How to Choose the Best Garden Wildlife Camera
Trail cameras are fascinating things that can help reveal a whole world of wildlife to us – right from our back garden.
However, they can also be pretty complicated to understand – especially if you’re new to the world of cameras and don’t know what to look out for. There’s a lot of jargon mixed up with trail cameras that can get confusing.
To help you find the best garden wildlife camera, and get the most out of your money, we’ve put together the following guide so that you can have a better idea of what to look out for.
Trigger speed is very important when it comes to spotting wildlife. This refers to the amount of time between the movement of an animal and the time it takes for the photograph to be taken (or the video to start recording).
A trigger speed that’s too slow will mean you may miss wildlife altogether – by the time the camera has taken a photo, the animal will already have disappeared.
Some of the best trail cams have a trigger speed of approximately 0.1 seconds. Slower cameras may take as long as 10 seconds. It’s recommendable to read reviews from customer’s first-hand experiences – these will often indicate how quickly the camera starts to record, especially if it takes an inconveniently long time.
Trail cams only record for a short amount of time. Often, they record for around 30 seconds but some cameras let you choose how long to record for (commonly between 10 – 90 seconds).
Once the camera stops recording, it will have some ‘recovery time’ before it is able to record again. Generally, this is because it takes time for the machine to save the recorded file.
If the animal is still present after the recovery time, it will set off the camera again. However, if the recovery time is too long, you may miss out on a lot of valuable recording time.
Manufacturers will often state how long the recovery time is on their camera. If not, you may need to contact them in order to get a better understanding of the camera’s specifications.
Like standard cameras, the higher the resolution, the better the quality of your pictures and videos.
There are a few factors worth knowing here, because different cameras use different terminology when talking about resolution, making them initially difficult to compare.
The best wildlife cameras for the garden will record videos with a resolution of 2 – 10MP (megapixels). However, you may also see “1080 pixels” mentioned, along with “HD”, “Full HD” or “4K” – so what do these mean and how can you compare them?
If a camera describes itself as “1080p”, this isn’t referring to the total number of pixels used for recording. “1080” refers to the size of the camera frame. When HD TVs first came out, they had a standard frame of 1920 x 1080 pixels. Therefore, “1080” is often associated with HD quality. If a camera says “1080p” then it will be approximately 2MP.
This is often considered ‘full HD’. A camera that records to a smaller frame size of 720p may be referred to as “HD”. This will have a resolution of approximately 1 megapixel.
Finally, there’s “4K”. When used in most commercially available products (and not high-end cinema equipment) 4K equates to approximately 8MP.
When it comes to wildlife cameras, the resolution of the videos is usually lower than that of the photos. The still photo cameras on wildlife cams tend to be between 12 – 24 megapixels. Generally speaking, you’re unlikely to tell much difference between the two – unless you’re wanting to really enlarge the image or heavily crop it. For most casual wildlife-spotting in the garden, the resolution of photos is not too important and anything above 12 megapixels will be sufficient.
However, it is worth remembering that higher resolution photos will take up more memory. Cameras that take high-resolution photos may need to be fitted with larger SD cards. Some cameras allow you to adjust the resolution of the photo from the device itself, so even if it has a 24 megapixel camera, you may choose to take 10 megapixel photos in order to conserve memory.
For night time images, you’ll require artificial light. Infrared options are the most popular as they won’t scare away the animals – unlike the blinding white flash of a traditional camera!
No-glow LEDs are almost completely unnoticeable to animals, so wildlife is unlikely to get spooked when the lights come on and the camera starts recording.
Low-glow LEDs can give off a slightly red light, and are more likely to be noticed by animals. This could cause them to run away. Cheaper trail cams may be fitted with low-glow LEDs, so make sure you know what you’re buying you make your purchase.
A wildlife camera’s protection against water ingress is measured using the IP (ingress protection) scale.
For example, you may have seen products described as ‘IP66’. The first number relates to how well the product is protected against ingress from solid objects (e.g., dust). The second number relates to how well the product is protected against water ingress.
When it comes to trail cams, you want the second number to be at least ‘6’. This means that water from heavy jets will not be able to get inside the workings of the machine. The second number can go as high as 8, which means that the item is protected from immersion under water (not really necessary for trail cams).
The first number should be at least a ‘5’, which means it is protected from the majority of dust ingress. A ‘6’ means the item is dust tight.
Different wildlife cameras save their media under different file names. Nowadays, for videos, “.mp4” is a good file type to look out for. These files are easy to work with and compatible with a lot of different computers and playback programs.
Some wildlife cameras may still use older file types, such as “.avi” files. These are starting to become a little outdated – they’re not as compatible with all modern computer programs (which may pose problems for viewing the videos) and they can take up more space than “.mp4” files.
Whilst both file types will be able to work well, it helps to be aware of what you’re buying so that it doesn’t cause problems down the line.
Garden Wildlife Camera FAQs
How do you get the best results from a wildlife camera?
Inspect your garden for trails, droppings and footprints and set up the camera to face these areas.
Remember that patience is key. Even if you have to go a few days (or weeks!) without seeing an animal, have faith that you will eventually. It may be that your camera simply needs repositioning.
Remember that the right habitats will attract wildlife. Providing a water source is one of the best ways to attract a range of wildlife to your garden. In the winter, you can put out food for hedgehogs/foxes. Face the camera towards the food, and you may find that you capture a few different animals on the recording (be warned – this can also attract neighbourhood cats!).
How high off the ground should a wildlife camera be?
Trail and wildlife cameras should be mounted at the correct height to ensure optimum viewing. If you’re looking to capture a specific animal, it should be mounted at the height of the target’s chest.
However, if the detection range is large enough, you should be able to spot wildlife even if it’s not mounted at the perfect height.
You should also think about where to mount your garden camera. If you have a water source or feeding area, the camera should be mounted near to these. If you want to capture insects, lure them towards your camera by setting up a food station.
Finally, if you are setting up your camera in the daytime, avoid mounting it facing the sun. When the sun is behind the target, the image won’t be as clear.
How many megapixels do I need for wildlife photography?
Contrary to popular belief, if you’re just keeping an eye on the wildlife as a hobby, you don’t need a ridiculous amount of megapixels. If the camera takes videos of 1080 pixels, that will be plenty. For photos, a camera with between 12-24 megapixels will be sufficient.