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By Jim Schrenkel, Wildlife Biologist
Wildlife photography is a popular outdoor activity. The use of trail cameras adds a whole new dimension to this kind of photography. As with conventional cameras, trail cameras come in many makes and models. Both film and digital types are available, each providing advantages and disadvantages. Digital cameras are fast replacing film cameras because they have some clear advantages.
Film trail cameras have several advantages and disadvantages. They usually cost much less up front. The film can be processed and printed in a one-hour photo shop. There are however, several notable disadvantages. Film can be costly to develop. Film trail cameras hold relatively few pictures so the film would needs to be replaced often. Lastly, unwanted pictures must be developed to get the ones you want.
Digital trail cameras appear to have many more advantages than disadvantages. Some allow the user to review the pictures immediately in the field. Most can use large capacity memory cards capable of holding hundreds of pictures. Not only will digital cameras take still pictures but also short video clips. Another big advantage is the ability to view or delete pictures without wasting film or paying for processing. There are a few disadvantages as well. Digital trail cameras are more costly than their film counterparts. A computer or digital photo printer is needed to print pictures. However, this is not a big problem anymore since most photo stores can print pictures from memory cards.
Trail cameras offer many features, optional as well as standard. They use wide angle lenses to ensure that animals at close range are in the frame. Most units have a laser aiming device to help aim the camera. Cameras are equipped with pyrelectric infrared sensor (PIR) or motion sensors. The range of the PIR is up to 90 feet on some models. Most cameras can be programmed to shoot one or more photos when motion is detected. The length of time from motion detection to picture is very important.
Most models use flash for night and low light conditions. The effective flash distance varies by model and price from point blank to 90 feet. While flashes may startle deer momentarily, they usually don’t disrupt their habits. This is evident of multiple pictures of the same deer and extremely close up shots of curious animals. Some companies are even using night vision technology so there is no flash at all. Many types of battery options are also available. Some models even offer optional solar panels to recharge batteries in the field.
The many uses of the trail camera are up to the users’ imaginations. They can be used strictly for enjoyment, surveying wildlife populations, or possibly to catch would be trespassers. Cameras may be placed along trails, feeding areas and wildlife openings. Set the camera at waist height for close shots, for example as along trails. Set the camera higher for a more panoramic view, such as on the edge of a field or wildlife opening. Cameras generally have tamper resistant housings and come with a locking cable, or can accept a locking device.
Depending on the area you place the camera and the likelihood of theft, a more durable locking device may need to be used. Common sense goes a long way in placing the camera. Avoid use near boundary lines, public access or in areas that you already experience problems.
There are almost as many makes and models of trail cameras as there are automobiles. As with either, the more options and the higher the quality, the price increases. There is a model to fit almost every need and price range. Using trail a camera is enjoyable and rewarding. Chances are you will photograph and possibly see that big elusive buck. Even if you don’t, just knowing he is out there is incentive enough.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through five divisions: Marine Police, Marine Resources, State Parks, State Lands, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.