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[Ultimate Guide] Best Trail Cameras For Every Budget

Have you ever wished you could be a fly on the wall? Or a stealthy ninja? Or the invisible man?

Unfortunately, invisibility, legendary martial arts skills, and transfiguration aren’t within everyone’s reach.

Ninja Skills
Ninja!

But if you’ve ever wanted to observe what goes down when you aren’t around, a trail camera will help you do just that.

Whether you want to watch game animals without disturbing them or document activity for home security, a quality trail camera (or a system of them) won’t bestow invisibility.

Trail Cams 8 Point Buck
Just an 8 point buck hanging out.

But it will let you be the proverbial fly on the wall.

If you’re new to the world of trail cams, and the specs look like muddled math problems, we’ve got you covered.

We’ll explain what a trail cam does, what to look for when shopping for a trail cam, and what to avoid.

We even have a few recommendations for every budget to help you out.

Table of Contents

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What is a Trail Camera?

Sometimes called game cameras, camera traps, or remote cameras, trail cameras are usually triggered by movement or body heat.

When the camera senses activity, it automatically snaps a picture or records a video.

Trail Cams Turkeys

Regularly used by hunters, a trail camera is a great way to scout for trophy animals without interrupting their natural behavior patterns.

Because trail cameras provide 24/7 surveillance, they are also effective tools for home security.

The Low Down on High-Tech Trail Cams

Understanding the relative strengths and weaknesses of the different trail cams on the market will help you pair the right camera with the right job.

Here is a quick run-down of the key trail camera features.

Trigger Speed

Trigger speed is the amount of time it takes for your trail cam to snap a photo after it detects motion.

An ultra-fast trigger speed isn’t always necessary for every application.

Faxon Ion Trigger
No, not that kind of trigger.

If you’re recording activity over a game feeder or food plot, trigger speed won’t be as important because your subjects are likely to linger in the area.

However, if you’re patrolling a game trail, trigger speed becomes far more important because you’re dealing with animals on the move.

Trail Cam Buck
Caught in motion!

You don’t want a big buck to trigger your camera only to be well on his way out of frame by the time the camera snaps an image.

A trail cam with a hot trigger speed will allow you to catch that monster wall-hanger in all of his slob-knocking glory.

Recovery Time

Recovery time is the amount of time your camera needs between shots.

Just like slow trigger speed can cost you important photo ops, so can slow recovery times.

Sure, you may have snapped a great pose from a hot doe on the move.

Deer hunting with kids? Absolutely.
Don’t miss out on potential deer by getting a bad quality trail cam.

But if it takes your trail cam too long to recover after that first shot, you’re liable to miss the hot buck that’s following her.

Both trigger speed and recovery time are important for home surveillance.

Being able to snap several photos in quick succession could help you identify hoodlums bent on stealing or destroying your property.

Detection Zone

The camera’s detection zone is exactly what it sounds like – it’s the zone in front of the camera where movement will trigger a photo.

The detection zone usually spreads in a V-shaped cone from the camera’s sensor. Different models have different zone areas.

Some can detect motion in almost a 180-degree range. This lets you capture subjects that may slink just to the side of the camera.

There’s even a model that captures photos in a complete 360-degree circle.

Steve Martin 360
A full 360!

The detection zone isn’t just about width, however.

The device’s detection range also determines that zone, or how close to the camera sensor the movement is to activate the sensor.

If you’re using a series of trail cameras for home surveillance, the detection zone will determine how close together you need to place your devices so you don’t miss any action.

Flash Range

Another important factor to keep in mind is flash range.

Flash range is critical for capturing nighttime shots.

Nighttime

You don’t want movement to trigger your camera only to have the subject hidden in shadow because the flash range didn’t extend far enough to light up your image.

Speaking of flash, trail cameras typically come in three different types – no glow, low glow, and white.

Trail cameras with a no glow flash (also referred to as “blackout” or “dark ops” cameras) use black LEDs for nighttime illumination.

The flash range usually isn’t as far as other flash types, but the light is completely invisible to both animals and humans.

All of your after-dark images will appear in relatively low quality black and white with no glow flash.

Trail Cam Bears
Don’t lose a cool bear photo op!

Sometimes called “red glow,” low glow flash uses infrared emitters to light up your night images.

These cameras produce a faint red glow that animals can’t see. However, humans (at least those who are paying attention) will detect the IR light when a photo is snapped.

Your nighttime pictures will still be in black and white. However, the quality of low glow flash images is typically better than no glow.

White flash game cameras work just like your standard digital camera.

Flash Photography

These cameras provide the best image quality, and all of your photos (both day and night) will be in full color.

The major drawback? It’s highly visible, which could send both human intruders and wary whitetails flying for the county line.

Video Capabilities

Video capture is a relatively new feature in the game camera industry, but it’s a train nearly every company is hopping on.

Some cameras do this really well. Others produce videos that look like they were filmed on a potato.

If you have your little heart set on a game camera that shoots video, pay serious attention to resolution.

Napoleon Dynamite Technology

A camera with 640×640 resolution will produce video in standard resolution (i.e., potato quality).

If you want high-definition video, look for a camera with 720×720. 1080×1080 is even better.

Different cameras also capture different video lengths. Thirty seconds is pretty standard, although some will record up to several minutes.

As a hunter, I’m not all that interested in video capabilities.

Still shots usually provide enough information for me to identify bucks and decipher their behavior.

DC Comics Security Camera
Trail cams can be useful when looking for lurking bad guys.

However, for security surveillance, video can help you determine whether a person is just wandering by or intent on nefarious activities.

Battery Life

If the batteries in your game camera die, you will definitely miss something really important. This is the Murphy’s Law of trail cams.

Murphy's Law

I collected SD cards from my cameras this past deer season and found a beautiful rub line nearby.

I went home to download images and get a gander at the buck who made those rubs. Unfortunately, I discovered the batteries died before the big guy came through.

I had zero images of the buck who made the rub line…which made me utter a nice string of colorful curse words.

Batteries and battery life are super important.

Give me the juice!

Most modern trail cams run on simple AA batteries. A set of fresh AAs should last through preseason scouting to the final day of deer season.

That’s about six months for the non-hunting folks in the room.

My advice: Upgrade to lithium batteries.

Yeah, they’re more expensive.

13
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

But they will last longer than cells, and they aren’t affected by temperature.

In fact, good lithium batteries will continue to power your trail cam even if it’s covered in snow or frozen in a block of ice.

Viewing Screen

Not every game camera features a viewing screen, but it can be a really handy feature.

Admittedly, hauling SD cards home to view on your home computer can feel a little like the anticipation small children feel on Christmas morning.

That said, a built-in viewing screen lets you get a sneak peek of your captured images right in the woods.

Wildgames Innovations VU60
A viewing screen lets you set things up in the field.

Models that include a viewing screen tend to be on the pricier side. The screens are also relatively tiny, so you aren’t going to see a ton of detail.

You can also purchase a separate, portable SD card reader screen.

If you just can’t wait until you get home to see your images but don’t want to lug a whole laptop into the woods while you run your camera line, these compact devices are the perfect solution.

Wireless Connection

What if you need to see the images your trail cam captures without going into the area to retrieve SD cards?

A modern trail camera sporting a wireless feature is the answer to your prayers.

These cameras capture images just like standard devices, only they send the photos or video to your smartphone or email instead of storing them on an SD card.

Trail cams with wireless connection tend to come with a hefty price tag. You’ll also need to pay for wireless service, which adds an extra expense.

Expensive

If you need to place your cameras in a remote location with spotty or unreliable cell service (or none at all), a wireless connection is going to be pretty useless.

However, suppose you need to see images in real-time, especially if you’re using cameras as part of your home security system. In that case, devices with wireless connection are well worth the extra cash.

Megapixels Aren’t as Important as You Think

Megapixel literally means “one million pixels.”

Pixels are the itty-bitty dots of light that, when viewed all together, create a picture.

In the photography world, the more megapixels in an image, the better the photo quality.

Girl with Pearl Earring Pixelated
Pixels refer to the tiny dots that make up an image

When it comes to megapixels and trail cameras, things get a little trickier.

It’s easy to think buying a trail cam with a bunch of megapixels will give you magazine-quality photos.

That isn’t necessarily true.

Most megapixel ratings on trail cameras are interpolated, meaning the image resolution is enhanced using software.

It’s a way for companies to cheat, really.

Maya Rudolph Cheat

Instead of sharp, fine image detail, the camera just digitally adds made up pixels for every real pixel it captures.

Sometimes the made-up pixels are created using an algorithm that predicts the added pixels’ color based on those that surround it.

Other times the camera just duplicates pixels to increase the numbers.

Why do companies do this? Because they can slap that huge megapixel claim on the product packaging.

For most trail cam applications, mind-blowing image detail isn’t necessary.

You just need enough clarity to identify subjects. In this arena, even cheap models with fewer megapixels are usually plenty capable.

Best Trail Cameras

If you aren’t sure where to start your search for a quality trail camera, here are a few good models for every budget.

It is by no means an exhaustive list, so don’t be insulted if we left off your favorite. You can always drop your preferred model in the comments below.

1. Browning Defender Wireless

If you want to monitor an area without disturbing it, the Browning Defender is a dream come true. You either use the camera’s long-range, low-glow flash or go full-blown ninja with the thoroughly Invisible IR mode.

After you set it, you won’t have to set foot in the area until the batteries die. Be prepared; this thing takes 16 AA batteries!

It sends images directly to your smartphone in real-time.

Browning Defender Wireless 2
Browning Defender

You can choose between two different models – one compatible with AT&T or one that uses the Verizon Network. Month-to-month plans are relatively affordable.

Fees are based on how many cameras you have in your network and how many photos you expect to transmit.

The Browning Defender also has an on-board viewing screen, an adjustable trigger speed, and Illuma-Smart Technology that automatically adjusts the flash for perfect nighttime images.

300
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

2. Covert AW1

The Covert AW1 Cellular Trail Camera is basically the luxury sports car of the trail cam world. It has a hair-trigger speed (0.4 seconds) and a relatively wide field of view (58-degrees).

It also features “advanced machine to machine communication.”

This may sound scary for anyone concerned about the impending Skynet takeover, but it really just means you get immediate access to captured images via the Covert Wireless web portal and mobile app. (See? There’s nothing to be afraid of.)

Skynet

The device can transmit 5-minute videos complete with audio. You can also set it up to take 1- to 10-shot bursts.

It can be programmed for motion- or heat-activated photos, or you can set it up to take time-lapse photos. The AW1 also provides real-time wind and weather information.

Plus, the image quality will knock your socks off.

470
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

3. Wildgame Innovations 360

Perfect for areas with a high population of game or a ton of human foot traffic, the low-glow Wildgame Innovations 360 captures images at a full 360-degrees.

It comes with a special tripod mount, which enables you to use the full 360-degree detection range.

Wildgame Innovations 360 Tripod
Wildgame Innovations 360 with mount. (Photo: Amazon)

While its 360-degree image capture sets this trail camera apart from the competition, the image quality is pretty mediocre.

It also has a relatively slow trigger speed of 1.5 seconds, which could cost you images of fast-moving subjects.

300
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

4. BOG Blood Moon & Clandestine

BOG has two models of cameras and both are pretty awesome. The Blood Moon is the flagship while Clandestine is a little cheaper. They offer 22mp and 18mp respectively but otherwise stack up almost feature for feature.

Blood Moon looking at where I feed the local birds

Both take 6aa batteries, both have a removable viewer (very nice!), and both have multi-shot, video, single image, and time-lapse modes. Even the capture speeds are the same.

The only difference is the camera quality and the flash range. Blood Moon has 120′ infrared flash and 100′ detection range while the Clandestine only has 100′ and 80′ ranges. That is still pretty good, but a bit less.

Dollar for dollar though… I think you’re better off with the Blood Moon. Street price difference is only about $20 per camera and you get a much better image and better ranges at night. For such a small upcharge, you might as well send it.

The removeable image viewer is awesome, the unit is durable as hell, and the pictures are great!

If you’re really wondering what 22mp and 18mp look like side by side, here you go. It’s just a picture of a rock and a wall at 50 yards, but it does a great job of showing the difference when you’re zoomed in. Zoomed out… both images look pretty much the same.

22mp Blood Moon on the left, 18mp Clandestine on the right. The brick wall is ~50 yards away from the cameras.

5. Browning SpecOps Extreme

This no-glow trail cam delivers surprisingly nice image and video quality for such a compact device.

The SpecOps Extreme has a rapid trigger speed (0.4 seconds), quick recovery time (0.6 seconds), and although it doesn’t send pics to your phone, it does come with a waterproof memory card that stores up to 12,000 photos or 7 hours of video.

The camera also records audio, which is cool but probably not a necessity for most applications.

It has a 2-inch on-board, full-color display screen to see your images right in the field. This also allows you to set the camera in just the right position to make sure you don’t miss any important action.

190
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

What’s your take on the Browning trail cam?

Readers' Ratings

4.87/5 (30)

Your Rating?

6. Moultrie XV-7000i Cellular Game Camera

In the not-so-distant past, you couldn’t get your hands on a cellular trail camera for less than $200.

Now that everybody and their brother want one, the demand for an affordable remote camera with wireless connectivity drives prices down.

The XV-7000i from Moutrie is one of the more affordable cellular cameras on the market today and priced well under $200.

Moultrie Camera on Tree

Just download Moultrie’s app, pay for a plan from Verizon, and you’ll be receiving pictures from your remote camera right to your smartphone in actual time.

The Moultrie XV-7000i sports a 0.3-second trigger speed, an invisible infrared flash, and takes better-than-decent photos and video.

160
at Cabela's

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

7. Wildgame Innovations Terra Extreme

The Terra Extreme from Wildgame Innovations brings a nice option for people who don’t want to spend a ton of money on a fancy game camera.

These puppies are priced well under $50…so run a string of them to cover a wide range of property.

Offering a no-frills game cam, it still delivers decent pictures and relatively clear video.

Trail Cams Wild Game Innovations Terra
Trail Cams Wild Game Innovations Terra

Note: it uses eight whole AA batteries, but one fresh set should last most of a year.

This camera is a serious workhorse! Mine served me well for several hunting seasons before a colony of ants set up residence in the innards.

Spoiler alert: ants and electronics do NOT mix.

45
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

8. VanTop Ninja 1 Trail Camera

For a relatively cheap camera, the VanTop Ninja 1 performs surprisingly well.

Using a 120-degree detection range, it takes better photos than some mid-range trail cams.

VanTop Ninja Detection Range
(Photo: Amazon)

It’s also super easy to set up — which is nice for goobers like me.

The video quality is pretty grainy, and the included mounting stand is a little flimsy. However, you really can’t beat the price.

50
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

9. Tasco Low Glow 10mp Trail Camera

If you aren’t super concerned about image quality and just want to get an approximate headcount of your property’s deer population, something super cheap like the Tasco Low Glow 10mp will do the job.

The image quality is pretty good, as long as the deer aren’t sprinting past the camera.

Trail Cams Tasco
The Tasco is a budget-friendly option.

These cameras do tend to fog up a bit on cool, damp mornings. However, other than that small annoyance, this camera worked for me through several deer seasons.

It even survived some major river flooding that saw the camera at least partially submerged.

On a shoestring budget? These trail cams are some of the most economically-priced on the market.

39
at Walmart

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Conclusion

Watching what’s going on when you’re not around can be a productive way to protect your property…or fill your freezer…depending on how you choose to use your trail cameras.

Before you take the plunge, be aware that you may be hopping on board an expensive hobby.

Trail Cams
Once you start, you’ll want to get them all.

Speaking from experience, game cameras are a lot like potato chips – you can’t have just one. It’s pretty addictive.

For hunters, particularly, getting brief glimpses of the everyday lives of the animals we’re pursuing is fascinating. And the more cameras you have in your arsenal, the more glimpses you’ll get.

Have any cool trail cam captures? We want to see them! Tell us all about them in the comments below. If you’ve got a trail cam, you might want to consider a feeder to go with it. Check out our roundup of the Best Deer Feeders.

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