BUYER’S GUIDE for CAMERA TRAPS

             HOW TO CHOOSE THE CORRECT CAMERA TRAPS FOR YOUR SPECIFIC NEEDS…?

The Camera Trap market is large, diverse and at times confusing with all different makes and models available. Because we’ve been around since 2007 – we know what works and so only offer proven and reliable products.

Here, we unpack some of the more important camera trap features that will best assist you in choosing the correct make / model for your specific needs. You may even discover a feature you didn’t even know existed. If nothing else, it will make you more knowledgeable on camera traps.

Some of these features are as easy as black and white. For example: a camera trap either comes with a built-in viewing screen to view images and or video clips in the field – or it doesn’t. However, some are more complex to evaluate. A perfect example is resolution. Many manufacturers may list a camera traps’ high mega pixel rating but won’t disclose if this is achieved through software-aided interpolation. If you purchase a camera trap based only on the manufacturer’s claimed mega pixel rating – there’s a good chance you’ll be misled. You might also miss out on a great camera trap whose manufacturer was honest about the true resolution of their product.

Since 2007, we’ve been constantly testing and adding new models (and discontinuing unreliable ones that don’t t meet our own / our clients’ expectations). With so many makes and models to choose from worldwide, it’s comforting to know that the ones we offer are the better of the bunch and have been tested by us and our clients in our harsh conditions. We are Authorised Agents for these makes and models and are certain that what you buy will suite your specific needs. If not, we will happily source it for you from our extensive range of overseas based suppliers.

All units carry a manufacturer’s warranty (1 year) and each camera traps’ detailed features are listed under the product description for each model (PRODUCTS PAGE). We also encourage you to closely examine and compare the actual photos taken by each camera trap provided on our website in our ANNUAL Photo Contest Entries which are also displayed on our website. Finally, we are always available to provide in-depth information via email or phone.

Have fun choosing your camera trap,

Chris & Nicola Pearson
+27 83 5600 555
+27 82 422 0356
info@cameratraps.co.za

FLASH TYPE

This is the first thing to decide on when choosing a camera trap for your needs as the different flash types will affect your night-time footage (everything recorded during daylight hours will be in colour).  The 4 types of flashes are;

  1. STROBE Flash – colour images / video clips during the day & ONLY colour images at night
  2. WHITE LED Flash – colour images / video clips during the day & colour images / video clips at night
  3. INFRARED or RED GLOW Flash – colour images / video clips during the day and black & white images / video clips at night
  4. BLACK or NO GLOW Flash – colour images / video clips during the day and black & white images / video clips at night

 Black flash is the best flash type for security applications and coupled with the cellular feature, these cameras can instantly transmit images (or short video clips) to phones / tablets / e-mails allowing for immediate response to potential threats.

 The camera trap’s built-in flash is only activated when the trap senses there is insufficient light to record an image / video clip – i.e. at night. During the daytime, sunlight usually provides sufficient light so the flash will be rarely used (except in very overcast conditions)

 Before we get much further, let’s highlight some of the key points about each type of flash. When contemplating what type of flash you think you may need, you might like consider the following:

  • Strobe flashes use the most battery power of all the different flash types. A visible bright white flash goes off when these units are triggered which results in colour night time images.
  • Strobe flash camera traps can record colour video clips during the day but can’t record video clips at night – only colour images.
  • White LED flash camera traps CAN record colour video clips during the day AND at night.
  • Infrared / Black Flash flashes use considerably less battery power than strobe flashes (White LED flashes also use minimal power)
  • Infrared / Black Flash flashes are able to recover and fire again much quicker (multiple pics per activation – Burst mode) than strobe flashes (White LED flashes can also fire quickly)
  • Infrared flashes themselves are invisible and don’t spook animals / criminals and can’t be seen unless the subject is looking directly at the flash emitters as the emitters themselves do glow slightly red when the flash is activated.
  • Black flashes themselves are also invisible and don’t spook animals / criminals and can’t be seen – even if the subject is looking directly at the flash emitters as the emitters themselves do not glow slightly red at all) making them completely invisible
  • Infrared / Black & White LED flash units can be prone to image ‘motion blur’

MOTION BLUR – In low light conditions (mostly at night), if a subject is moving briskly past a camera trap is the flash gets activated, the images are often blurred.

 TIP: A way to minimize motion blur is to try position the unit where the subjects may be more stationary, like at a watering hole or a fence crossing. Newer models are coming out with a feature built in to minimize motion blur.

  • The picture quality of strobe and White LED is far superior to infrared / Black Flash. Manufacturers have been hard at work addressing the clarity and resolution of black & white infrared / Black Flash images and as a result have brought out HD (High Definition) models that take clearer night infrared pics / video clips.

Infrared or Black Flash models are recommended in areas where there is hunting / poaching as game tends to be more skittish here and the flash is invisible to wildlife (and humans). If there is a lot of foot traffic / trespassers that occurs in the area where you want to set up a camera trap, then infrared or Black Flash models are recommended as a bright strobe or White LED flash may give the camera’s position away and bring unnecessary attention to it. If this is not an issue for you and you’re looking for good colour picture quality day & night then we would recommend a strobe or White LED flash model.

STROBE   vs.   WHITE LED   vs.   INFRARED   vs.   BLACK FLASH

  1. Strobe Flash model
  • Captures colour images / videos during the day & ONLY colour IMAGES at night
  • Resolution & quality are better
  • Uses more battery power than Infrared / Black Flash / White LED models
  • Not recommended for use with nickel metal hydride (NiMH) rechargeable batteries (all NiMH rechargeable batteries are only 1.2v) – Instead it’s best to use 6v or 12v rechargeable sealed lead-acid (SLA) batteries if the model has an external DC power port
  • Recovery time for next activation is slower than Infrared / Black Flash / White LED models
  • Can spook some game however we can confidently say that wildlife tend to associate the bright flash with lightening
  • Can temporarily deter some animals from entering a camera trap area (however this has been shown to be non-permanent)
  • Can attract unwanted attention (and possible tampering / theft) to camera trap’s location

 

  1. White LED Flash model
  • Captures colour images / videos during the day & colour images / VIDEOS at night
  • Can be prone to image ‘motion blur’
  • Resolution & quality are generally better than Infrared / Black Flash models
  • Night images may be prone to ‘motion blur’
  • Uses the same battery power as Infrared / Black Flash units
  • Battery life is better than strobe flash models and comparable to Infrared / Black Flash models
  • Recovery time for next activation is the same as Infrared / Black Flash models
  • Can spook some game however we can confidently say that wildlife tend to associate the bright flash with lightening
  • Can temporarily deter some animals from entering a camera trap area (however this has been shown to be non-permanent)
  • Can attract unwanted attention (and possible tampering / theft) to camera trap’s location
  1. Infrared or Red Glow Flash model
  • Captures colour images / videos during the day & black and white images / videos at night
  • Can be prone to image ‘motion blur’
  • Infrared flash will not draw the attention to the camera trap unless one were looking directly at the flash emitters as they do glow slightly red only when the flash is activated at night.
  • Nighttime resolution and quality is not as good as Strobe / White LED but new HD (High Definition) models have greatly improved this resolution
  • Requires very little power to operate therefore battery life is better compared to Strobe flash models
  • Recovery time is faster than Strobe flash models
  • Infrared flash doesn’t spook game
  • Infrared flash doesn’t deter animals from entering a camera trap area
  1. Black Flash or No Glow model
  • Captures colour images / videos during the day & black and white images / videos at night
  • Can be prone to image ‘motion blur’
  • Black Flash will not draw the attention to the camera trap at all as the flash emitters DO NOT glow slightly red when the flash is activated at night.
  • Nighttime resolution and quality is not as good as Strobe flash models but new HD (High Definition) models have much improved this resolution
  • Requires very little power to operate therefore battery life is better compared to Strobe flash models
  • Black Flash doesn’t spook game
  • Black Flash doesn’t deter animals from entering a camera trap area
Do Standard Strobe or White LED flashes spook game?
After testing dozens of different camera traps in every setting imaginable, it showed us that in some cases, standard Strobe and White LED flashes did spook some animals. Having said this, it also showed that after time these same animals returned to the area and b accustomed to the bright flash. It also showed that some animals were completely unaffected by the bright flash. In fact, we have seen numerous animals visit a Strobe and White LED camera trap site repeatedly and behave as if they were posing for the camera (our evidence suggests that the animals may associate a bright flash with lightning). However, the fact remains that Strobe and White LED flashes can spook some animals.
  1. IMAGE / VIDEO QUALITY (LENS)

 

During the day, all different flash type models have good clarity and resolution as all the footage recorded is in colour – as the flash does not get used during daylight hours.
At night, Strobe and White LED flash models retain this good clarity and resolution as all the footage recorded is in colour.
At night, infrared (red glow) or Black Flash (no glow) models lose clarity and resolution as all the footage recorded is in black and white.

These two pictures (taken during the day by Black Flash / No Glow models) have excellent clarity (and colour for that matter).

Night photos can be more complicated due to the different flash types that affect the night pictures (explained above – strobe flash / white LED flash infrared or red glow / Black Flash or No glow).  Infrared cameras produce black and white photos like the picture below left, while strobe or white LED flashes produce colour night pictures like the one below right.

  1. DETECTION CIRCUIT (PIR)

The detection circuit of a camera trap is what will actually detect the animal / subject. Camera traps are triggered, based on a combination of heat and motion detected by the built in Passive Infrared (PIR) sensor.

Detection circuits consist of:

  • Detection Zone
  • Trigger Speed
  • Recovery Time

Detection Zone

Every camera trap PIR sensor has a Detection Zone.  A Detection Zone is the area in front of the camera that the PIR sensor is “seeing” or “monitoring.”  The two factors that determine this detection zone are Detection Range and Detection Width.

 

Detection Range

It is important to keep the detection range (distance from the camera trap) in mind when buying and using your camera trap. Most camera traps have a detection distance of about 15-25m.

Long detection ranges are beneficial if you want to cover larger areas but for smaller areas (less than 15m), then long detection ranges can be a limitation potentially causing false triggers from movement like grass / vegetation etc. in the background.

Detection range can also be adversely affected by weather conditions (very hot, cold or rainy conditions) making it challenging for the camera trap to detect the animal’s body heat or distinguish the body heat from the backgrounds.

 

Detection Zone Width

The detection zone width of the PIR sensor is one of the most important properties of a camera trap and plays a major role in how the camera can be used. There really isn’t a perfect detection zone width but in general, wider detection zone widths reduce the chance of animals / subjects being missed. Narrow detection zone widths might miss a few animals / subjects, but those that are detected should be well placed in the centre of the photograph. As a rule of thumb – A narrow detection zone width usually has a faster trigger speed (Useful when camera trapping in dense vegetation or perpendicular to a game path etc.)

 

Trigger Speed

Trigger speed is the time delay the camera takes to shoot a picture once an animal / subject has interrupted the infrared beam within the camera’s detection zone. This delay varies between different models but given the relatively narrow field of view of most camera trap lenses (42 mm), a slower trigger speed isn’t really the best for photographing fast moving animals. Thus, depending on the goals and the target subject, this time delay could be a crucial characteristic to consider. For example, if a camera is set up at a random location for a wildlife monitoring, fast moving animals are likely to pass in front of the camera trap without stopping. In this case, a very reactive camera trap (with a fast trigger speed) would be necessary so it could shoot pictures of the detected animal before it left the camera’s field of view. If the trigger speed is too slow, the camera may frame only a part of the animal or may even take empty pictures (pictures not showing what the beam has detected).

 Units with slower trigger speeds can also be effective e.g. if a camera is installed in front of a bird nest, a bait, waterhole or a lure. Visiting animals are more likely to stay longer (to either depredate / utilise the nest, drink, or interact with the bait) and to trigger more photographs – even if the camera has a relatively long time delay (low reactivity) between activation’s. Using lures to attract large carnivores can also allow a better identification of individuals. This risk of taking empty pictures does not only depend on the speed of the camera in taking a picture; the detection zone as well as the field of view are also primary criteria to consider.

(Use of camera traps for wildlife studies. A review – Franck Trolliet (1), Marie-Claude Huynen (1), Cédric Vermeulen (2), Alain Hambuckers (1) – February 11, 2014)

Recovery Time

Recovery time is the amount of time necessary for the camera to prepare to shoot the next picture after the previous one has been recorded. Given the wide differences in recovery time for different models, this characteristic must be taken into account as it can be a very important aspect depending on your camera trapping goals. A camera able to take numerous pictures within a few seconds (BURST MODE) is very useful when needing to record a complete sequence of a feeding behaviour and to note the number of fruits manipulated etc. or for security purposes when more images is better than fewer. Also, having different views of a species of carnivore / criminal can greatly help in the process of identifying individuals. By contrast, when the aim is only to carry out a diversity census and only one picture per species is needed, a slow recovery time is less of a determining factor.

(Use of camera traps for wildlife studies. A review – Franck Trolliet (1), Marie-Claude Huynen (1), Cédric Vermeulen (2), Alain Hambuckers (1) – February 11, 2014)

 

The Field of View (FOV)

The field of view is the zone covered by the camera lens, and which appears on the pictures. The field of view is generally +/- 50°. The detection zone can vary greatly according to the brand and the model. We thus find models with a detection zone wider than the field of view and models with the detection zone narrower than the field of view.

Where the detection zone is wider than the field of view (Figure 1A), the advantage lies in being better able to capture faster moving animals. The limitation in this case is that the camera is also likely to take more empty pictures when animals enter the detection zone (thus passing through the infrared beam and triggering the camera) but without making it into the field of view.

Where the detection zone is narrower than the field of view (Figure 1B), the detection zone is centred relative to the field of view of the camera, and so the advantage can be seen in gaining well centred pictures. These units usually have faster trigger speeds as well. This can be very useful for the identification of smaller subjects. However, the limitation in this case is that relatively fewer pictures per visit can be shot, as animals are likely to occupy the field of view without crossing the detection zone. As presented in table 1, the detection zone can be described with a given width (angle) and a given distance from the camera at which it will detect an animal. The detection distance of a camera is an important aspect to consider when focusing on animal species of either large or small body mass. Larger animals will be more easily detected at further distances than smaller animals. However, speed of movement seems to be less correlated with detection distance (Rowcliffe et al., 2011).

 

Figure 1 (below). Diagram of the field of view and of the detection zone for two types of camera trap

 

  1. Detection zone wider than the field of view
  2. Detection zone narrower than the field of view
  1. BURST MODE / MULTIPLE PICS PER ACTIVATION

This tells you if certain camera trap models are capable of capturing multiple consecutive images / video clips in a short space of time. The purpose of this feature is to try to capture as much activity during a camera trap triggering.  The classic example of this is the ram chasing a doe scenario.  Please note that not all models use the same technology to achieve this. Some simply take three evenly spaced shots after the first triggering.  Other models disable the time-out function and allow multiple triggers with no time out period.

 

  1. VIDEO CLIPS

This describes whether or not the camera trap is capable of capturing video clips with sound (most units can) and if so lists options to record during the day, at night night and allows you to set the video clip length you desire.  Note: while some camera trap models only offer fixed-length videos, there are others that offer programmable video length. Some newer cameras can also keep recording the clip for as long as it detects a subject in its field. Strobe flash models can only take video clips during the daytime and Infrared and Black flash models can take video clips both during the day & at night. White LED flash models can also take colour video clips at night.

 

  1. BUILT-IN IMAGE VIEWING SCREEN

Some cameras have internal viewing screens that assist with accurate camera setup and picture / video clip review in the field which for some is a great feature.

 

  1. EXTERNAL 6V or 12V DC POWER CAMPATIBLE

This tells us whether a camera trap is equipped with a jack or port to hook up an external SLA battery or solar panel and if so, lists the voltage required. I think this is one of the most valuable features a camera trap can possess. Using an external rechargeable SLA battery can greatly extend the cameras operating time in the field.

 

  1. WHICH BATTERY TYPE TO USE…?

Always use the best batteries you can afford and we would recommend Energizer or Duracell brands.

Never mix battery brands or new and old batteries.

1.5V Alkaline (1.5 volts)

  • These are the normal batteries you can find at most shops.
  • They last fairly long and are reasonably cheap & easy to replace however they are single-use batteries and not environmentally friendly – unless you recycle them.

1.5V Lithium (1.5 volts)

  • More expensive to buy and replace than Alkaline batteries.
  • Have very good power output and last much longer than Alkaline batteries.
  • Single-use batteries and not environmentally friendly – unless you recycle them.

1.2V Rechargeable Nickel–Metal Hydride (NiMH)

  • These are the modern rechargeable batteries.
  • Not really recommended for Strobe flash models (which draw more power when activated at night) as your battery life will be very short (5-6 days).
  • Can be re-charged and re-used, but are expensive to replace when the time arises.
  • Always try get the highest Milliamp Hour (mAh) rating for the battery. The higher the number, the longer it will last in the camera trap.
  • They are only 1.2V whereas Alkaline and Lithium batteries are 1.5V
  • Make sure to use high quality NiMH batteries, or you will run into issues with the batteries not generating enough power.
  • NiMH batteries dis-charge faster than Alkaline and Lithium batteries, even if they aren’t being used.

 

Modern camera traps have reduced their current drain on the unit to such a minimum that it is not uncommon for a set of Alkaline or Lithium batteries to last 10 months or more in a camera trap (depending on how much activity it records). Rechargeable NiMH batteries are also popular for camera traps and are much more environmentally friendly. Rechargeable SLA batteries are an excellent add-on as you are providing the correct voltage to the camera – and it is rechargeable.

 

  1. DO I NEED CELLULAR CAPABILITIES…?

If you are looking for a camera trap that can e-mail / MMS you pictures (video clips can be sent via e-mail too) of its activation’s, then a cellular camera trap may be worth spending that extra bit on.

Cellular camera traps have proved themselves in security and anti-poaching applications. It’s a ‘game-changer’ and allows you to have a pro-active approach to potential threats rather than a previously reactive one!

How Does a Cellular Camera Trap Work?

Each camera is different, however, once the camera is programmed and the correct sim card is activated, the camera will MMS or email you the picture (or video clip) it has taken. Most cameras send the photo roughly 10-20 seconds after a picture / clip is taken (depending on the cell signal strength where the camera trap is located). It can be sent to a number of different email address’ and / or cell phone numbers. 

Cellular camera traps can send pictures / video clips to any device, regardless of the network carrier.

The camera will need the correct programming to know where to send the images. In order for the camera to work, you will need a minimum of 3 bars of service from the desired carrier. Booster antennas are also available to assist in gaining signal strength.

WHY USE A CAMERA TRAP…?

  • Satisfy your curiosity

Since I was young, I have always wanted to know what runs around when I was not there – be it in the bush or even at home. I purchased my first camera trap and immediately set it up. When I went to retrieve it 3 days later – there were 63 photos on it. It was like opening a Christmas present to see what exactly passed by the trap over those 3 days. You can pick up a lot from spoor but a lot gets covered by more recent animal activity – and to get hard evidence of the subjects was like satisfying a curiosity that I had had since a very young age.

  • Discover illusive Animals

It was my third setup however that got me hooked for life. I was standing in a dry riverbed in a game reserve in Limpopo. I had my laptop with me and saw that there were 27 photos on the camera trap’s LCD display. My excitement mounted as I connected the USB cable into the camera trap to begin downloading the pics. This is the pic that got me hooked for life as it’s my favourite animal species and no-one on the reserve had yet managed to get a picture of him – until now. Camera traps are also widely used in the following fields;

  • Security / Anti-poaching & Trespassers
  • Wildlife Research and monitoring
  • Measure Food Lots, Licks & Feeder Success
  • Farm / Game Farm Management / Hunting
  • Track Specific Animals (wildlife management)
  • Pattern Game Behaviour
  • Pest control
  • Learn how to manage your property

This topic is pretty self-explanatory. I have to mention that using camera traps for this purpose was useless until the advent of Infrared & Black Flash units.  With today’s camouflaged Infrared & Black Flash units it’s possible to now place a camera trap without trespassers ever seeing it.