Best Trail Camera of 2021
The Browning Strike Force Pro XD checks all the boxes; it has an exceptionally fast trigger speed, high resolution, and virtually indestructible camera body. The combination of the adjustable mounting plate and the conveniently placed viewing screen allowed us to achieve the optimum position during setup. While we loved the long-distance detection, we loved the 0.5-second recovery photo speed even more. This meant we didn't lose precious images due to a sluggish camera delay.
While the images were crisp, we did get some motion blur during nighttime testing. However, this is common in trail cameras and was minimal in comparison to the other options we tested. The Strike Force Pro still outperformed the competition in every metric, earning it the top spot in our review.
The T45A packs in some solid features at a steal of a price. You can choose between three modes, then select from a range of customizable options. The camera menu is easy to navigate, while the 2.4 inch LED color viewing screen helps in setup. We also like the fact that you can hit the replay button and scroll through the photos without needing any additional devices. At 16MP, the T45A doesn't offer the highest resolution. However, the images still came out crystal clear the majority of the time with bright coloration.
The one feature we were not keen on was this trail camera is only microSD compatible. MicroSD cards are very, very tiny — about half an inch to be exact — making it incredibly difficult to insert and extract the card from the camera. The small size also means the card is more likely to get lost or easily misplaced. Regardless of the microSD card, we still recommend the T45A.
When it comes to wildlife monitoring, the Browning Strike Force Extreme is at the top of its class. The tough camera body can withstand some serious abuse while blending into a forest setting with a non-cheesy camo pattern. The 80-foot detection range, paired with the 0.6 second recovery time, enables you to pick up more movement at a greater distance. This is a huge plus when it comes to wildlife detection. Whether the camera is in photo or video mode, the images come out crisp and clear.
The one feature we wish the Strike Force Extreme offered was a viewing screen like the Strike Force Pro. The only way to know what you're taking a picture of is to attach the camera via USB cable or insert the SD card into an additional device. Despite this detail, the Strike Force Extreme is an outstanding option for hunters and wildlife researchers.
For those looking to capture nocturnal activity, the GardePro A3 is an excellent place to start. We found the Sony Starlight sensor is sensitive enough to capture a scurrying mouse. Meanwhile, the 0.5 second recovery time enabled us to capture multiple images of a raccoon sneaking around. Additionally, we found video mode to be on par with the photo mode as we captured a bobcat as soon as it entered the frame.
As much as we dig the nighttime detection, the GardePro is one of the more challenging options to set up. This is mostly due to the slick, flat backside of the camera which lacked resistance. In addition, the short and flimsy strap limited options for camera placement. However, if you can find the right surface or set up a post, this should not be a problem.
If you're new to the world of trail cams, we recommend the Meidase SL 122 Pro. This model offers everything you need to get started while simplifying the process with very user-friendly navigation buttons and menus. Along with being easy to use, we liked how crisp the landscape images turned out and how well this trail cam performed during the detection test. The Meidase comes equipped with a 110-degree field of view and a fast trigger speed.
Of course, with a bargain price comes a few drawbacks. We noticed some image distortion when using both the camera and video mode. While the camera is built solid, it's not as indestructible as the Browning trail cams. We also wish the viewing screen was located on the right inside panel so there's no guessing about the positioning of the camera angle. However, we feel these drawbacks are negligible and recommend the Meidase for anyone looking to embrace the wonderful world of trail cameras.
Low-glow trail cameras are a popular option because they let you take better nighttime photos while reducing the chance of spooking wildlife. For those looking for a low-glow model, we recommend the Victure HC 200. This trail camera is equipped with 24 infrared LEDs that enabled us to capture clear footage of a bobcat in video mode without scaring it away. Meanwhile, the trigger speed was fast enough to capture a chipmunk jumping into a bush.
The main drawback of this camera is image quality. At 12MP, we found the photos had a lot of noise, and we encountered more motion blur with the Victure than we did with many of the other options. The lag between photos is also a bummer as it didn't take photos when other cameras did. On the other hand, we did find this camera to be worth the price for the quality.
The more technologically advanced individuals can appreciate the CamPark T80 is Wi-Fi compatible. You'll have to first download an app to your phone, then you can scroll through the images and download them without ever touching the camera. Additionally, you can change camera settings in the app. As with the other CamPark models, the T80 features the same user-friendly operating panel except for higher image quality.
There is a learning curve to using the Wi-Fi feature. It will only work when you are within the detection range of the camera, which is about 40 feet. Of course, you also need a signal for this feature to work, which doesn't do you any good when you're deep in the backcountry. We also noticed the recovery time was more sluggish than other options. All things considered, we recommend this camera for anyone planning on using it within Wi-Fi range.
Compact trail cameras save weight for the long haul, nestle well in tight spaces, and are harder to detect by the human eye. This is precisely where the CamPark Mini T20-1 shines. The T20-1 is so compact it fits in the palm of your hand and yet still monitors the action just as well as its larger counterpart, the T45A. During our testing, we found movement at 80 feet triggered the camera and produced some quality photos.
Of course, with the smaller size came some noticeable shortcomings. The T20-1 does not feature the most sensitive sensor, which makes this option more likely to not pick up on motion. The tiny buttons also make the camera more difficult to set up. Aside from that, the T20-1 is still a great trail cam for those who want decent performance without all the extra bulk.
For stealthy night vision, the Bushnell Trophy Cam features no-glow black LEDs. We dig that this goes undetected so you won't scare away any creatures roaming around. This trail camera has the option of taking photos in HD or 4k and lets you format images to either full or widescreen. Another nifty feature we liked is the field scan option, enabling you to activate the camera in time-lapse mode during specific intervals, even when no movement has been detected.
There's a lot to love about the Trophy Cam, but there's also some stuff we don't love. For instance, there is a thin exposed cable that attaches the battery pack panel to the camera panel. We can easily see this getting damaged, rendering the trail cam useless. We found the user menu to be primitive, and there's a lag in the menu display when switching to setup mode. Another factor is image quality. Depending upon the sun, we found the exposure was off as we often wound up with harsh, dark images. That said, the Bushnell Trophy Cam is a solid trail camera for anyone who wants stealthy night monitoring along with constant home security.
If you're shopping on a budget, you can still get a decent trail camera without breaking the bank. The APEMAN H55 is a good balance between performance and affordability. During testing, we found the trigger speed is fast enough to capture a moving subject when it comes into a range of up to 60 feet. Meanwhile, the placement of the viewing screen on the inside of the right panel was very helpful during setup. This trail camera also has all the menu options you need, along with numerous customization options.
The downside is jerky movement in video mode and motion blur in photo mode. The photos were not as sharp as we would like, and we noticed some issues with proper exposure. The lens angle is also much narrower, so if you are looking for wide formatted images, we would recommend another model like the Meidase. Of course, with a budgeted option comes budget performance. For those who don't need the top-of-the-line model, the APEMAN is still a decent trail camera.
Why You Should Trust Us
Our expert camera tester for this review is Carissa Stanz. Carissa has a bachelor's in film production and is currently pursuing her second degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences from Oregon State University. She is no stranger to cameras or conducting field research. Her most recent field study involved monitoring mammal diversity and occupancy for a non-profit with the help of trail cameras.
We conducted an in-depth side-by-side test to highlight the attributes of each trail camera. With over 100 hours of field time, we sifted through hundreds of photos and videos. We evaluated how well each camera performed during inclement weather and considered all features and product specs. Through our rigorous testing, we became well acquainted with each product. This enabled us to analyze and evaluate each one with a critical eye to deliver you an honest review based on hands-on experience.
Analysis and Test Results
We considered the most important attributes and structured our testing accordingly. Each product was analyzed by five distinct metrics, including durability, performance, image quality, ease of use, and features.
Trail cameras should be durable enough to handle inclement weather and rugged enough to take some abuse. To test durability, we examined the construction and hardiness of the materials, then left the cameras out in the wind, rain, snow, and heat. We then examined each one to see how well they stood up to the harsh conditions. While all of them proved to withstand the elements, some defining differences left some cameras to stand out among the rest.
For instance, the Strike Force Pro and Strike Force Extreme were without a doubt the most bulletproof trail cams we tested. They both feature a tough as nails, rugged camera body that can certainly take a beating out in the wilderness and still function properly. This alone makes both of these excellent options for hunters or wildlife researchers who need a reliable option for the backcountry.
The T45A and the T80 were the next in line with a well-constructed case. While we like the robust latch on the Bushnell, the exposed wire led us to suspect it's only a matter of time before this component gets damaged and leaves us with an inoperable camera. As for the T20-1, this was the only camera that had visible signs of water leaking inside the clamshell case. Coupled with the minimal protection of the camera lens, the T20-1 was more likely to experience damage over time.
To determine how well each trail camera performed, we considered trigger speed, range of motion detection, battery life, image recovery time, and video audio clarity. To test this, we conducted a distance detection test by setting up the cameras at a 3-4 foot height, laid out a 100-foot tape measure, and then walked in front of each camera at 20-foot intervals. We conducted an additional field test by placing the cameras on a remote property for over 100 hours.
Our top two performers were the Strike Force Pro and the Strike Force Extreme. The Strike Force Pro has a lightning-fast trigger speed that picks up on motion like the blink of an eye. Both have an optimum photo recovery time, which gives you a play-by-play photo series of the subject in motion along with long-distance detection.
The GardePro detected motion of up to 80 feet and produced multiple images with minimal lag time. We liked how this trail camera performed at night, as it gave us several shots of a raccoon searching around when other options did not. The Bushnell Trophy Cam was on par with the GardePro as far as distance and photo recovery time. The Victure picked up the motion of a jumping chipmunk but didn't do so well at long distances. We also wished the T45A had a faster recovery time as we found the lag to be more sluggish than some of the other options.
Proper exposure, reduced motion blur, and image resolution were all factors in assessing image quality. Trail cameras that proved to have crisp, clear images with minimal noise and minimal blur excelled. Meanwhile, those that produced sasquatch-like photos were left in the dust. Our favorite contenders were once again the Strike Force Pro and Strike Force Extreme. The Strike Force Pro offers 24MP, which is the highest resolution of any camera we tested. Meanwhile, the Strike Force Extreme pumped out clear images with great exposure. While we did detect some motion blur, they had the least amount out of any of the cameras we tested.
At 20MP, the GardePro proved to produce good quality photos both during the day and night. This makes this trail cam a good option for homeowners wanting to get a glimpse into what is happening around their property at night. Meanwhile, we liked the video and audio quality of the T80, which slightly outperformed its T45A and T20-1 counterparts in this metric. Our least favorite performer was the APEMAN. This trail camera produced the most sasquatch-style images, which perhaps is fitting given the name.
Ease of Setup
For ease of setup, we assessed how easy it was to insert the batteries, pop in the SD card, and navigate the camera menu. Then we determined how much effort it took to set up the camera and achieve the desired angle. Overall, we liked the Strike Force Pro best. This is the only model we tested that includes an additional mounting plate that allows you to easily adjust the camera angle. We also love the position of the viewing screen and the streamlined menu. While other models like the T45A did include mounting accessories, they took more effort to install.
The simple camera menu layout of the GardePro and Meidase are very user-friendly, making these two options great for beginners. We also really liked the operation panel layout of the T80 and T45A. Additionally, both of these options include a colorful viewing screen that allows you to see what you are recording. We only wished the screen was on the opposite panel. This is precisely what we liked about the APEMAN. The viewing screen was conveniently located so you could attach the camera to a tree and achieve the desired angle without having to find the angle first and then attach the camera.
For features, we scrolled through all the menu options to see what each camera offered and took into account product specifications. We looked for any bonus features along with how customizable the settings were. For instance, the T80 offers Wi-Fi compatibility. For anyone using this camera close to home or within a Wi-Fi signal, you can benefit from downloading the photos straight to your phone without needing any additional device.
Some options such as the Bushnell Trophy Cam and Meidase allow you to set up specific time intervals for monitoring. However, our favorite features were a fast trigger speed coupled with minimal recovery photo time. Combining these two features optimizes your chance of capturing all the action, which is where the Strike Force Pro blows the competition out of the water. The one downfall is the more photos you take, the more battery and card space you use.
Choosing a trail camera can be an incredibly daunting experience. All the product specs, customizable features, and range in price require a ton of research. This is why we did all the research and field testing to provide you with all the information you need. We hope you find our results and top picks helpful in picking out which one is best for you.
— Carissa Stanz