Ready to get into wilderness photography? Consider these factors when buying a trail camera.

Cost: The major manufacturers — Browning, Bushnell, Moultrie, Stealth Cam and Reconyx — sell reliable cameras that produce respectable photos in the $75–$150 price range. But luck is a bigger factor than camera quality. Some of my best shots have been on my cheapest cameras, so it’s probably better to have several inexpensive cameras in various locations than one top-end unit.

Brand: By far, the best-quality photos are on Browning cameras. With really nice wide-angle images and highly detailed photos, these are my personal favorites. The Strike Force HD Pro model has a built-in screen so you can check images in the field. Bushnell cameras have been reliable workhorses for Conservation Northwest for years. Stealth Cam offers several reliable intro models.

The Browning Strike Force HD Pro 18MP Trail Camera (left) and Bushnell Natureview HD Live View Trail Camera.
The Browning Strike Force HD Pro 18MP Trail Camera (left) and Bushnell Natureview HD Live View Trail Camera.

Photo and video capability: Trail cameras offer the option of shooting photos or video. Some can even do time-lapse. If you just want to see what’s coming and going, opt for something with low resolution. However, if your goal is to wow your friends, look for HD video and high megapixels on the photos. 

Trigger speed, burst and recovery: Trigger speed is how fast the camera fires when it detects movement.  You want a camera with the fastest trigger speed possible. You can select the number of photos taken per event (the burst). Recovery time is how long the camera needs to record the image before the next shot fires. Memory is cheap, so I always set my cameras to the maximum number of shots with the shortest delay possible.   

Night vision: Cameras use different types of technology to capture images at night. Infrared uses an animal’s heat signature to trigger a photograph. Most of these use low-glow infrared, which produces a faint blinking red light. Some have no-glow infrared, which produces poor-quality images. A few offer white flash, which works like a standard camera flash but tends to scare off animals.

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Detection zone: One of the biggest differences between cameras is their range and field of view. Cameras that boast longer ranges will trigger more often.

Security: Leaving a camera exposed on popular trails or roads puts them at risk for theft. You can increase security by stringing a cable lock around a tree or using a metal box that encloses your camera.  But these aren’t foolproof.  Conservation Northwest estimates they lose 10% of their cameras every year to theft.

Batteries: Regular AA alkaline batteries are sufficient for most uses.  My cameras last several months using standard batteries; however, manufacturers recommend more expensive lithium batteries, especially when leaving cameras out for several months in the winter.  

Memory: Get a card with at least 16 GB of space.