Every year we like to round up the best of the current wildlife trail cameras available. 2019 has seen a raft of new camera traps hit the shelves – we’ve delayed putting our round-up together until we’ve seen everything thats available and tested them all thoroughly.
Our previous round ups have been really popular and helped point a lot of people in the right direction. As always, the ‘best’ wildlife camera for you depends exactly what you are looking for or what your most desirable feature is (video, battery life, photos etc) – so we’ve broken it down in to categories with an overall favourite at the end. Below are the best trail cameras for video, photos, trigger speed, detection and security….
You may also find our ‘camera trap chooser’ useful – try it here…
Best of the rest: Bushnell Core DS Low-Glow
Comfortably the most popular feature of any wildlife camera is the quality of its video. Its the most common thing the staff at NatureSpy get asked about, whether its from back-garden hedgehog watchers, remote forest monitors or researchers in jungles.
Its also one of the things that often gets misunderstood, and that poor quality cameras try to trick people with (i.e. saying 1080p HD, regardless of the frame rates and data rates, which have a massive impact on the resulting quality).
The best in this category is absolutely the Browning Recon Force Advantage. Day and night, the quality is spot on with either 30 or 60fps available, ensuring smooth footage every time. The audio is also really clear which adds another dimension.
This is still the trail camera we use in the vast majority of our own projects both in the UK and globally at the moment, in no small part due to the video quality – for example, we have 60 of them out year-round on the North York Moors looking for pine marten.
It’s also popular outside of NatureSpy; in fact, this camera was used in the last series of BBC’s Winterwatch in the Cairngorms, with footage caught actually broadcast on the programme (foxes & golden eagles) – as well as in a host of other TV productions. We also see them used by large organisations such as ZSL, WWF, Chester Zoo etc to name a few, on top of being the most popular trail camera with customers.
The Recon Force is a low-glow trail camera, so the LEDs will glow a faint red when the camera trap triggers at night – a little like the standby lights on a TV. We always recommend low-glow camera traps as they give much better quality at night, as they have 30% more IR light than no-glow cameras. Also important is that the majority of wildlife see no-glow and low-glow in the same way – so it makes little difference to them.
There were also some new trail cameras from Bushnell this summer which have to be included in this category – the Core DS range.
These also offer 30 and 60fps footage, and have 2 lenses – one tuned to daytime, and one night time imagery. This means crisper footage at night, and the quality of the night footage is actually marginally better than the above Brownings. Daytime footage is very much the same or similar.
However, in testing, we have seen a few odd low-light performance around dawn and dusk on the Core DS – images become much more grainy and are disappointing, especially for a camera that costs as much as these. The field of view is also narrower than normal on a trail camera – around 35 degrees. For those reasons, the Browning Advantage trail cams clinch it.
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.
Best of the rest: Browning Recon Force Advantage
Always a tricky category as light conditions and other factors play a significant role. However, two standout candidates this year…
The Bushnell Core DS Low-Glow is the pick of the bunch – just – with its dual sensors giving it the edge on night time photos. These give an extra step of clarity, and Bushnell have finally got over their years-old issue of excessive blur on night images.
Getting good photos is trickier than videos however – lightning and weather play a major role. We do see that this seem to have more of an impact on the Bushnell Core and Core DS cameras than on other models.
The Browning Recon Force Advantage is a very consistent performer on photo mode. Whilst night time images can occasionally lack the crispness of the Bushnell Core DS, they’re still damn good and reliable. Check out the below image of a goshawk, the ghost of the forest, caught by our customers at the University of Aberdeen as part of a large monitoring programme, as well as a couple from our projects in the UK and Europe (click for larger version);
We also use these cameras on photo mode in Croatia where (as you can see above) we’ve had some pretty cool shots of wolves, bears and lynx – as well as those UK staples hedgehogs, deer and badgers!
Best trail camera for trigger speed
Best of the rest: Browning Strike Force HD Pro X
No surprises here – many of the SpyPoint camera traps have long been the quickest on the draw in photo mode, with a speed of 0.07 seconds. Seriously, seriously quick. They are fun cameras to use but the video quality is behind a lot of the other manufacturers and a little underwhelming.
Most other manufacturers have caught up in their mid and high-end cameras now, and are within touching distance. The Browning Strike Force HD Pro X for example has a photo speed of 0.16 seconds, the Bushnell Core DS has 0.17 seconds, the Reconyx HyperFire 2 has 0.2 seconds – and a few more still are in this area.
Video trigger speed is another matter however and always slower than photo mode due the extra data involved. For video trigger, 0.4 seconds is around the fastest available and something we see on the Bushnell Core DS cameras, Browning Strike Force HD Pro X and the Browning Recon Force Advantage cameras.
That said, the Reconyx HyperFire 2 actually edges them all, with a video trigger of a touch over 0.2 seconds – however the cost will likely be too high for most users.
Best trail camera for detection
A really important area, and something the main manufacturers of wildlife cameras put a lot of research and development into.
Bushnell have been omnipresent in this category since we starting our yearly run down, but the SpyPoint detection circuits have really kicked on this year. Coupled with the photo trigger speed above, we’ve been seeing detection ranges of about 120ft for something human or deer sized – seriously big.
The Bushnell Core DS cameras aren’t far behind though, with a range of about 110ft.
To be completely honest however – does anyone need a trail camera to be that sensitive, in the vast majority of uses? A more sensitive camera can certainly be good to a point – but too sensitive, and it can be a pain – with more false triggers to go through, or wildlife triggering a camera when its too far away to see what it is. In truth, when using both the above camera traps, we tend to turn the sensitivity down.
Cameras like the Browning Recon Force Advantage and Strike Force HD Pro X seem to have the balance better – triggering at around 90ft distances. We find this to be about right, as most will use the cameras with a realistic target area between 5-40ft away. Not too many false triggers, and reliable detection for everything else – basically, the sweet spot.
Best: SpyPoint Link Micro
Best of the rest: Browning Dark Ops HD Pro X
A new category for this year, and something we’re seeing an increase of use in trail cameras for as rural crime, sadly, seems to be on the increase.
A really cool and simple solution is the SpyPoint Link Micro – a 4G connected trail camera, running off the Telefonica network (o2, Giffgaff, Tesco etc). That means that in areas where there is signal you get an image through to your phone or tablet about 20-40 seconds after it was taken. Great if you need to be reactive and fast to catch somebody in the act…
Its small and camouflaged casing means it’s not difficult to conceal, and the image quality you get through is certainly good enough to see what is happening, quickly. Wireless camera traps like this don’t transmit video due to the battery life, mobile data and time required to do so, and images are compressed before sending, with higher-res versions saved on the Link-Micro’s onboard microSD card.
The wireless cameras do come with (very reasonable) running costs however, which aren’t for everyone. The Browning Dark Ops Pro X is the pick of the bunch otherwise – a small powerful little trail camera that has a couple of key features which make it a good choice for security.
Take a look at all our recommended trail cameras for security over on our camera trap chooser…
Our overall favourite trail camera…
The only thing to do now is reveal our favourite camera trap for 2019 – and its the Browning Recon Force Advantage.
We can’t get enough of the high-end video and audio quality along with the super fast triggers in both modes. Battery life is good, it’s sturdy and well built, a strong detection circuit and just enjoyable to use.
It’s also tried and tested – in the UK from heatwaves to grey, wet skies – in European mountains scorched in summer and buried in snow over winter, and tropical rainforests in extremely challenging conditions – they’ve been super consistent and reliable. Add to that, for a high-end trail camera it sits underneath other brands in terms of pricing, without any real downsides or trade offs.
If you need a no-glow camera (and again, we recommend sticking with low-glow for better results), then the best available in our opinion is the Browning Dark Ops HD Pro X – a really neat and high-performance little trail camera.
Our second favourite trail camera in 2019 is the new Bushnell Core DS Low-Glow. Video quality is great and especially crisp at night with fast trigger speeds, Bushnell’s best ever battery life, good build and design and really cool camouflage. There is a no-glow version available too.
Honourable mentions have to go to the Browning Strike Force HD Pro X – a really great little all rounder and much improved over the previous version. Night time stuff is particularly good and it has great trigger speeds and battery life to boot.
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 most include a free 16GB or 32GB SD card. All proceeds support our non-profit environmental work.