 s.
- Picture Recovery Speed: 1.3 s.
- Video Trigger: 1.04 s.
- Video Recovery Speed: 2.3 s.
- Detection Range: 70 ft.
- Battery life is good for 7 months (lithium)
- Pictures taken at night compensate for the animal’s distance
- Good picture quality
- Solid video trigger
- Has a limit of 20 seconds for night videos
5. Primos Proof Cam 02
The Primos camera is well designed, basic but durable. Like the other trail camera models here, the Primos works with the python cable lock and Slate River Mount, with the cable lock running around the camera’s front, ensuring the Primos is shut and attached to the tree you chose.
Programming design is intuitive and doesn’t even require a user guide: all you need to do is toggle switches or adjust the slides to the setting you prefer, set the date and time and you’re ready. Among the settings that you can adjust are the time lapse, photo stamp, and multi shot.
As far as speed goes the Primos picture trigger is very fast at .22 seconds and the video trigger and picture recovery time are also good. The detection zone is good for up to 70 ft. and the detection angle is a match for the FOV. Insofar as picture quality goes it’s high quality and the colors have been significantly improved over the previous versions.
The night flash has been reduced somewhat and there’s none of the whiteout effect that was common with the previous year’s models. Images taken at night have a sharp contrast but not overpowering. The Primos use of batteries – nimh rechargeable, alkaline or lithium – is good for 7 months (if you take 35 night pictures and 35 day pictures per 24 hrs.).
- Dimensions: 5.25″ x 4″ x 2.75″
- Battery Type: 8 AA
- Video Recovery Speed: 4.5 s.
- Video Trigger: 2.72 s.
- Detection Range: 70 ft.
- Picture Trigger: 0.22 s.
- Picture Recovery Speed: 3.8 s.
- Video Resolution: 1280 x 720 HD has audio
- Photo resolution: 12 or 3 megapixels
- Programming is easy
- Battery usage is good
- Video quality is outstanding
- Pictures taken during the day are crisp and clear
- Picture trigger speed is excellent
- Video trigger speed not as fast as other cameras
6. HCO Scoutguard SG560C
One of the best trail camera for the money, the Scoutguard is a white LED camera and is being billed as an alternative to the Incandescent types. One of the benefits of this design is it doesn’t emit a sound when shooting pictures at night. The case design is well thought out: it’s made from durable plastic and compartment for the batteries fit the batteries just right.
Programming won’t take long as you can use the viewing screen (which also functions as the image viewer). The design incorporates time lapse capabilities, and the shooting data is not hard to read at all.
The Scoutguard comes with the standard settings you would expect such as multi shot, 5 s. – 60 s. video length adjustment, PIR settings, photo stamp and time lapse. The trigger and recovery type are adequate, but the most important feature here is the detection zone which is good for up to 90 ft. and that’s good enough for covering a wide area.
The picture quality is good: the day shots are clear and crisp and the clarity is right up there with the top trailer cameras. The night pictures offer good contrast, and there is very little blurring. The flash range extends forty feet and the battery life is decent. It’s difficult to give a specific figure as it depends on how the camera will be used, but on the average the Scoutguard should last 3 months.
- Dimensions: 5″ x 4″ x 2.5″
- External Battery Jack: 6 V
- Battery Type: 8 AA
- Picture Recovery Speed: .9 s.
- Picture Trigger: 1.2 s.
- Video Trigger: 2.27 s.
- Video Recovery Speed: 4.8 s.
- Photo Resolution: 8 or 5 megapixels
- Video Resolution: 640 x 480 (with audio)
- Good recovery speed
- Day and night photos are good
- Trigger speed could be faster
7. Moultrie M-550 GEN2
The Moultrie Gen2 is one of the best deer camera around and it has been designed specifically for those looking for a budget camera that doesn’t compromise when it comes to quality. The exterior design is similar to M-880 Gen2, but the 550 has the added benefit of having a large latch which is always good, and you won’t encounter any difficulty opening even if your fingers aren’t warm.
The battery eject tray works fine and the programming buttons are intuitive as well. The programing options are basic but functional and there are settings for adjusting the video clips (5 s. – 90 s.) photo stamp, time lapse and flash settings.
The picture trigger time is adequate for cameras in this range as is the video trigger. The recovery times are more than equal to the other models in this class, and at 50 feet the detection range is sufficient for budget trail cameras and can hold its own when taking pictures of moving game.
The day picture quality is good and consistent, and it’s rare that you’ll find blurry pictures. Images taken at night are all right and the flash range is exceptional. The camera’s low resting power is another plus so you can expect the batteries to last longer than other budget trail cams. Last but not the least, the consumption during the daytime is adequate as is also the case with the consumption at night.
- Dimensions: 5.75″ x 4.75″ x 3.25″
- Battery Type: 8 AA
- Detection Range: 50 ft.
- Picture Trigger: 1.25 s.
- Picture Recovery Speed: 4.7 s.
- Video Trigger: 2.53 s.
- Video Recovery Speed: 8.6 s.
- Photo resolution: 8 megapixels
- Video Resolution: 640 x 480
- Video quality is very good
- The battery life is long
- Video doesn’t have audio
What to Look For
If you’re looking for the best hunting camera it might be overwhelming as there are so many choices and options. However the following guidelines should help make your decision easier. Here are the primary factors:
- Viewing screen and setup: is the camera easy to configure and program? Is there an internal viewing screen?
- Picture quality: you can look at the specs but you also need to examine the actual sample photos to know for sure.
- Infrared emitters: does the camera use a no glow so it doesn’t get detected or is there an infrared flash? The different flashes have an effect on the night pictures: white flash cameras have color while infrared generate black and white night pictures.
- Night picture quality: a lot of the best animal pictures can be captured at night so make sure yours can snap good shots at night with sharp contrast and no heavy flash.
- Battery life: the longer the battery life the better. The two most popular ones are Nimh rechargeable batteries and lithium. Nimh rechargeable batteries save you money in the long term and lengthen battery life during the winter. Lithium batteries on the other hand, can provide the longest lifespan.
- Detection circuit: this is what the camera uses to sense the presence of an animal and usually they use motion and heat in combination. The detection circuit is based on several factors including recovery time, trigger time and the detection zone.
- Trigger & Recovery Time: the trigger speed and time refers to the amount of time that passes by after the camera detects motion and takes a photo or video of it. The recovery time indicates how fast the camera can store the first image and get prepared for the second picture.
- Detection zone: this is the area that the camera can detect heat and / or motion and trigger the video or photo. The two most important factors that determine the detection zone efficiency are the detection range and the detection width, and the higher the better.
There are two options: an SD card and internal memory. The benefit of internal memory is you don’t have to pay for it, but an SD card provides greater storage capacity and gives you the means to copy the images onto your computer, and it’s easier to view the images on your computer via an SD card so it is more practical.
Most of the cameras are compatible with SD cards with up to 36 GB of space, but the storage capacity depends on how you intend to use the camera. If you’re going to shoot high resolution images or video, get the biggest external memory card possible.
Other Features to Consider
A couple of other features that you may want to consider are audio when recording video and a time lapse mode. With time lapse mode you can set the camera up to take pictures at specific intervals, and when this mode is active your camera can shoot pictures even if the game is beyond the detection zone.
Audio in video can also be useful as it adds another dimension to the video, and it’s practical too: if the animal moves out of sight at least you will be able to record its sound.
A built-in viewer is a nice extra and while not all trail cameras have this, a viewer can be handy if you want to see the pictures you took right now and you’re far away from a computer. If you’re shooting in a faraway location and need to see those pictures immediately, a built-in viewer is a must.
A built-in viewer also makes it easy to set the camera at the right angle and height. If your memory card is running low on space, you can also use the viewer to delete some pictures and recover space for more images.
One more important feature needs to be mentioned here, and that is security. The best trail camera entails a considerable investment, so make sure there’s some form of protection provided. At the very least there should be a box made of steel or some other durable material to protect it from scratches and blows. There should also be a locking mechanism and of course, a camo pattern design so they blend in the background and won’t get easily noticed.