What are the best trail cameras of 2018?
More new camera traps hit the market in 2018, meaning there is now more choice of trail cameras than ever before. There were also improvements to previous models released. But this extra choice can mean extra confusion, and we often get asked simply 'What is the best trail camera in 2018?'
As our round up of the 2017 trail cameras helped a lot of people choose the right camera trap for them, we thought we'd better look at the 2018 offerings. As with last year, 'the best' depends on what you are exactly looking for (i.e. best photos, best video, best battery life etc) - so we've again 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...
This is the most common feature request we get at NatureSpy - people want the best video they can get, as its often the most rewarding way of viewing wildlife. Video is one of the things that sets different cameras and manufacturers apart.
Our comfortable favourite in this category this year is the Browning Recon Force Advantage. This trail camera uses low-glow LEDs, which means a stronger IR flash at night than a no-glow camera but with a slight red glow when triggered (each LED is similar to the standby light on a TV).
The Recon Force Advantage is the update to last year's best in this category, the Recon Force Extreme, so it's no surprise it's leading the pack again. Things have actually been improved over last year's model.
Definition and lighting is sharper and not as soft, and the audio is much clearer too.
NatureSpy launched a major new 3 year project in April this year, which will see the North York Moors searched for pine marten like never before. The Recon Force Advantage is the camera the project will use, and over 60 of them will be looking out for these elusive mammals.
On both the Recon Force and the Spec Ops Advantage, if you choose the 'Ultra' video quality setting, you can get frame rates of 60fps in the day, and new on the 2018 models, 60fps at night. No other camera offers such high frame rates at day and night.
The Spec Ops Advantage 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 in comparison, by about 30% due to the different spectrum of IR light used.
The accompanying sound, and the improvements this year, is absolutely wonderful. It adds an immersive dimension to the videos. Whether its an otter pup chirping to its mother, a pine marten crunching an egg, a tawny owl calling in the distance as a badger triggers the camera... we've had some amazing video + audio clips sent in to us from customers. You can hear this for yourself above, especially the second video where the buzzard calls.
The exposure control at night again is pretty much perfect, with the camera adjusting almost instantly depending on light levels - so if you want to use the camera focused on an area 10ft away, the light will be just right. If you want the light to reach 30ft away, as long as there isn't anything blocking the light, it will do that too. You can see how the camera adapts to these differences in the videos above.
Only one slight drawback, continued from last year - 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.
We strongly recommend using Lithium batteries to get the most from the above cameras (and any others for that matter) - it makes a huge difference.
Be warned - this video quality is only on the new 2018 Browning Recon Force Advantage and Spec Ops Advantage cameras, not the previous and now discontinued Platinum & Extreme 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 Pro XD.
Spot the weasel! (click for full size)
This Pro XD range from Browning is new for this year, and offers dual lens technology - one lens handles day and the other night. This has an advantage as to be sensitive to IR light and daylight in one lens often means compromising on quality - and these dual lenses aim to remove that compromise.
With photo quality, we also consider how good the camera is at eliminating motion blur, where an animal is moving quickly or suddenly. This always used to blight certain models. Browning seem to have got this cracked for the main part, especially on their low-glow cameras (low glow LEDs emit more IR light, so shutter speeds can be faster).
Most camera traps at this stage offer good photo quality though. Just check out the below from a Recon Force Advantage, from our project with Bioterra in Croatia;
The Pro XD range are a step up from the HD Pro range, and offer slightly better trigger speeds too - actually the best photo trigger speed that Browning currently offer at about 0.15 seconds. That said, the Strike Force HD Pro is still a great and affordable camera for photo work, and a chunk more affordable.
The Pro XD cameras do have all the features that make the HD Pro range great - a moveable steel bracket, excellent battery life due to the new type of IR emitters, a colour screen and very small size.
There are a couple of cameras from different manufacturers still to come out this year, and we'll update this section if anything changes...
A Browning Recon Force Advantage being set up by NatureSpy staff...
The SpyPoint Force 11D and Solar still claim the top spot here for photos, with trigger speeds of 0.07 seconds - but there are lots of cameras within touching distance now. The Browning Strike Force Pro XD for example is at 0.15 seconds, the Bushnell Aggressors at 0.14 seconds, and the Browning Strike Force HD Pro at 0.3 seconds. All of these are incredibly quick cameras in photo mode.
The photo quality on the SpyPoint's is by no means the best at night however compared to some of those trail cameras that are slightly slower.
For video, there are still lot of cameras in the similar area - however we're giving it to the Browning Recon Force and Spec Ops Advantage cameras, at 0.4 seconds. It's not just the speed, but they have the quality to follow it up. No point having a faster camera if the results aren't good enough.
The Strike Force HD Pro again needs a mention however, with 0.4-0.5s video trigger speeds as well. The Strike Force Pro XD however is a touch slower for video, at about 0.7s.
The Bushnell Aggressors still have the most sensitive PIR sensors, just...
Bushnell are still the bosses in this area, and have been for some time. They can detect out to a whopping 110ft in our tests, with a good degree of efficiency.
Coupled with a trigger speed for photos of around 0.14 seconds, that means these trail cameras don't miss much. They do have a wider detection zone than camera field of view however, which means that the camera sometimes will trigger before a subject enters the frame.
As with last year, it is still worth mentioning that 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!
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.
The 2018 Browning Recon Force Advantage and Spec Ops Advantage cameras have improved detection distances of about 90ft, and now with the option to turn this down if needed. The increase in sensitivity is more useful for smaller animals closer to the camera, rather than for distances.
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 no-glow Browning Dark Ops HD Pro - 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 Advantage and Spec Ops Advantage cameras has very respectable battery life - we currently change the Lithium batteries in our cameras every 3-4 months, whilst on video mode. Pretty good.
Our favourite trail camera of 2018... The Browning Recon Force Advantage
So again, we come to our favourite - and again, its probably pretty obvious... we think the best trail camera of 2018 is the Browning Recon Force Advantage.
The awesome video quality and great trigger speeds are the main features we love, but it's backed-up by good battery life, great photos, crisp audio, 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 Advantage - 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.
And although its not mentioned much above, Bushnell Essential E3 is still 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 16GB SD card. All proceeds support our non-profit environmental work.