Best Trail Camera in 2021 – Complete Reviews with Comparisons
A modern hunter’s greatest tool is preparation. Knowing an animal’s movement patterns allows you to be much more efficient when hunting. For that reason, trail cameras have spiked in popularity in recent years, especially since newer editions are also excellent security options.
With so many different models on the market, it can be challenging for a first-time buyer to sort out the trash from the best. Trail camera options range from cheap ones that may last a month then break to the ones that can last for years in extreme weather.
Best Trail Camera Reviews
Bushnell Essential E3 Trophy Cam
The Bushnell E3 is one of the Bushnell brand’s flagship products, which has received excellent reviews and has a steady history of making reliable trail camera products.
The Bushnell Trophy E3 has excellent performance and capabilities. It can snap single photos or three-image bursts at a time, or you can opt for 5- to 30-second videos if you want more detail. The image quality is 1080p, ranking it among the best on the market.
Do note that video resolution is reduced, sitting at 720p. The 16MP camera is nothing to scoff at, although it has been slightly outdated by newer models. It will still deliver sharp images and video. The camera accepts SD cards with a capacity of up to 32GB, but some larger-memory ones may be able to work just as well.
The field of view is 80 feet wide and long in both day and night mode. With a respectable 0.3s (seconds) trigger speed and a somewhat slow 1s recovery speed, this camera should be able to capture any activity on the trail and record it for later viewing. We don’t see a reason this camera can’t double up as a home security option.
The camera takes eight AA batteries that can last about a year if you limit how many images you want per day. If you decide to record video, battery life will suffer, and it can last for only a month or so.
The best part about this camera is the reliability. It’s very structurally safe and waterproof, allowing it to stay in the field for long periods without needing frequent checkups.
If you set it up to record photos, it can last for a few seasons without any problems. The anti-glare shield will work great in the field and prevent animals from being spooked by the flash.
This model’s performance, although trustworthy, is not without faults. The 80-foot field of view can be hindering on a less dense terrain, and the camera’s somewhat subpar quality means that you might not be able to see smaller detail. The nighttime video recordings are limited to 15 seconds.
- Reliable, effective camera
- Records in both video and photo modes
- Adjustable settings
- Low-glow dark mode
- Slightly lower resolution
- Limited nighttime options
Bushnell 30MP Core 119977C
Following up on the second Bushnell product, this marked improvement over the previous version, although you will have to shell out for the additional features.
The Bushnell 30MP, as its name indicates, has a 30MP (megapixel) camera inside a protective casing. It has superb motion detection capabilities (although the jury is still out on how accurate it is for false positives), and the videos it records are in 1080p with 60fps.
Like previous Bushnell models, you can set it up to fire bursts of photos or record video (with audio) and store everything on a 32GB SD card.
The field of view is a good 80 feet, although the degree of vision can be a bit higher. If you’re used to more panoramic videos, this camera might not be for you. The no-glow vision mode with two image sensors improves visibility in low-light settings and works excellent for night-sight and home security.
The camera holds six AA batteries, which should last the better portion of a year - if you limit the capture mode to picture only, that is. Using video will severely reduce the battery life.
The manufacturer has a two-year warranty on this piece of tech, so if anything goes wrong, you can receive a replacement or get it fixed relatively easily.
This camera’s nighttime performance is excellent. It’s a reliable camera that has a great trigger, and the 0.2s trigger speed and 0.6s recovery speed means it can snap images rapidly to catch any intrusions. The video quality is superb, and you’re unlikely to get much better.
The field of view is somewhat hampered by the 80-foot, 34-degree limit. Other Bushnell models (such as 119975C) come with a better field of view in a similar price range. The battery life on the video mode is not terribly great, and you might need to replace the batteries a few times a month if the area is busy.
- Excellent 1080p 60FPS video
- No-glow nighttime performance
- 2-year warranty
- Lightning-fast trigger and recovery times
- Limited field of vision
- More expensive than other models
SPYPOINT Force 20MP Trail Camera
SPYPOINT is one of the tech leaders in trail camera technology, so it’s no surprise one of their models is on our best trail camera list.
This feature-rich camera has some of the best specifications we’ve seen at this price range. The 20MP camera captures rich 720p video (but doesn’t have audio recording).
You can set it up to capture five-burst multi-shot images for more detail if you don’t want to record video. The low-glow LEDs make nighttime shots high-quality and comparable to much pricier options available.
The Force 20MP has a 0.7s trigger speed, sufficient to catch most wildlife (and humans, if you’re using it as a security camera). The detection range is somewhat shorter at 70 feet, but that shouldn’t be an issue if you’re using it in a denser forest.
SPYPOINT also has made an AI-powered Buck Tracker feature to analyze your footage and sort animals by species and gender, giving you a more straightforward overview of your potential game and the animals on the field.
Note that this camera (or any of the previous ones) is not cellular, and the only way to capture and obtain images and video from it is via the 16GB SD card included in the product.
The battery life is solid and should last you for a few months, at least if you’re not using video capturing.
We’re impressed by this camera’s performance-to-price ratio. It outputs some of the best specs on the market in its price range and being so affordable means you can put more of them over a larger area with little effort. The 20MP camera might not sound like much, but the picture quality is superb.
The product is a bit flimsier, and it might not survive a harsher winter outside. The field of view is slightly shorter than the flash range, which can spook an animal away from the camera before it is detected. The video quality is iffy, considering 720p is somewhat outdated.
- Excellent features for the price
- Integrated AI Buck Tracker
- 0.7s trigger speed
- 20MP picture quality
- Flimsy camera box
- Shorter field of view
Stealth Cam G42NG Trail Camera
The G42NG is packed with next-gen features that make hunting a breeze, and it’s affordable enough to fit everyone’s budget.
This 10MP camera has some unique properties that earn it a spot on our best trail camera list. It has 42 no-glow “Black” IR emitters that allow it to excel at nighttime viewing. Its reflex trigger is equally impressive, with only a 0.5s delay between the animal entering the field and the camera snapping a photo.
Speaking of photo-snapping, you can capture images in bursts of up to nine, or you can use the 480p video option if you want even more detail. Depending on which option you choose, the recovery time will vary accordingly. A 180-second video will disable your camera’s sensors for up to 59 minutes, all depending on how you program this tech-empowered gadget.
The G42NG has a superb detection field, with a 100-foot field of view, allowing you to take fantastic shots of the wildlife (or incoming nighttime guests).
The camera accepts up to 32GB SD cards to store images, which will last for a while if you’re using photos only. It uses eight AA batteries and can hold juice for quite a bit.
The most impressive features are certainly the 100-foot detection field and the no-glow IR emitters. With those, nighttime scouting is much easier, and the camera’s performance certainly doesn’t falter between day and night modes. The programmability of the capture modes is also another benefit, as you can easily adjust the snaps to your preferences.
Let’s be honest, 10MP with 480p in 2021 is abysmal. If the camera had even a slightly better video resolution, it would’ve made a great contender for the top pick. With such an outdated camera quality, no amount of technological improvements elsewhere will be enough to tip the scales in its favor.
- Great night mode
- Excellent 100ft detection field
- Snaps with a 0.5s delay
- Superb programmability
- Horrible video quality
- Lackluster camera resolution
Stealth Cam DS4K
Considering the previous entry, you might be wondering why we put another Stealth Cam on the list. Well, the DS4K is a significant improvement and should not be overlooked if you’re looking for a new gadget.
Like the other Stealth Cams on the market, the DS4K has 42 IR no-glow “Black” emitters to enhance nighttime photos and video. The 30MP camera comes with some of the best features in the camera world as a whole, with Matrix Advanced Blur Reduction cleaning up images to be more visible even in the faintest light.
The field of view is equally impressive at 100 feet, which is among the highest you’ll find on the market and great for both scattered and dense forests. The flash is similarly no-glow, preventing animals from getting spooked and allowing you a more inside look into their lives.
Stealth Cam improved the trigger speed, with this model achieving 0.4s response time, which is admirable (but not the best on the market). The programmability follows previous models, with up to nine-shot bursts or video. Or it can perform both since it can capture simultaneously.
DS4K’s best feature by far is the 4K video quality. We’re going to say they cheated a bit here, as the video is more like 2K, but it’s still the highest resolution we’ve seen thus far.
The camera can technically capture 4K video in daylight, but you’re better off with 2K video since it has a better refresh rate. Night mode comes in 1080p 30FPS at a maximum, which is still ahead of the competition.
Definitely, we’re counting the DS4K’s 30MP camera as a clear win for the records. The 2K video quality is another boon to a hunter (or a homeowner looking for a reliable security camera). Overall, there’s very little about this camera we don’t like.
The camera has a slight problem with refusing to enter awake mode, and it can sometimes miss an animal passing by if it’s too close or too far (but still in the detection field). The trigger is much better in daylight mode, so there’s clearly some improvements to consider.
- 4K video-capable camera
- 30MP resolution
- Excellent programmability
- 100ft detection field
- Can be slower to respond
- Sometimes fails to capture near passersby
While it’s essential to have the best gear available, it’s equally vital to understand just what features make a camera among the best. We’ve listed a few notable features you should always consider when searching for the next trail camera to use.
The detection circuit of a trail camera consists of a few different aspects. These include the detection field, the trigger time, and the recovery period. A good camera might focus on one or two of these and sacrifice a bit on the rest. A gadget that has an excellent detection circuit and is programmable won’t be cheap.
Obviously, one of the critical features of a camera’s performance is its resolution. Most modern cameras can achieve pictures in line with those you might find on a top-of-the-line smartphone, but those will naturally cost a lot more to achieve the same effect.
You always have to keep in mind these cameras have to be sturdy and survive harsh weather, and camera resolution might suffer.
For the budget versions, resolutions of around 20-30MPs should be enough to give you a clear picture of the animal and its habits.
Trigger and Recovery Time
As a vital part of the detection circuit, the trigger and recovery times are actually two separate categories that merit separate discussion.
The trigger time is simply how long the camera needs to detect movement. Simply put, the shorter the trigger time, the faster the camera can react to changes in the environment. Most modern cameras have a sub-second trigger time, which allows them to snap quick animals such as deer or birds.
While it’s possible to use a fast camera to capture cars, the image might look blurry regardless.
The recovery time is how long it takes for the camera to reset after taking images or videos. This usually includes image processing and storage. Some cameras allow you to change this recovery time to prevent overloading the memory and shortening the battery life with redundant images.
The detection zone on a camera is the area in which it can sense motion and record images. Most cameras have a slightly different detection zone to the field of view, but they usually don’t stray far from one another to prevent weird results (such as empty images). The vision field ranges from 50 feet to about 120 feet for the most powerful models.
The viewing angle can be equally important to the distance. A more panoramic camera might have a shorter range but can spot animals coming in from closer. Usually, cameras have around 40-degree vision.
Battery life might sound insignificant, but it can be a decision-making aspect of whether a camera is fit for the field. Cameras that hold multiple AA batteries usually are better with “only picture” modes unless you want to replace them regularly.
However, solar-powered chargers can significantly extend a camera’s battery life, and for some uses replacing the batteries might not be such an inconvenience.
Do note that whenever you’re roaming around the forest replacing batteries, you’re making animals warier of the area, and they might not return in the camera’s view for a while.
How Do Trail Cameras Work?
A trail camera uses an infrared emitter during the night to effectively give off its own light, which (most) animals can’t detect. Other models might use a passive detector that detects changes in the temperature in front of it. The camera then uses motion sensors to detect movement in its field of vision, which triggers the photo- or video-response.
What Is the Difference Between a Game Camera and a Trail Camera?
There are no differences between the two. Both of the terms are used to refer to the same gadget, usually interchangeably.
Is There a Trail Camera That Sends Images to Your Phone?
Those would be cellular trail cameras. They’re equipped with an antenna that allows them to access a cellular network and send data (such as images) over to your devices. Since hunting areas might have poor reception, cellular models need to have powerful antennae and be more robust than usual cameras.
Some trail camera models come with a separate cellular adapter to make them network-capable.
Can You Cover the Red Light on a Trail Camera?
If the camera model is red glow, you can’t cover it, or you won’t have the night-vision functionality. Modern trail cameras usually have a low-glow PIR detector, which is not as noticeable.
How High Should You Mount a Trail Camera?
The mounting height will depend on the animal you want to capture. For deer, the recommended size is between 24 to 30 inches. Larger animals, such as elk, moose, or bears, will need a higher camera to compensate. If you’re trying to spot game birds, you can mount the camera lower than 20 inches.
If you’re looking for the best trail camera, always keep in mind their detection features and what animal you’re trying to capture.
With so many different models on the market, you can choose from a bevy of options and decide how you want the final images to look. For our recommended pick, we’ll have to go with Stealth Cam DS4K, as it easily outperforms the competition at its price point. It’s got one of the best camera resolutions for the price.