Whether your area of interest is studying, observation, or surveillance, a trail camera can be a fun tool for capturing close-up photos and video of wildlife or other people, remotely and discreetly. You can get clear, detailed images of animals without running the risk of scaring them off by strapping a camera to a tree or post and set it to take shots automatically while you go about your business elsewhere. You just don't know what you are going to get - and therein lies the fun of a trail cam. For anywhere around $100 this can add a really fun dimension for your kids (and adults) on your next safari!
Motion detection can be set to trigger the camera and will most likely give you the greatest number of shots and ensure that you don’t miss opportunities when animals step into the coverage zone. The key is to find a well-used animal path, very often on the way to a waterhole, to see who and when is passing that way. The detection of motion is performed by a passive infrared, or PIR, sensor, which detects the changes in temperature that occur when subjects move and captures images in response. These sensors typically feature an effective range of 35-60'. Many of them have technology allowing sensitivity to be regulated automatically, based on temperature for more consistent functionality. You can also set the sensitivity to high, normal, or low manually. If you don't want the camera to fire every time it's triggered, the motion-capture delay can be set at various intervals that often range from 1 second to 60 minutes. On some cameras, the On/Off switch is also the aim switch that allows the IR sensors to run a detection test before beginning to capture images. When “Aim” is selected, the red Aim LED light on the front of the camera will turn on for two seconds and then turn off at intervals, while the sensor performs the IR test.
Since you’re trying to be as unobtrusive as possible when photographing or recording game in the wild, you don’t want a flash that will alarm them. Most trail cameras have built-in, completely invisible infrared (IR) or almost invisible, near-infrared LED flash units, which provide illumination while remaining inconspicuous. Other models do have regular white flashes, which may scare off wildlife but have the advantage of offering color images at night. Cameras with the discreet IR illumination produce color images during the day but only black-and-white shots after dark. Consider the effective flash range, which can be anywhere from about 30 to more than 100', to get an idea of how close subjects will have to get to be properly exposed in low light.
Some trail cams have the ability to increase minimum shutter speed automatically to help counteract motion blur in dimly lit environments. This advanced function could mean the difference between a clear shot of an identifiable animal or person and a blurry photo of little use, especially in situations where the subject is moving quickly.
The resolution of the image sensor is a huge determining factor when it comes to the quality of your photos and videos. Generally, a greater number of megapixels will give you better image quality. Sharper photos and videos will allow you to pick out finer details in the wildlife you are observing, and will lend themselves better to large-scale computer or television viewing or print reproduction. Many cameras can render images with interpolated resolutions that are two or three times higher than the native resolution of the sensor, and these are the resolutions that are advertised most prominently. Interpolation can improve the quality of images to an extent, but an interpolated resolution will not be as sharp and detailed as a native one with the same pixel count.
To see the game in action, you’ll need a camera that records video. While many allow for standard-definition capture only, some shoot HD 720p and even Full HD 1080p movies. Certain models are even capable of shooting video and still images simultaneously. Video clip length can vary but is generally pretty short—up to 30 or 60 seconds for many cameras and as long as 90 seconds for others. If you want to capture the sounds of wildlife to accompany these movies, you’ll need to get your hands on a trail cam with a microphone.