Beloved by the makers of TV wildlife documentaries, the best trail camera is a sensor-controlled device that begins recording or taking pictures when it picks up movement nearby – thus allowing for remote use and the capture of the kind of up-close-and-personal images of skittish wildlife that would otherwise prove impossible without one.
In short, a trail camera can act as the user’s remote pair of eyes, ensuring we don't physically need to be in the exact same outdoor location to get the photographs, or video footage, that we want.
A further bonus is that trail cameras can continue shooting whether it’s day or night and without getting cold or fatigued. As they’re designed to be left outdoors in the wilds, trail cameras also feature a ruggedized construction to prevent moisture ingress, or damage to the internal camera should the device accidentally slip from its perch and hit the ground.
To avoid us having to stay out in wet or inhospitable conditions with the camera, some models offer built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi facilities, so we can control and monitor output from afar, or at least from within the warmth of our backroom or conservatory.
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As with any camera, we’re not just looking for muscle when it comes to build quality, but also power in terms of feature set and pixel count. So we’ll want to examine the quality and specification of the sensor in situ, as well as the speed of its trigger response time, which is obviously particularly critical when photographing wildlife, as is recovery time.
In addition, some clever trail cameras offer up infrared flash, using light on a wavelength that won't be picked up by, and spook, our intended subjects. We’ll want to also pay attention to the stated range and radius of the device, and if this alters – as it typically does – when switching from day to night observation.
Like any digital camera, we’ll also want to make sure there’s enough memory loaded to do the job required, especially with specifications and pixel counts steadily increasing across newer models, plus that the trail camera is not only relatively straightforward to set up, but easy enough to retrieve and download images from as well. Look for our feature on ‘how to set up a trail camera’ for more on this. Batteries, and battery life, are other important components. While some devices eat up batteries, others claim that a fully charged set can last up to a year.
So, with the above in mind, we’re presenting a curated selection of choices for the best trail camera for nature lovers we can buy right now.
The best trail cameras you can buy today:
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As the model name suggests, this new-to-the-market flagship trail camera from Bushnell, a brand noted for fair quality at a fair price, comes with a tree bark-like print on the front to blend with surroundings, plus ‘no glow’ LED light with an impressive 120ft range, helping it see in the dark without spooking wildlife. While class-leading 4K resolution video and 0.15-second trigger speed is a definite draw here, so too is its more unusual inclusion of dual sensors, individually optimised for both day and night.
Take care when making your purchase selection, as there’s also a near identically named single sensor Bushnell alternative retailing at slightly less, but whereas that one offers 30-megapixel images, this one ups the count to 32MP. Here then we’re getting the highest available resolution plus the highest in sensor sensitivity; arguably worth paying a little extra for. This trail cam’s compact design also manages to squeeze in a 1.5-inch colour LCD, a more than respectable 12-month battery life, plus the ability to load an SD media card up to a whopping 512GB capacity – which is more than most – though naturally, the actual media is a separate purchase.
For half the price of Bushnell’s dual sensor option, we have this single sensor trail cam alternative that still squeezes in a very usable 20-megapixel camera plus 48 ‘super low glow’ LEDs with a flash range of up to 80ft, set into a faceplate resembling Marvin the Paranoid Android.
That said, some features, including 1080x720 pixels video clips and SD storage card capacity up to 32GB, are relatively modest, it has to be said, even if a 0.7-second trigger speed, multi-shot mode and 70ft detection range – at which point up to five images are fired off in quick succession – aren’t bad for the price. Intuitive to use, this one is suitable for beginners and upwards, while more advanced features include the addition of a time-lapse recording mode and the ability to stamp images with not only date and time but also moon phase and temperature. While a memory card is an extra investment, so too are the eight AA batteries needed to power the device, but this is a decent starter option for sure.
More affordable again than Bushnell’s dual sensor alternative is this single sensor trail camera from the same manufacturer that still delivers a respectable 100ft day and 80ft night-time detection radius. The ‘No Glow’ suffix indicates a built-in infrared flash that won’t spook any curious critters, while also making this a possible option for security and surveillance use too.
Couple this with a 24-megapixel resolution and 1080P video at 30fps with sound, the use of SD cards up to a maximum 32GB capacity, 0.3-second trigger response and a removable battery tray so we don’t have to detach the whole device from its perch when we want to replenish power, and this trail camera ticks many of the right boxes for those looking for a capable starter option. A strap is helpfully provided out-of-the-box for attachment to the nearest available tree trunk. With the camera itself measuring a relatively compact 6.5x10.5x15cm, the item is waterproof too, with a two-year warranty providing added peace of mind for anyone wanting to leave this Bushnell out in the, um, bush.
With the sort of brand name that surely could have only been dreamt up in a Chinese factory, the ‘Usogood’ lives up to its name for its compelling blend of features, price and motion-activated performance. Claiming IP66 waterproofing and being sturdy enough to withstand being used in rain, sand and snow, there’s a 24-megapixel stills resolution and video with audio offered to ensure clarity of results, along with built-in Wi-Fi plus a compatible app for your smartphone so the parameters of the camera’s operation can be set remotely. Be aware though that the advised Wi-Fi range is a relatively modest five to 10 metres.
A cluster of 34 body-integral infrared LEDs provides an observational range of up to 20 metres in the dark without disturbing our subject/s, while there is a time-lapse capture option too. While the 0.2-second trigger response isn’t the fastest in its class, it’s still respectable for this unit’s price bracket, as is the 120° wide detection angle. Add a larger than usual 2-inch LCD screen and the ability to insert a card up to a capacity of 128GB and we have most of what we need to get viewing and recording wildlife from afar provided in this compact and affordable set-up.
The real advantage of this 24-megapixel trail camera is that it comes with a free app that allows us to operate the camera and monitor its output using our smartphone handset – as long as we remain within reach of its Wi-Fi capability that is, with an antenna provided to improve available range. Further research uncovers that there are several similarly equipped devices on the market, but this option has proved one of the more reliable at the time of writing.
With a wide 110° view angle, night vision is offered up to a respectable 75ft, utilising infrared ‘no glow’ technology with adaptive illumination that won’t distract skittish subjects. Users can choose to capture photos or separate 1080P, 30fps video, or have the option for both activated. Factor in time and date stamping of images, loop recording, sound recording and waterproofing – plus what’s claimed to be low power consumption of the 8x AA batteries required to power it, which like the SD memory card needed are an extra purchase – and this one provides a modern, tech-savvy twist on covert surveillance.