Wildlife – or trail – cameras are a great way to see the best of nature without interfering with it. You can capture fascinating nocturnal creatures you’d otherwise never see, and catch glimpses of shy animals like badgers, foxes, and hedgehogs. They’re fantastic for teaching children about the value of wildlife, as well as getting a sense of how valuable your garden is to the animals who share it with you.
Are you a keen wildlife gardener? Why not take part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch on Friday 28th to Sunday 30th January 2022?
Sadly, birdlife in the UK is struggling and according to the RSPB, our bird population has declined by a staggering 38 million over the last 50 years.
The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, is now in its 43rd year and a great way for wildlife enthusiasts to get involved as citizen scientists and keep an eye on visiting garden birds. Last year over a million people took part, which helped the RSPB create an accurate picture of how our feathered friends are getting on, as well as highlighting which species most need our help.
Find out more about taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch.
How do I choose a wildlife camera?
These cameras are complicated tech, so there’s lots of jargon and many features to consider. Like any product, the picture is further complicated by budget and how often you’ll use the camera. You don’t want to splurge on a camera you’ll only use a few times a year, but nor should you skimp on your camera if you have a real passion for wildlife photography. Thanks to some fantastic insight from Jason Murdock on Radio Times’ terrific tech testing team, we get into the weeds below.
Wildlife camera PIR sensors
Passive infrared (PIR) sensors are how wildlife cameras work. They monitor the background temperature of foliage, and if an animal steps in front of the foliage, the temperature difference between the animal and the background triggers the camera to wake up and start recording.
The best cameras have many PIR sensors at different angles across the field of view, to capture animals at the periphery of the camera. The number of sensors also informs the detection range – the wider the angle on the PIR sensors, the more is detected and therefore recorded.
Lo-glow vs no-glow wildlife cameras
The most unfamiliar bit of wildlife camera jargon is ‘lo-glow’ or ‘no-glow’. Wildlife cameras are often used for images of nocturnal animals. However, they can’t illuminate the animals with a bright flash as this might stun or scare them.
To fix this, ‘lo-glow’ cameras have IR (infrared) LEDs (light emitting diodes), which illuminate the animals with invisible, low-frequency IR light. This achieves a similar effect to a bright camera flash without scaring the animals. The downside is that lo-glow cameras give off a gentle but detectable red glow that could warn animals away before they get to trigger the camera.
No-glow cameras have a higher IR frequency than lo-glow cameras. This means their glow is only detectable if you look directly at their LEDs, so no animals are scared away. However, this high-frequency IR affects the picture quality, so images may look a little blurry.
Wildlife camera IP Rating
An ingress protection (IP) rating is a measure of how weatherproof a piece of electrical equipment is. Usually written as the abbreviation followed by two numbers, e.g. IP65, the first digit says how dustproof the equipment is, and the second how waterproof it is. Dustproofing goes from 1-6, with 6 being completely dustproof. Waterproofing goes from 1-9, with 9 being completely waterproof, and 5 being weatherproof. Wildlife cameras need to work in all sorts of weather, so aim for an IP rating of 55 and above.
Wildlife camera trigger time and shutter speed
The trigger time and shutter speed is how long it takes for the sensors to detect an animal and for the camera to start shooting. On trail cameras, this is usually between 0.1 and 1 second. The basic rule of thumb is that the shorter the trigger time, the better the camera – it makes the difference between capturing an animal moving quickly across the camera and not. Trigger time tends to be slower for video, but video has the advantage of capturing more than a camera.
Wildlife camera recovery time
Recovery time is how long it takes for the camera to be ready to shoot again. This is important if the camera can shoot images and video at the same time. If the recovery time is too long, the camera will trigger to shoot an image, take a few seconds to recover to shoot video, by which time the animal will have moved on. Therefore, like trigger time, the shorter the recovery time the better.
Wildlife camera field of view
This is how widely or narrowly the camera is focused. There’s no set rules with this and it depends on what you’re trying to capture. A bigger field of view captures a wider range, but animals look smaller. A smaller field of view captures less in better definition. For a general overview of a lawn, go for a higher focal length; to focus on one area (e.g. a badger set), go for a smaller focal length.
Wildlife camera megapixels
Just like a TV, phone, or laptop, the higher the megapixels (MP), the clearer the image. However, the higher the MP, the more space your photos and videos will take up on the SD card. Which leads us to the next point:
Wildlife camera memory
These cameras record to SD (secure digital) memory cards, which are removable digital storage for photos. SD cards have memory capacity measured in gigabytes (GB), and the golden rule here is that the higher the GB, the more memory, but the more the SD card will cost. It’s always good to check the maximum GB your camera can handle. You don’t want to splash out on a 128GB SD only to find that it’s incompatible with your camera.
Wildlife camera modes
There are various camera modes depending on what you want to see. Wildlife cameras usually shoot still images or motion-detection video. The best cameras also have time-lapse functions. It’s also good to get a camera with a microphone, so you can hear animals too.
Most wildlife cameras run on AA batteries, but they can also run on rechargeable batteries, or solar power. AA batteries are the cheapest and most reliable, but need replacing, and aren’t eco-friendly. Rechargeable batteries save money long term, but they don’t hold charge for as long as AAs, so need taking out and charging. Solar batteries are the most eco-friendly and charge themselves, but if you live somewhere without a lot of sun, these may not work as well.
Some cameras let you see images over 3G, 4G, or Wifi, which means you can monitor what’s happening on your phone, tablet or laptop. However, this drains batteries.
Most trail cameras will be used in secure back gardens but you can also use them to spot animals on a public footpath or in parks, with the obvious risk that your camera might be stolen. If you plan to do this check the camera has a lockable strap password protection,, a hole for a thin chain lock, or fits into a cage.
It’s good to get a camera with a screen, as this makes setup easier and means you can review your images.
Our Wildlife Editor Kate Bradbury has some brilliant tips for using these cameras.
- When setting up, consider the angle of the camera. Do you want a wide shot of the garden or a close up of the animals visiting a particular area, such as a feeding station?
- When setting up be careful not to point the camera at a nearby hard surface, such as a wall or raised piece of ground, as the light from the camera can reflect back from it and ruin your video.
- Remove plant debris such as grass or other stems from in front of the camera – there’s nothing worse than 26 clips of grass stems swaying in the breeze
- Avoid putting the camera out when it’s really windy or rainy – you’ll get few good clips and the camera could be damaged if knocked over.
Crenova 20MP 4K Trail Camera
We love that this camera comes with a 32GB memory card included as standard. It shoots 20MP stills, and up to 4K videos. Thanks to 3 PIR sensors at different angles, it has a 120° detection angle and up to 20m effective detection range, and a good IP66 waterproof rating. With a remarkable 0.2s trigger time, we think this is a fantastic general-use trail camera.
VANBAR 20MP 1080p Wildlife Camera
If you’re after a wildlife camera on a budget, this is hard to beat. It shoots 20MP stills and 1080p video, which isn’t fantastic, but is still HD. That said, it can also take timelapse, and loop record, which means it will record continuously until it runs out of memory, at which point it will delete its oldest image and replace it with new footage. This is great if you want to go out and check your camera daily. It has an excellent 0.2s trigger speed, though an average 20M trigger distance. It has 3 PIR sensors with a 120° detection range, and an IP65 weatherproof rating. We think this is a good camera for beginners or those on a budget.
Toguard H20 16MP 1080P Mini Trail Camera
For more delicate filming, try this mini trail camera. At 109.5x88mm, it’s a lot smaller than other cameras on this list, so it’s ideal for placing in tight spots to catch small animals like hedgehogs, voles and shrews. It takes 16MP photos and shoots 1080p HD footage, which is good enough for most uses but not as good as other cameras featured here. It’s trigger range is 20m and 0.3-0.8 seconds.
RSPB Nature Camera
The RSPB Nature Camera has a single PIR sensor, with a detection range from 3m to 30m, depending on the angle. Its detection angle is up to 30°, the field of view is 57°, and the focal length is 2.4. It shoots up to 14MP at 1080x720p. Photos are stamped with temperature, time, and the camera location and it can shoot stills, motion detection, time lapse, and a combination of photos and videos. This lo-glow camera has a good trigger time of under one second, and also captures sound. However, though it has a useful screen, it doesn’t have any WiFi connectivity or its own app, and has only one PIR sensor.
Solognac BG100 12MP 1080p Wildlife Camera
This camera is a good option if budget is a consideration and we think it makes a good entry point camera. It records sound, has a maximum memory of 32GB, and captures stills, video, and hybrid images. Shooting photos in 12MP and footage in 1080x720p, images are stamped with temperature, moon phase, time and date. However, the short detection range of just 10m as well as the limited 45° detection angle and 52° field of view mean this camera is best placed by foxholes, warrens or sets rather than big lawns.
Usogood WiFi 24MP 1296P Wildlife Camera
This camera can be controlled with an iOS/Android app, so you can set it up, view photos and video remotely, though you should note the camera needs to be within 5-10m to connect to WiFi. Its detection range is 20 metres, and has three PIR sensors for a 120° detection angle. Its trigger time is an excellent 0.2 seconds. Shooting 24MP stills and recording 1296p footage with audio, it also offers live replay on your phone. With the best memory of the cameras in this list, it holds an SD card of up to 128GB. We think this camera is best suited to busy naturalists who want to capture wildlife but won’t have the time to plug in and check footage from a laptop.
Bushnell Core S-4K 30MP No Glow Trail Camera
For a truly top-line trail camera, try this from Bushnell. It shoots 30МР stills and 3840х2160p vіdео wіth ѕоund. Though it has just one PIR sensor, this sensor has multiple sensitivity levels, so you can capture everything or filter for only the biggest wildlife. With an excellent 0.2 second trigger time, this camera also captures up to 6 images per trigger, so you don’t miss any action. It’s no-glow, with an impressive IR flash that reaches 33 metres. Like others in this article, it stamps photos with the dаtе, tіmе, tеmреrаturе, аnd mооn рhаѕе, but also has geotagged GРЅ сооrdіnаtеѕ for an accurate location. We think this is the camera for dedicated wildlife enthusiasts, and great for using outside the garden in National Parks.
Wechamp Solar Powered 24MP 2K Wildlife Camera
Eco-conscious gardeners will like this wildlife camera, which runs on solar power. Controlled by an iOS/Android app, it shoots photos at 24MP, video in 2K, and can shoot and detect up to 20 metres away. Unlike some of the other cameras on this list, it also comes with a tripod, so you’re free to place this camera wherever you need it, not just trees or fence posts.
LTL Acorn 5210A 12MP Wildlife Camera
This trail camera has a short 20m detection range and 52° field of view, but it has three PIR sensors with a total range of 100°, so it’s good for detecting a lot of action over a small area. It only needs 4 AA batteries, but also has capacity for 8 AA batteries in if you need more power. It has an adequate trigger time of 0.8s, and its lo-glow flash is effective to 20 metres. Photos are stamped with the temperature in both Fahrenheit and Celcius, the time, date and even the moon phase, which is interesting to see how moonlight affects nocturnal behaviour. It shoots stills, video, timelapse, motion detection, and hybrid footage, and also records sound. One great security feature is password protection, so your footage can’t be seen by anyone who happens upon the camera. However, it has no remote access or app and the IP rating is only 54, which is just about weatherproof but could be better.
This article was last updated in January 2021. We apologise if anything has changed in price or availability.