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What Is a Trail Camera?

A trail camera is a small automated camera in a weatherproof housing that can be left outdoors for extended periods of time to capture passing wildlife on video, or with a still photo. These kinds of cameras are typically used by researchers to monitor wildlife populations, or by hunters looking to see what kinds of animals frequent a specific spot. Photographers can also make use of this same technique though, and we have previously written an article about using a trail camera to research possible wildlife photography locations.

A trail camera mounted to a tree.

Trail cameras use infra-red sensors to detect motion in front of them, and when they do, they will take a photo or a short video. The cameras included in these kinds of cameras are typically low quality compared to a DSLR or even a point and shoot camera. In fact, even a GoPro is of better quality! However, they do have the compensating virtue that they will last for many months on a single set of AA batteries. Whilst the photos you capture won’t be portfolio worthy, they will help you to understand your surroundings.

A trail camera should not be confused with a remote camera. When photographers talk about using a remote camera to photography wildlife, they are typically referring to larger DSLR cameras that are hidden in specialized waterproof cases and triggered using externally places IR beams. Those kinds of setups cost many thousands of dollars, whereas a trail camera can be had for just a few hundred dollars.

A typical trail camera mounted to a tree in the Yukon.