We’ve come a long way
Trail cams are cheaper, better tools
Determine your goals for trail cameras, and then adjust photo resolution to make best use of memory cards.
As the title of this article suggests, when it comes to scouting camera technology and use, we have come a long way in a relatively short span of time. Scouting cameras of one form or another have been around for more than two decades, but the most-recent transformations of this tool have been nothing short of remarkable.
During the past 10 years or so, scouting cameras have evolved and improved at just about the same dizzying pace as cell phone technology. In fact, as often happens when technological breakthroughs occur in one branch of science or technology, it spills over into other technological realms. A prime case in point is the link between smart phone and tablet cameras and the current crop of scouting cameras.
The almost exponential growth in the smart phone and tablet market is one of the reasons why we are now seeing dramatically smaller scouting cameras with photo and video resolution and quality that would have been unimaginable a few years ago. High-quality digital cameras are now being manufactured seemingly by the gazillions, which fortunately for all of us spills over to scouting cameras. As any device or technology becomes more widely used and demand increases, the market creates competition, ultimately resulting in technological improvement and much lower costs to the consumer.
The best news of all is that, as the overall quality of scouting cameras has improved, the average cost per scouting camera has actually gone down.
Scouting cameras have never been better or more affordable than they are right now.
My latest copy of one of the major outdoor product company’s catalog has fully 11 solid pages of scouting cameras and accessories, representing just eight or nine of the major brands.
It is really astounding that a basic camera that falls in the price range of $150 to $200 can now come with features like 8 to 12 megapixel digital image resolution, and can handle up to 32 GB of memory card storage capacity.
To aid the first time scouting camera user or as a refresher for a seasoned user, let’s look at a brief overview of the pros and cons of some of the most important features and capabilities that should be considered when purchasing a scouting camera.
Type of flash
There are three basic types of night-time flash:
White strobe, which is the old, original flash technology that fires a momentary flash of full-spectrum visible white light, allowing night-time color images.
“Red glow” IR flash is a type of LED flash that fires a burst of light at the edge of the IR spectrum that is subtlety visible to the human eye.
“Black flash” IR is the latest thing in LED flash, producing a burst of IR light that is invisible to the human eye.
I personally use all three types of flash. One just has to be mindful of the pros and cons of each type of flash, and place cameras at appropriate locations and at heights that favor the respective strengths and weaknesses of each.
Photo size and resolution
The megapixel rating of a digital image is quite simply a total count of the pixels in the image expressed in millions as denoted by the prefix “mega.” A 4-megapixel image contains about 4,000,000 total pixels, but most current computer screens or TVs are only capable of displaying about 2,000,000 total pixels.
Scouting cameras typically fall into two categories when it comes to megapixel image rating. The first includes cameras that have a fixed digital image resolution that usually falls in the range of between 3 MP and 5 MP. The second category includes cameras that have a selectable digital image resolution that can range in steps anywhere from, say, 2 MP up to 12 MP; the user can select a resolution that satisfies the user’s image clarity goals, and allows the expected image total to not exceed the capacity of a given camera’s memory card storage capacity.
Maximum memory card capacity
Obviously, the image resolution megapixels directly affects how many photos can be stored on a scouting camera’s plug-in memory device, usually an SD card.
There is a little bit of math we first need to go over in order to fully understand how this megapixel and gigabyte business works. As a simple example, let’s look at a 4 GB memory card in a camera that is set to take 2 MP images. To start with, each pixel is stored in one byte of memory space, and a gigabyte is the equivalent of 1,000 megapixels. What that means is that 4 GB represents 4,000 MB of storage space, so 4,000 MB of memory divided by 2 MB per image equals an image storage capacity of approximately 2,000 digital images on a single 4 GB memory card.
Depending on where a given scouting camera is located, what re-arm time interval is selected on the camera, and whether or not a multi-image burst of photos is selected (usually one to three images per triggering event), that camera’s memory card may or may not fill up between your visits to the camera site. In order to not walk up to a camera with a full memory card that, as a result, has not taken an image in several days, some advance planning and thought is necessary. I provide this caution from personal experience.
Image resolution and quality is a great example of why a user needs to evaluate and identify what features and functions are most important to achieve the user’s goals. As a pure scouting tool, maybe super clear and crisp image resolution is not so important. On the other hand, a detailed camera survey that is designed to identify and classify unique, individual bucks on your property might involve seeing and evaluating minute antler detail. In that case clear and crisp higher megapixel images will be required.
Identity what your personal goals are regarding scouting cameras, and then use the features of your cameras to best advantage.
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