Game Cameras Buying Guide

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Game Cameras Buying Guide
Game cameras, also known as trail cameras , have become one of the best tools in a hunter's arsenal. Whether it's before or during hunting season, game cameras can be set up and forgotten, left to collect valuable data about the prey's habits. Infrared and incandescent flash cameras allow for great variation in resolution, quality, and color when snapping pictures at night. Other features, such as battery life and external LCD monitors, can be invaluable or unnecessary depending on a hunter's needs.

Game cameras used to use heat-sensing technology to detect game, but these simple devices gave no information about the size of the game, or even the type of animal; thus, a camera was added. The early models of the 80s and 90s were limited to 35mm film and motion-sensing technology that was just as likely to capture leaves blowing in the wind as they were actual game. The introduction and proliferation of digital cameras instead of film, and the aforementioned heat-sensing technology, have only made the game camera that much more effective.
 

Infrared or Incandescent Flash

The most important decision that must be made when purchasing a game camera is whether to go with the infrared (and " black " infrared) or incandescent flash, made popular by every camera for the last several decades. Both have pros and cons to be considered. Which is optimal for a given hunter depends on a combination of personal preferences and beliefs (what is most effective, and which trade-offs are the most worthwhile).

Infrared

Infrared light is not on the visible spectrum. In other words, it can't be seen. If someone is looking right at the camera when the infrared flash goes off, that person might be able to see a tiny bit of red light, but it's going to be minimal.

Flash Visibility

The main advantage of an infrared camera versus the standard incandescent flash is the greatly decreased chance of spooking the game. Game cannot be scared off by a flash if they can't see it.

Power

Infrared flashes don't need to charge before each flash, and each flash requires very little power (approximately 20-40 times less than with an incandescent flash). If battery life is important to a hunter, sacrificing color may be well worth it. The lack of a need to charge up also increases trigger time; the trigger time is virtually unchanged from day to night with infrared cameras. Incandescent cameras can be a full second slower at night than during the day.

Resolution and Quality

Light is a necessity for any camera. Replace a bright flash of light with a flash of infrared light and there's going to be a loss in resolution and quality, and color gives way to monochrome (black and white). Infrared cameras take black and white photos and have lower resolution and quality than their incandescent counterparts. The pictures might occasionally be blurry as well.

Incandescent Flash

Incandescent flashes are essentially the flashes on most modern cameras. An incandescent flash is thus very bright and will light up even a pitch black area. This can be both beneficial and problematic. More light means a better quality photo, but increased power consumption and the potential to spook game cannot be ignored.

 

Flash Visibility

The flash is very visible. People and animals can see it from a good distance. The former may help themselves to a free camera, the latter may be spooked and decide to maintain residence elsewhere. If a hunter is interested in bagging the ever-elusive trophy buck, better picture quality may not be worth the chance of spooking it for good.

Power

Incandescent flashes have much higher power requirements than do infrared bulbs (20-40 times greater). If battery life is going to be an issue, incandescent flash is not the way to go.

Resolution and Quality

The selling point of the incandescent flash game camera is the resolution and quality that simply cannot be matched by an infrared camera. Incandescent flashes produce the amount of light necessary to take a good quality photo in a pitch-black environment. The photo will have better resolution and be sharper than its infrared counterpart, and will also be in color.
 

Important Features to Consider

Once the decision about which type of flash has been made, it's time to look at the differences between the cameras. Buyers should be aware that higher-priced models will contain additional features and greater usability, but some features may not be worth the added cost, or even desirable in some cases.

Resolution

Resolution, as measured in megapixels, is no different with game cameras as it is with digital cameras. However, while it's common to find digital cameras with resolutions in the 12-18 megapixel range, game cameras operate more in the 3-7 megapixel range. The higher this number, the more pixels that comprise the image, thus the more clear it will be.

Capture Modes (Video, Bursts, Multiple Shot)

Some game cameras now offer the option of shooting video. Another option is taking photos in bursts (pictures taken over a specified period of time) that capture action that a single photo might miss. While this could be a nice feature, it will fill up the memory card that much faster.

Security

The most common way to secure a game camera and protect it from damage is with a s ecurity box . These boxes also have built-in holes for running a cable and padlock system. Other security features include password protection and a padlock tab to prevent the case from being opened. Unfortunately, the former doesn't become a problem for the thief until after the unit has been stolen, and the latter can be defeated by any dedicated thief with the proper equipment.

Built-In Viewer

Some units have LCD screens that will do anything from tell you how many pictures have been taken to allow you to view the pictures on the memory card right then and there. The image isn't going to be as clear as if you took the memory card home and opened the files on your computer, but if you're looking to get an idea of what's been going on, or simply need to see if the camera has captured anything that would justify it remaining in its present location, this can be a nice feature.
Something to consider, however, is that the LCD screen is going to be drain on the battery. Moreover, every minute a hunter spends in the woods is time that hunter is spreading his or her human scent.

Battery Life

Some hunters live hours away from their hunting location. Some don't have the time to go out every other week to make sure the unit's still got power. The cheaper-end of trail cameras can burn through a half-dozen C batteries in a week (extreme, but it can happen). Other units can lasts months on the same set of batteries.

Trigger Time/Speed

The trigger time, or trigger speed, is the amount of time that passes between when the animal is detected by the camera's sensors and the camera snaps the picture. A quick trigger time can mean the difference between catching the tail end (literally) of a buck or a perfect snapshot of the animal dead-center in the camera's sights.

Type of Memory

Some cameras have internal memory. This sounds great since the purchase of a memory card is unnecessary, but to get the images from the camera, the entire unit must be connected to a computer. With SD cards , a card can be removed and swapped out for a blank one, or perhaps removed and placed into a regular digital camera for quick viewing, then put right back into the game camera.
With external memory, such as an SD card, expanding memory capacity is as simple as purchasing a card with greater capacity. Upgrading a camera's internal memory, if possible, will likely cost more than buying a new camera with greater capacity.

Detection Distance

This is the distance at which a camera can detect game, thus triggering it to take a picture. The greater the detection distance, the more area the camera can cover, and the further away the animal can be while still getting itself on camera.

Detection Width

Many cameras may have a very narrow range of detection. Meaning, the animal essentially must cross the center of the camera (lens) in order to be detected and the camera be triggered to take a picture. PIR stands for passive infrared, and is the camera's sensing mechanism. Some cameras have much wider detection zones, and can thus be triggered by action in a much greater area. The wider the detection width, the better, depending on the user's needs.

Other Features

There are additional features that may deserve consideration, and could help distinguish between two similar models. They're not the selling points of a specific camera, but like extra cup holders in a car, worth noting.

External Battery Jack

Game cameras, especially those with incandescent flashes and other power-sucking amenities like LCD screens or mobile capabilities, can run through batteries at a rate higher than is desirable. Having an external, rechargeable battery can save money that is otherwise spent on batteries, and can even last for months, depending on the battery.

Low Battery Indicator

Most low battery indicators are lights that turn on before the camera is about to shut down. If a trail camera gives a specific battery level or even the number of volts left in its battery's tank, it can be extremely helpful.

Mobile/Cellular

Some cameras are even equipped with the ability to send pictures straight to a cellular phone. This may or may not be of use, but it's certainly going to affect battery life, so make sure to take that into account when purchasing a camera with this feature, or when deciding whether or not to turn it on


Buying Game Cameras

Hunting specialty retailers and sporting goods stores are the obvious brick-and-mortar choices for purchasing a game camera. Hunting expos are another physical location where game cameras can be found. However, these obvious choices cannot always compete with the Internet in terms of pricing and availability.


Buying Game Cameras on eBay

eBay can make your search for the perfect game camera simple. Search for game cameras or trail cameras to find an abundance of new and used cameras. To narrow down the extensive list of options to find the camera that's best suited for your needs, refine your search by adding the features most important to you, such as infrared . Instructions for newcomers to eBay can be found here , and can guide you through the process from start to finish.
If you're not interested in waiting for an auction to end, look for items with the Buy it Now option.
If you're unsure about a camera, look for a seller who has posted sample photos for that model camera. Also pay attention to feedback ratings and look for sellers who have achieved Top - rated Seller status. For more information on how to improve your search, eBay provides helpful tips to guide you through the process.
If you're still unsure, eBay's Buyer Protection policies ensure that no matter what happens, even in a worst case scenario, you will be able to get a full refund plus the cost of shipping.


Conclusion

Game cameras, or trail cameras, have become an indispensable part of the hunter's arsenal. Don't start your hunting season unprepared and waste hours trying to track game, hoping to be in the right place at the right time. Know where the right place is and when the right time will be by setting up a camera and letting it be your eyes for weeks, or even months, collecting data that will help maximize your hunting experience.
Infrared cameras have the ability to hide their flash and incandescent cameras offer the clearest pictures; each hunter must decide what best suits his or her needs. The type of flash will affect every other feature in terms of how the pictures will turn out at night, but different cameras also carry different features not related to the picture. Detection range, battery life, security options, and even mobile capabilities, to name a few, all provide variation from camera to camera.
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