Several new camera traps hit the market in 2017, meaning there is now more choices of trail camera than ever before. But this extra choice can mean extra confusion, and we often get asked simply ‘Which is the best trail camera at the moment?’
Well, hopefully this article will help guide you in the right direction. ‘The best’ depends on what you are exactly looking for (i.e. best photos, best video, best battery life etc) – so we’ve broken this down into categories below, with our overall favourite at the end!
You may also find our ‘camera trap chooser’ useful – try it here…
Video quality is one of the main features that sets camera traps apart. It’s the most common thing that customer’s are looking for – if your getting a trail camera, you often want the best video quality you can afford.
Our comfortable favourite in this category this year is the Browning Recon Force Extreme. This trail camera has low-glow LEDs, which means a stronger IR flash at night than a no-glow camera, but with a slight red glow when triggered.
Daytime videos are crisp and the colour is great – you can watch on a large screen and it still looks fantastic. Night videos are the best available right now – wonderful contrast and definition – take a look for yourself!
NatureSpy are also replacing older project cameras with the Recon Force Extreme too – so our projects like the Yorkshire Pine Marten Project have recently started using these camera traps, and future projects will also be too.
On both the Recon Force and the Spec Ops Extreme, if you choose the ‘Ultra’ video quality setting, you can get frame rates of 60fps in the day, and 30fps at night. No other camera offers such high frame rates in daytime.
The Spec Ops Extreme video quality is identical in the day, and very similar at night – the no-glow LEDs this camera has just mean the flash range is reduced slightly.
The accompanying sound is also absolutely fantastic. For the first time using this camera (and the no-glow Spec Ops Extreme), we’ve been able to hear foxes crunching eggs, badgers vocalising to each other, and even village church bells in the distance. You can even hear the pine marten licking the egg at the end on the video above!
The exposure control at night is pretty much perfect, with the camera adjusting almost instantly depending on light levels.
Only one slight drawback – if working at close range of say 4-6 feet, the light spread becomes a little narrower, and the camera will generally only focus on objects +6 feet away (the latter being true for all camera traps without lens adaptation).
The new Browning and Bushnell camera traps are both using 12V systems, which means video length is limited at night to 20 seconds and 15 seconds per clip respectively. However, the camera’s improved recovery rates this year means they will re-trigger again in around 1 second, if the PIR sensor is tripped.
Be warned – this video quality is only on the new 2017 Browning Recon Force Extreme and Spec Ops Extreme cameras, not the previous Platinum versions.
This is always a difficult category – camera traps don’t offer the same quality of picture as DSLR or high-end digital cameras, and different users prefer different cameras. However… we think this year the best photos come from the Browning Strike Force HD Pro.
Although similar to the quality on the Browning Recon Force and Spec Ops Extreme cameras, its the extra IR flash range from a new type of IR emitters that just give it the edge in our opinion. Blur reduction is great, only happening on fairly fast movement, and colour in the daytime is good.
The Strike Force HD Pro is a really fun camera to use with photos – it has a very fast trigger (more on that below) and takes up to 8 shots per trigger event – so you get loads of chances to get the shot you want, as well as being able to record behaviours.
The Bushnell Essential E3 is also a very good camera for photos – again good colour in the day, and strong clarity at night. It takes only 3 photos per trigger however.
Hands-down the fastest photo trigger speeds can be found on the SpyPoint Force 11D and SpyPoint Solar, at around 0.07 seconds. That’s quick.
The photo quality isn’t great however compared to some other cameras with almost as strong triggers – such as the Browning Strike Force HD Pro (0.3 seconds) and the Bushnell Aggressors (0.14 seconds).
For video, there are a lot of cameras in the similar area – however we’re giving it to the Browning Recon Force and Spec Ops Extreme cameras, at about 0.4-0.5 seconds. Its a relief that these trail cameras have such a good video trigger speed coupled with the excellent quality.
The Strike Force HD Pro again needs a mention however, with 0.4-0.5 video trigger speeds as well.
Bushnell have been strongest for detection for some time now, since the 2014 Trophy Cams. They can detect out to a whopping 110ft in our tests.
Coupled with a trigger speed for photos of around 0.14 seconds, that means these trail cameras don’t miss much.
However… it is worth thinking about that a little more. Whilst 110ft detection distance sounds good, it is almost a little too far. If the camera triggers at night when an animal passes at that distance, the IR flash range isn’t sufficient for you to be actually able to see it. And if it triggers and then the animal comes closer, and you have selected a recovery time (or interval) of 2 mins, you’re going to miss the animal entirely. The Bushnells allow you to turn down this sensitivity on the menu, which we pretty much always do!
The Browning Recon Force Extreme and Spec Ops Extreme cameras have detection distances of about 70ft, which is pretty much spot on in our experience.
Bear in mind that different animals have different IR heat signatures, so a smaller animal like a hedgehog would need to be closer to the camera than the above figures, which are based on human-sized animals.
Batteries is a tricky one, as it does depend on how often the trail camera is triggered and what settings it has. However, there are two stand-out cameras:
The SpyPoint Solar is the obvious winner, as it has an in-built solar panel with lithium battery. This means that, especially when using photos rather than videos, you get pretty much unlimited battery life – particularly when coupled with a set of reserve AA Lithium batteries too.
After that, its the Browning Strike Force HD Pro again – its new IR emitters means it uses less power at night, leading to much better battery life. Taking around 60 photos every 24 hours, this camera would last almost 1 year on a set of Lithium batteries – very impressive. It also has some of the best video battery life too.
For the rest, the Browning Recon Force Extreme and Spec Ops Extreme cameras has very respectable battery life – we currently change the Lithium batteries in our cameras every 3-4 months. Not bad at all.
You may have already figured that out from the above, but our favourite trail camera in 2017 is definitely the Browning Recon Force Extreme. The fantastic video quality and great trigger speeds are the main features we love, but it’s backed-up by good battery life, great photos, strong detection range and importantly – it’s affordable.
If you need a no-glow camera, then the best available in our opinion is the Browning Spec Ops Extreme – the no-glow version of the Recon Force.
Honourable mentions must go to the Browning Strike Force HD Pro – a fantastic, tiny unit and a great all-rounder. If video quality was slightly better, that would take the the top spot.
The Bushnell Essential E3 is also right up there – great video, photos and detection, but a little slower on trigger speeds, not quite as good with batteries and missing some nice features like a colour screen.
If you want to get your hands on the any of the trail cameras mentioned above, they’re all available at The NatureSpy shop for a great price, and include free P&P and a free SD card. All proceeds support our non-profit environmental work.