Trail Camera Buying Guide

Setting up a trail camera

As technology advances, trail cameras are becoming more and more of an essential hunting accessory. In addition to scouting for deer and other wildlife, trail cameras can be used as home security cameras to give you an image of anyone who walks in front of the camera. Whether you plan to use the camera for hunting or surveillance, there are several features you’ll need to consider. Our trail camera buying guide will help you learn more about which camera is right for you and your favorite hunting spot.

Types of Trail Cameras

There are two types of trail cameras: non-cellular and cellular. Non-cellular cameras are more traditional and are usually more affordable than cellular cameras. However, cellular cameras offer several convenient features not available in traditional game cameras, like the ability to receive captured images directly on your smartphone.

Non-Cellular Trail Cameras

Non-cellular trail camera

Non-cellular trail cameras take a picture every time something moves in front of the camera. Once the picture is captured, it is saved to an SD card, which you can later retrieve to view the images. Some models are even able to record short video clips so you can watch how the deer move through an area. While non-cellular game cameras are affordable, they require that you physically go to the area where the camera is mounted in order to retrieve the SD card and view the images.

Cellular Trail Cameras

Cellular trail camera

Cellular trail cameras work similarly to other game cameras, capturing an image every time the sensor detects motion. However, in addition to storing the images on a memory card, a cellular game camera uses cellular networks to upload the image to the internet where it can be viewed on your smartphone, laptop, or other device. Some models even allow you to change the camera’s settings through your phone from almost anywhere in the world. Because they can send images right to your phone, cellular cameras are a great option for busy hunters or those who want to continually monitor their property. Learn more about your cellular trail camera options including top brands and data plans with our guide to cellular trail cameras.

Important Trail Camera Features

Image & Video Quality

Since the primary goal of a game camera is to take images of wildlife or intruders, you’ll want to make sure the camera offers the right quality of image for your needs. Image quality is measured in megapixels, or MP. While it’s tempting to choose a camera with the highest megapixel count, this is only necessary if you want to capture wildlife photography—for most scouting or home security needs, a moderate megapixel rating is more than enough. Aside from capturing still images, some trail cameras are even able to record video to give you a better idea of the deer’s behavior. Just as with images, the higher the resolution, the clearer and sharper the video will be. Any video resolution with 720p or 1080p is considered HD and is a great choice for hunters who want to see the finer details of deer as they move through an area.

Trigger Speed & Recovery Time

In addition to the image quality, the trigger speed and recovery time are some of the most crucial features to consider when choosing a trail camera. Trigger speed refers to the time it takes the camera to take a picture after it detects motion. A camera with a faster trigger speed is more likely to capture the full image of a moving deer. Most high-end game cameras have a half-second trigger speed or less, but a slower trigger speed will perform just fine by food plots and other areas where the deer tend to linger.

The recovery time is the minimum amount of time it takes the camera to capture another image. While most cameras allow you to adjust the delay, the recovery time determines how fast your camera will be able to take a new photo at its highest setting. Much like trigger speed, the recovery time can vary significantly between price points. Short recovery times are great for areas deer pass through in groups, while longer recovery times are acceptable for watching food plots.

Flash Types

The next feature you should consider is the trail camera’s flash type, as this determines how the captured images will look and how noticeable the trail camera will be when it takes a picture. Trail cameras work similarly to other types of camera, using a flash bulb to reflect light off an object in order to illuminate the subject and capture a clear image. There are three types of flash available in game cameras—white flash, infrared flash, and black flash—and each is suited for a different purpose. Making sure your camera has the right flash type for the area and images you want to capture is of critical importance, especially if you’re trying to scout for deer near your favorite hunting spots.

Image captured by a trail camera

White Flash

Game cameras with white flash use a bright light to capture images, much like a traditional camera. While this flash allows the camera to take full-color photos at night, its bright and sudden light can scare deer and cause them to flee. If you’re mainly interested in capturing wildlife photos, white flash cameras are a great option since they provide colored photos no matter the time of day. However, if you’re planning to use the camera for hunting or surveillance it’s best to choose a different flash type as the bright light will alert wildlife and intruders.

IR Flash

IR flash simply means that the trail camera uses infrared light to capture photos. While any images taken at night are in black and white, the camera’s flash is significantly less noticeable than a white flash camera. IR trail cameras are a great choice for hunters since they are much less likely to alert game. However, IR cameras have several red lights that activate to take a picture. If a deer looks head-on into the camera, they’ll likely see the lights and mistake them for the eyes of a predator. This can be avoided by concealing your camera from the direct view of animals or at a further distance from them, making them a great choice for food plots and other areas where you can conceal the camera without compromising your view of the animals.

Black Flash

Black flash cameras work similarly to IR cameras, but their flash is completely invisible to most species, including humans. The pictures are often darker and don’t capture fine background details as well as IR cameras, but they still provide a clear enough image to see and analyze the deer. Because they are unlikely to scare game, black flash trail cameras are an excellent choice for hunters who want to capture deer at closer ranges like wooded areas or next to deer rubs. They’re also the best choice for home security and surveillance since the invisible flash will take an image or record video without alerting passerby.

Trail Camera Accessories

In addition to the actual trail camera, you should also consider adding a couple trail camera accessories. The most important are SD cards and batteries, as these are required for the trail camera to function. There are also several options for extending the life of your game camera including power packs, external batteries, and even solar panels that give virtually limitless power. If you choose a non-cellular camera, you’ll also want to pick up an SD card reader so you can view the images from your camera’s memory card right on your phone.

With the right trail camera, you’ll be able to easily capture images of your property. Whether you want to track deer and other game, monitor your home, or capture wildlife photos, you’ll find the best trail camera for you at SCHEELS. If you have any questions about which trail camera is right for your needs, stop by your nearest SCHEELS and talk to one of our archery or hunting experts.

Learn More from Our Expert

Mike Anderson, a SCHEELS Hunting Expert, offers tips when setting up a trail camera in three different locations.