Trail cameras are durable, motion-activated devices designed to capture pictures or videos of wildlife. They are often referred to as hunting cameras or game cameras because of their popularity among game hunters; however, they can also be used as security cameras at your cabin, or to keep an eye on what’s creeping around your property when you’re not looking.
Not much bigger than a cell phone, Active Junky mounted seven of the best trail cameras and tested each for image quality, detection accuracy, and important design features. Here are our recommendations for the best trail cameras under $200. And don’t forget to sign up for Active Junky for exclusive deals and cashback on your gear purchases.
Trail Camera Brands Reviewed
- Stealth Cam
How to Choose the Best Trail Camera
A trail camera is made up of a motion detector and a digital camera, using passive infrared (IR) technology to sense movement that then triggers the camera to take a picture or begin video recording. Here are some trail camera basics to keep in mind:
The trail cameras we tested have a resolution of between 8 and 16 megapixels and a high-definition video resolution of either 720p or 1080p. However, these numbers aren’t the only factor that affects image quality. Other important factors include color and depth for daytime images, and brightness, clarity and contrast for nighttime images.
The quality of a nighttime image is affected by the camera’s flash type. If you want a flash that won’t alert the animal, you’ll want a camera with red glow, low glow or no glow. Red glow flash does emit a red light, but it’s only noticeable when looking directly at the camera.
White flash cameras are the only trail cameras capable of capturing color pictures or video at night. White flash can potentially scare an animal away from the detection area, so the most common use for a white flash would be for security purposes or if you want to take pictures or video of animals for purposes other than hunting.
The detection zone is an important consideration in choosing where to place your camera, and is a combination of two measurements: the camera’s detection range (the maximum distance at which movement triggers the camera) and its angle of detection (the maximum angle at which movement triggers the camera).
It’s important to pay attention to the angle of both camera and lens. If subjects are detected within a 55-degree field of view and the lens is only capable of capturing images within a 45-degree field of view, you may end up with pictures with nothing in the frame. We found a difference of 10 degrees or more in lens angle versus detection angle in about half the cameras in our test.
Trigger and Recovery Speed
Speed refers to trigger time and recovery time. Trigger time is how long it takes from the moment motion is detected until the photo is taken or video begins. Recovery time is how long it takes for the camera to be ready again after a photo is taken. We would consider an excellent trigger speed to be less than 0.5 seconds. A recovery speed of more than one second will result in fewer images, especially if the subject is moving quickly through the detection zone.
Trail cameras were evaluated against five attributes, and testers selected one key attribute for each model tested, listed in each camera review below.
Image Quality: All cameras we tested have a resolution of between 8 and 16 megapixels and a high-definition video resolution of either 720p or 1080p. Other factors also affect picture quality, such as flash options.
Detection Zone: This is comprised of the detection range (maximum distance at which movement triggers the camera) and detection angle (the maximum angle at which movement triggers the camera).
Speed: Considering both trigger speed and recovery speed. A great trigger speed is under 0.5 seconds, and a recovery speed of over a minute is slow.
Design: Not only should the case be durable, but it must also be small and inconspicuous to wildlife and people walking by. We also considered battery capacity and efficiency.
Features: This includes things like previewing screen, solar panel, video capabilities and any other addition that makes the camera stand out.
The Best Trail Camera of 2017
The Moultrie M40 is a compact trail camera with a fast and efficient detection circuit that produced the highest quality images in our reviews. The impressive images, along with the camera’s durable design and solid feature set, made it an easy decision for testers to name the Moultrie M40 the best trail camera.
Pros: This 16MP camera produced the best images in all aspects of our testing. The Moultrie M40 has a faster-than-average trigger time of 0.3 seconds and recovery time of 1 second. With a detection angle of 55 degrees, this was the only camera we tested that consistently triggered at more than 80 feet away and has a flash range of 100 feet. Best of all, the M40 comes with an affordable price tag.
Cons: There is no preview screen to help with positioning, and one big downfall of the detection circuit of this game camera was the noticeable disparity between lens angle and detection angle.
Bottom Line: Moultrie is one of the most respected brands in the trail camera industry, and the M40 is a perfect example of why. The 16MP camera is also capable of 1080p video recording, and it captured the best images in our test.
Best for: Professionals and first time buyers of trail cameras alike looking for the best image quality
Key Attribute: Image Quality
Fastest Trail Camera
Have you ever seen a trail camera with a solar panel attached? The Spypoint Solar’s innovative design makes it possible to leave this camera outside for, potentially, years without need to change batteries. This camera also has the fastest detection circuit of any game camera currently being produced.
Pros: The Spypoint Solar excelled in our daytime testing. It captured quality images at a range of up to 60 feet away with good contrast and depth present in all the images we captured. And all with a trigger time of 0.07 seconds—the fastest trail camera we reviewed. The built-in solar panel means this camera could stay mounted for years without needing to change batteries.
Cons: The 60-foot detection range is short compared to other cameras in this price range.
Bottom Line: The unique features, like potentially unlimited battery life and the fastest detection circuit we measured, make this a great buy for both newcomers and someone upgrading their current trail camera.
Best for: Those who want a lightning-fast camera and don’t require a range of over 60 feet
Key Attribute: Features
Browning Recon Force Platinum
Most Durable Trail Camera
The Browning Recon Force Platinum has all the features you would expect for a camera costing less than $200, as well as some unique features like 1080 HD video quality, smart IR video and SD card management. And it’s ultra-durable—we touched every button and opened the front cover and battery tray multiple times to test durability. This trail camera is built like a tank.
Pros: This is the most durable trail camera we tested and was the only one we reviewed that had a metal tree mount instead of plastic. The 10MP camera captured vivid images full of bright color both day and night. While we saw a small amount of graininess when we zoomed in, it was better than most. The video capabilities were among the best in our test, and we were able to capture images at a range of 80 feet away on an overcast day, giving it the second farthest detection range in our test.
Cons: The 1.4-second recovery speed is one of the slowest in our lineup and makes it hard to capture multiple images of wildlife that are moving quickly through the detection zone.
Bottom Line: The Browning Recon Force Platinum is the most durable design of all the game cameras we tested. That durable design is coupled with excellent image quality and exclusive features like Smart IR video technology to make this one of the best trail cameras you can buy.
Best for: Those who need a durable trail cam that also takes quality photos and video
Key Attribute: Design
The Spypoint Force-10 has one of the most compact designs of trail camera we tested and has one of the fastest detection circuits on the market. The sub one second trigger speed is no longer a surprise for an entry level trail cam, but the 0.5 second recovery speed definitely is.
Pros: The Spypoint Force-10 has the second fastest detection circuit of the cameras we tested. One of the unique design features of this trail camera is the removable mounting bracket, which makes it easy to remove and collect the SD card. A preview screen make it easy to quickly check on what is moving through your detection zone.
Cons: The nighttime images were plentiful because of the fast detection circuit, but were blurry compared to other cameras in our test. It is also one of the few cameras we tested that doesn’t record audio along with video.
Bottom Line: The Force-10 adds an impressive feature set to a fast detection circuit to make this a good value in the world of trail cameras. If you’re looking to purchase a game camera for less than $100, and don’t need audio with your video recordings, this is your best option.
Best for: Those looking for value but still having one of the fastest trail cameras
Key Attribute: Design
Browning Strike Force HD Elite
Browning has stuffed some unique technology into this ultra-compact and durable trail camera. The camouflage exterior and pint-sized design will be easy to hide from wildlife and can handle extended periods of time in harsh weather conditions.
Pros: This trail camera is the smallest and one of the most durable camera we tested, starting with the hinged latch for the front cover. You will probably wear the paint off the cover from opening and closing it before this latch breaks. The Browning Strike Force Elite also includes SD card management options like the ability to overwrite the oldest file. One of the unique features of this game camera is the smart IR technology for daytime video. This feature allows the camera to remain recording HD video with audio as long as there is a subject moving around in the detection zone.
Cons: The daytime detection range is below average, and the night time detection range is only 50 feet, which is less than most other game cameras we reviewed.
Bottom Line: If you plan on placing your trail camera in a location that doesn’t necessitate the detection zone to be further than 50 feet, this is a good option. This compact and durable design should last even the most demanding trail camera user a long time.
Best for: Daytime video and nighttime photos within a 50-foot range; harsher conditions when durability matters
Key Attribute: Design
The Moultrie A30 is one of the most durable trail cameras on the market and has a fast trigger and recovery speed. Its compact design houses a high quality 12MP camera that is easy to setup and allows for video and photo, as well as time lapse and PIR (passive infrared) detection modes.
Pros: A 60-foot detection range is sufficient for most users’ needs, and the image quality inside that detection range was the best of all the cameras under $100. The backlight screen and buttons make navigating the setup process easy in low-light situations. The latch that locks the front cover is well designed – we opened and closed the cameras more than 40 times in the course of our testing, and there was never a concern over this Moultrie camera’s durability.
Cons: Testers found that the A30 had the largest disparity between lens angle and detection angle of game cameras we reviewed, which means the detection circuit may be triggered before the subject is within range of the lens. It also does not record audio with video.
Bottom Line: This is the best trail camera choice if you’re looking to purchase multiple cameras to monitor a piece of property because of its durability and lower price tag.
Best for: Cost-effective monitoring or pairing multiple units together
Key Attribute: Design
Stealth Cam G30
The Stealth Cam G30’s design is both durable and easy to use, and when you add a modest price point to those design features, you get a solid options for your first trail camera purchase.
Pros: Of all the game cameras we tested, this was the easiest to set up. The Stealth Cam G30 has a detection angle of 50 degrees and a lens capable of capturing images at 44 degrees, which is the best ratio of detection versus lens angle of all the cameras we tested. It has a bank of low glow infrared LEDs that can illuminate subjects up to 80 feet away at night.
Cons: The recovery speed of the detection circuit is the slowest of the cameras we tested. While most cameras have an average recovery speed of around one second, the G30 took between five to six seconds. Its image quality was also less than many others, having only 8MP.
Bottom Line: The Stealth Cam G30 didn’t rank among the best in our test for image quality. However, its modest price point, good build quality, and user-friendly controls make it an attractive option if you want to spend around $100 on your trail camera purchase.
Best for: A first-time trail camera with its low price point and intuitiveness
Key Attribute: Features