A Guide to Trail Camera Features

Low Glow, No Glow, Hyper Burst, ARD, Freeze Frame Shutter, the list goes on and on. And if you’re in the market for a new trail camera, it is important to understand what these terms mean, which features you need and which are largely just “niceties.” Here we go.

Trail Camera Flashes

Perhaps the most highly debated feature of a trail camera is its type of flash once triggered. Different flash options are available, and choosing the best trail camera really boils down to your opinion on how mature bucks react to a camera flash. We recently had some opinions on how different flashes can spook bucks. Aside from that debate, the following flash options are available.

No-Glow Flash

Cameras with a “no-glow” flash feature are equipped with black LED’s which are totally invisible to not only game animals but humans as well. It should be noted that all images captured at night with this option will be black and white.

As a side note, trail cameras with no-glow flash are a favorite of ours, especially when placed in sensitive areas. The flash range might not be as long as other camera flashes, but that usually isn't as big of an issue as making deer aware of your camera.

Low-Glow Flash

This feature will emit a visible flash, but it will be drastically reduced. Most often, the color will be a faint red glow. If you don’t wish to pay for the no-glow feature, then this is a good alternative. Nighttime images will also be black and white.

White-Flash

While white-flash trail cameras have come a long way, I won’t insult your intelligence by explaining what this feature is. All images will be color, night, or day. They might provide the best photos, but they will scare your deer to the next county. We are joking... a little bit.

View of a nice buck from Primos Truth Cam Ultra HD 46 trail camera

Some trail cameras are easier to operate than others. The Primos camera that took this photo is drop-dead simple to operate. Just turn it on and go.

Concerning flash options, it should be noted that you can expect night pictures to be darker and grainier when using “No-Glow” as opposed to the standard “White-Flash.” Also, flash range will differ when comparing no-glow, red glow (low-glow), and standard flash trail cameras. Typically the white-flash will fare better due to its ability to light up the forest at a further distance.

In addition, the number of LEDs your trail camera of choice boasts should be considered. Basically, there is a direct relationship between the number of LEDs and the flash range. Cameras that carry a larger number of infrared LED's will most often have more illumination than cameras that have fewer LED's.

Trail Camera Megapixels

Buyers should pay close attention to megapixel numbers. In short, simply because a company touts high numbers doesn’t necessarily mean your images will be high quality. The reason is simple. Megapixels mean nothing if the lens quality of the camera is low. The easiest way to determine real-world image quality is to look at real-world images. Take a look at trail camera company websites, talk forums, or other social media outlets. Do your research.

Camera Capture Modes

When it comes to capturing images, your trail camera can do it in two ways; still photos and video. Still photos are great. However, the advantage to having a video option is that with video, the user can actually glimpse into the game animals world (for a minute or so) and watch how they behave. Quite often, this can reveal more info than a single image frozen in time.

Historically, trail camera users have chosen to capture a still image or a short video clip. However, companies such as Bushnell now offer cameras that can actually capture both varieties simultaneously, giving you the best of both worlds.

Trigger Speed

Trigger speed or trigger time is essentially how long it takes a camera to snap a picture once a subject like a deer is seen. Trigger speed is an essential feature, undoubtedly, and can be the difference between seeing or not seeing particular bucks.

Buck or Doe
Buck or doe? While the body says buck, a slow trigger speed can cost you valuable data.

However, it may not necessarily be the most important feature on a camera placed over a food plot or corn pile because deer are expected to be in the area for several minutes before moving on. This gives a camera with a slow trigger speed more time to “wake up” and capture an image.

That being said, trail cameras with fast trigger times can capture a slue of photos that cameras would miss with slower trigger times. We've seen cameras have speeds ranging from 0.13 seconds to over 1.3 seconds.

A camera placed on a game trail (where animals will be moving much quicker) should carry a breakneck trigger speed….if you hope to capture an image.

Camera Recovery Time

The time it takes a camera to "start-up" or "recycle" after taking a photo is called camera recovery time. While slow trigger times can cost missed opportunities, slow camera recovery times can do the same.

Camera recovery times show this can range from just under a second to over 1 minute! While a low-cost trail camera might be tempting, we recommend ensuring the trigger speed and recovery time are adequate, especially if placing the camera on a path or trail.

Detection Zone

The “Detection Zone” of a trail camera is an invisible area that starts at the camera face and spreads outwardly in a V shape, growing larger with relation to distance. This “zone” is where the camera detects movement. Once movement has been noticed, the camera will activate and capture an image or start recording video.

When it comes to detection zones, be aware of how wide and how long your particular models are because depending on where you plan to use them, you might not need a huge zone. Obviously, high numbers in both areas will allow the camera to find more movement and snap more photos and vice versa.

PIR Angle

"PIR" stands for passive infrared, and PIR Angle refers to the degree that the camera can sense movement. Cameras with a large PIR Angle can detect movement faster and have a better chance of capturing the subject in the center of the frame instead of the edges like some lower quality cameras do. If you’ve ever seen half of a deer in one of your trail cam pics, then you understand the effects of a PIR Angle that is low, say 10 degrees.  

High-quality cameras usually carry a PIR Angle of 48 degrees. As a result, these cameras can capture images of almost everything that passes within their field of view, not to mention animals moving quickly through the frame.

Sensitivity Adjustment

This refers to how sensitive the camera is to objects that pass in front of it. To put it simply, a camera with a HIGH sensitivity rating will capture everything from whitetails to chipmunks. Cameras with a LOW sensitivity rating will forget about the small stuff and focus on larger animals. Some cameras will allow users to change this setting; some will not.

The advantage to having the ability to change the camera's sensitivity is that occasionally the sensitivity rating will reach farther than the flash range. As a result, users can alter the two to better match one to the other’s ability.

Laser Aiming

This feature allows users to hang the camera and visually see where the lens aims via the “laser” pointer. This feature can add value in certain terrain, but in flat, open land, it might not prove to be as necessary.

Burst Mode

Instead of one image being taken when the camera triggers, “Burst Mode” will allow the camera to capture a predetermined amount of images before stopping. For example, a deer walks by, and the camera takes, let’s say, 3 images (one after another) before stopping to reset. This is great for cameras set up along a hot doe trail where you want to get as many images as possible of that passing buck. However, you will fill up an SD card quickly if burst-mode is on while the camera is watching over a food plot or bait pile.

GPS Geotag

Some of the higher-quality trail cameras now offer the option to automatically embed GPS coordinates of your camera location onto maps to make tracking game movement and camera placement easier. On a side note, if using DeerLab to manage and analyze your photos, you won't need this feature. We will automatically calculate the coordinates for you when you place the camera on a provided satellite map.

Wireless Connectivity

Trail cameras sporting the wireless feature allow users to view images on the camera without actually removing the SD card from the camera. This is great when you want to leave your hunting area totally undisturbed. Images are captured and sent to the user via email, text, or another location that allows the data to be downloaded and viewed. The only drawback to using a wireless feature is the cost. Users must typically pay for the wireless service in addition to the purchase price of the camera. Also, depending on the terrain, the wireless feature may be an option on your camera but won’t necessarily work in your hunting area due to poor cell service.

Motion Freeze and Freeze Frame Shutter

Several trail cameras on the market are available with some shutter technology that lowers the chances of getting blurred images from a shutter left open too long during the capture process. This is a great feature, especially if your cameras hang primarily over game trails or anywhere else game might be moving fast.

There is nothing worse than capturing an image of a buck you know is big, but you can’t make out just how big thanks to the blurry nature of the picture.

While the trigger speed caught the buck running after the doe, the shutter speed wasn't fast enough to detail the buck.

This feature will fix that.

owl caught flying by a fast shutter speed
A trail camera with a fast shutter speed can provide detail to make out what the object is.

SD Card Capacity

If you expect to capture many images, then make sure your camera can handle a large-capacity SD card. Otherwise, your smaller card will fill up quickly, which will force you to visit your camera more frequently. As a result, game animals will become aware of your presence much sooner.

Time Lapse

You are probably familiar with the small “time-lapse” cameras typically placed next to food plots. Time-lapse technology automatically snaps images at preset intervals of one minute to one hour, within the hours of your choice. Users then return and watch a full day’s worth of activity in just minutes. Now, that same feature is available on standard trail cameras.

Some camera manufacturers offer this feature with two available time slots so you can monitor dusk and dawn movement. The best ones aren’t triggered by game, so they provide the widest viewing area possible. Better yet, look for the camera model that offers this feature while simultaneously keeping its live trigger---meaning it can still capture images of anything that walks by in addition to the time-lapse video.

Turkey in a field using time lapse
Time lapse is a great way to monitor turkey in a field.

Data Stamp or Timestamp

Savvy hunters want to learn everything they can about the game animals they pursue. This includes factors such as weather, moon phase, barometric pressure, etc. Cameras that offer the Data-Stamp option supply users with info such as date, time, moon phase, and temperature the moment the image was taken. If you want this info stamped to every picture your camera captures, that’s great. If not, some cameras will allow you to turn this feature off. Some do not.

If using DeerLab, you will be able to retrieve all the above, as well as additional weather information trail cameras, cannot capture, no matter what type of trail camera you have (as long as it has a timestamp within the Exif data. See how DeerLab uses timestamps from photos.

Battery Life

One of the biggest pitfalls when using a trail camera is the number of return trips you make to either check the SD card or replace the batteries. Battery issues can be taken care of if you choose the right camera. While some manufacturers claim over a 1-year battery life, not all trail cameras live up to this statement. Some can be as short as a month or less, depending on the amount of activity and the camera you are using.

Be sure to research your brand of interest before making a purchase. Making the right choice could save you a lot of money, even if you purchase a more expensive camera. Trail cameras with a good reputation include Bushnell, Reconyx, and Moultrie, to name a few.

Batteries matter as well and can significantly increase or decrease the amount of time a camera can operate. Lithium batteries, while more expensive, are longer-lasting, better in cold weather, and can even increase the range of the camera's flash. Nickel Metal Hydride (Nimh) rechargeable batteries are also a good choice depending on your location as they can be recycled for extended use, making them a little more economical. If you live in warmer states, be careful, and Nimh's aren't known for lasting that long during high-heat days.

Conclusion

Each year it seems as though something new is added to the list of available trail camera features. All of them are useful, but not all of them are necessary. Start by understanding what each feature does, then consider if you really need them before you pay for the ones that you don’t. That is the easiest way to get the most out of your next trail camera purchase.

Steve Flores
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