The best trail cameras allow you to capture wildlife imagery that simply isn't possible otherwise. Many animals are extremely shy and retiring, not to mention highly sensitive to sound and smell, and even with extremely long lenses, it's hard to get near them. A trail camera is the perfect solution.
For those who need to be brought up to speed: a trail camera is designed to be left outdoors for long periods. Equipped with infrared motion detectors, these cameras will lie dormant until something enters their detection zone, and then will capture stills or video of whatever is in their field of view, with trigger times in some cases as short as 0.2 seconds. Trail cameras tend to be camouflaged and silent in shooting, so you can leave one close to a known wildlife habitat. It might take a while for the animals to get used to it (scroll down to the bottom of this article for tips on prepping your trail camera) but once they do, your reward will be unrivalled access to wild animals.
Many trail cameras are designed to work well at night, with no-glow infrared flashes that can light up an animal without alerting it. Some can also link up to cellular networks and allow you to access the images and videos they capture remotely by downloading them to your phone. This means you can leave them a lot longer before having to tramp back into the wild to retrieve them.
In this guide, we've included a broad selection of trail cameras for users of all budgets. Do bear in mind that many trail cameras require AA batteries to run, in some cases quite a few (8 or 16 is not uncommon) so you'll need to factor in this cost when budgeting. You'll also need a memory card to store the images and videos the camera captures – our guide to the best memory cards will help there. If you want a more conventional wildlife setup, then try our guides to the best cameras for wildlife photography and best cameras overall may prove helpful.
The best trail cameras available now
The Browning Defender is a superb all-purpose trail camera, and is probably going to be the best choice for most users. It offers loads of great features and functions. Video resolution is Full HD, stills resolution is a generous 20MP, and the LTE 4G cellular link-up allows for remote viewing and download of your images. In short, it's pretty much everything you need.
We could go on about this trail camera's excellent features... and we will. The full waterproofing means you can leave it in the wet and wild outdoors with confidence, and the low-glow infrared flash opens up the night and allows you to capture subjects that only make an appearance at night. The camera has a card slot that supports SDXC cards with capacities of up to 512GB – more than enough storage for pretty much any user. There's also the Invisible IR mode, which basically makes it completely undetectable, and is great for scoping out the most shy and retiring of subjects.
The Browning Defender requires a hefty sack of 16 AA batteries to work. This may sound like a lot (because it is) but as we'll see, this isn't exactly uncommon for trail cameras. This will at least keep the Browning Defender running for a good long while – and if you invest in some rechargeable batteries up front, you'll probably save some cash in the long run.
- Also see: The best low-light cameras in 2022
The Bushnell CelluCore 30 is a relatively recent refresh of a popular trail camera, the CelluCore 20. And this name isn't just a number – it also denotes the fact that the camera's megapixel count has been upped from 20MP to 30MP. This makes it the highest-resolution trail camera around right now, and an ideal choice if you're looking to capture images with plenty of detail.
It's well-specced elsewhere too, with a 100-foot no-glow infrared flash for night vision, and the ability to capture high-quality 1080p video at a silky-smooth frame rate of 60p. The trigger speed is a quick 0.2 seconds, so it should be able to capture even the most fleeting of wildlife behaviours. The name CelluCore comes from the fact that it's cell-network enabled, so you can transfer images and videos remotely using a Verizon or AT&T data plan. This does mean that it's currently harder to get and use if you're outside the US – though having a 32GB SD card slot is helpful as it means you can just store images locally. Just be aware before you buy that you'll need 12 AA batteries to power it, which is fewer than the Browning Defender, but still quite a lot.
If you absolutely must have as much video resolution as possible, then the Spypoint Force Pro trail camera is definitely worth checking out – though there is a small caveat here. While the camera has a headline video resolution of 4K, we'd say maybe don't bother using it. The maximum frame rate is a brutally choppy 10fps, and the quality of your footage will suffer as a result.
However, another option the camera offers is 2560x1440. This is a step up in resolution terms from most trail cameras, which tend to top out at Full HD (1920x1080), and it can be shot at a much more pleasant frame rate of 25fps. And, with on-board audio recording and a 0.2sec trigger time, the camera is impressively well equipped for capturing high-quality wildlife footage.
The Spypoint Force Pro can invisibly illuminate subjects at night thanks to its 54 white no-glow LEDs, which emit infrared light at 950nm. Its flash range is a healthy 27.4m, which is a good match for the 33.5m detection range of the Passive InfraRed (PIR) motion detector. This means the majority of subjects that wander past the lens should be lit up nice and clearly.
The Bushnell Core DS No Glow is a smart idea – a trail camera with two sensors, one for night and one for day. While the day sensor is a generally balanced all-rounder, optimised for clear and rich images in daylight, the night sensor has been designed to push a little further and provide extra illumination in darker conditions. It's aided by the invisible LED lighting that illuminates nocturnal subjects without scaring them away.
Another plus point in the favour of the Bushnell Core DS No Glow trail camera is that it offers a generous stills resolution of 30MP, which is higher than most others on this list. This gives you more detail in images, and more latitude for cropping in to magnify a subject, which can be handy if an animal didn't quite get as close to the camera as you would have liked. In the video realm, the Full HD frame rate is 60fps, which makes for super-smooth footage.
The trigger time of the the Bushnell Core DS No Glow trail camera is 0.2 seconds, so it should capture anything that strays in front of it. Sturdily built and hardy, it's great for leaving out for long periods – just be aware that it doesn't have cellular capability, so you will need to go and retrieve the camera before you can see what it's captured.
If your budget is too tight to stretch to either of the Bushnell cameras above, the Bushnell Prime 24MP Low-Glow Trail Camera is another strong contender from the same brand.
Offering Full HD video recording at 1920 x 1080 at a silky smooth 60fps it sets itself apart from other models at this price point. It even pushes the maximum stills resolution up by outperforming others in its class, capturing 24MP photographs. Thanks to its 80' flash lighting it can capture subjects easily in the dark without issue. Bushnell has purposely missed out a few higher-end features on this camera, presumably to drop the price point and compete with another range of models. But for photographers who want a cheap and reliable trail camera with great video and photo specs, this is a sound 'no-frills' option that will do just the job.
This trail camera offers superb value for money which means it's competing with some of the more expensive models that would otherwise be out of its class. It captures Full HD video and shoots 10MP still images, and can react to subject movement faster than 0.5 seconds. It has a lengthy video record time of up to 180 seconds and can trigger up to nine still images when in burst mode.
The Stealth Cam G42NG can sit out in all weathers and even take a beating due to its waterproofing and durable construction. Running on just eight AA batteries it will cost less to maintain and power compared with competition that runs on far more. Files include metadata such as time, date, moon phase and temperature to help better inform the photographer/hunter, giving better accuracy when studying the subject.
A real set-it-and-forget-it type of trail camera, the Spypoint Solar Dark is a device that can be left for long periods because of its own green energy modules. This trail cam is powered by a Lithium-ion battery which is rechargeable, fed by a solar panel on the top of the device. It'll even keep running when the sun's gone behind cloud because it has a second charging option in the form of six AA batteries.
It has a lightning fast trigger speed of 0.07 seconds for speedy wildlife and is studded with 42 super-low-glow LEDs to light subjects in the dark or at night. It can record video for up to 1.5 minutes but only at 720P resolution, this is still detailed enough for most users though. It also offers 12MP stills capture which isn't the best in this round-up but at this price it doesn't pretend to be either.
One thing to note is that the Spypoint Solar Dark has been going in and out of stock recently, especially in the US. If you like the look of it and see it's available, it could be worth snapping it up sooner rather than later.
This tiny trail camera is only five inches in height. Ultra-compact and lightweight, the Spypoint Force-20 Trail Camera boasts some excellent features for its size and price. Though video resolution tops out at 720P it can trigger quickly at 0.7 seconds and captures impressively detailed 20MP stills photographs. It'll light up the foreground at up to 80 feet and can work in temperatures between -30 °C and +50 °C performing well in almost any climate imaginable.
The Force-20 is perfect for photographers or hunters that require something small and compact but at an affordable price, but it should be noted that there is no audio recording to accompany video options.
As you can probably tell by now Spypoint offer a great range of trail cameras. While some are more complex, the Link-Micro-LTE is a no frills cam. Taking its heritage from the previous model it boosts features with the inclusion of a reliable LTE cellular link-up for remote viewing. It should be noted though, that although it's relatively inexpensive it also doesn't shoot video. That means it doesn't have good capacity for tracking subjects' movements in a scene. However, what it doesn't have in moving image capability it more than makes up for in convenience thanks to its cellular connectivity.
Using the Spypoint App owners can manage all camera setting, and use intelligent scouting tools such as the enhanced AI species filters, weather, and mapping integration to refine the tracking process. A quick 0.5 second trigger isn't to be sniffed at for this low price point, either.
How do I choose the best trail camera?
Far from basic point-and-shoot cameras (though there are certainly models that do just this) the more reputable trail camera manufacturers offer devices that come in all shapes and sizes. Making a conscious decision about which features you'll need and others you can live without will stand users in good stead for purchasing the right device. Still image and video resolution (including video frame rate) is important, but so too is cellular connectivity so that you can view or record from remote locations. Good night sight or a dedicated night-time image sensor is essential for capturing subjects in the dark, but some cameras come with an undetectable infrared option, too.
If visiting the location is difficult or likely to disturb shy subjects then solar panels can help prevent the need for battery changes, as they sport rechargeable lithium ions. Strong camouflage or plain earth tones also help trail cameras go undetected by wildlife subjects and security threats if using the camera for this purpose.
Composition can be tricky when setting up a wildlife camera, so if that's important then consider a unit with an LCD built-in so that you can line-up the device before leaving the area. Weather sealing and a durable construction are also important, as are operation temperature ranges if you're planning on using it somewhere extreme.
How to prepare a trail camera
First, you'll need to scent-proof the camera by washing it with water or a field wipe. Some sources suggest leaving it outside for a week before use to completely eliminate odour to ensure it isn't off-putting to wildlife.
Cheap batteries could leave you disappointed as they may not last, so invest in good quality ones. Some trail cameras have their own rechargeable battery; if yours does, make sure it's well charged the night before you plan to use it. Other trail cameras use simple batteries like AA or AAA; if so, make sure you have plenty to hand, ideally rechargeable ones to cut down on waste.
Finally, research which camera mode you want to use. Outdoor Life (opens in new tab) recommends a "three picture burst with a 15-second delay" as it allows for more chance of getting the perfect shot.
Where to install your trail camera
Choose a place that attracts wildlife, be that a field, a wooded area or similar depending on what kind of animal you want to photograph. You want to find somewhere animals feel secure enough to congregate, like corners, water or field edges.
Assess animal behaviour when making your choice, food and water sources are reliable as are the corridors leading up to them. Having multiple cameras set up could help you find the best place, so don't be afraid to experiment.
How to mount your trail camera
First, you may need to buy a mount. The brand that makes your camera may have its own option, or there are many others (see a selection of mounts here (opens in new tab)).
Mount your camera on something rigid – a fence, post, tree or metal stake work well since they won't move around if disturbed. Make sure there are no stray bits of vegetation that could set off your camera unnecessarily by waving around. Finally, be aware of where the sun is rising/setting to avoid a washed out picture.
Are trail cameras good for home security?
Absolutely – everything that makes a trail camera great for spotting a reclusive deer can also make it highly suitable for home security. The fact that trail cameras are designed to be left outdoors means you can mount one outside your home, and rely on the motion trigger to let you know when someone (or something) enters the camera's field of view.
If you're looking to use a trail camera for home security, then we'd say get one with at least HD resolution so you can clearly see what's happening. You also might want to consider getting a camera with cellular capability, so that you can get an instant alert on your phone when the camera detects movement.