How Do Trail Cameras Work? The Ultimate Guide

how do trail cameras work


Nowadays, trail cameras are a crucial part of hunting technology, and there are many important reasons why.

First of all, trail cameras cover a wide range of uses – from theft detection to hunting.

Secondly, there are tons of trail camera options available on the market these days, making them essential for hunters in every price range.

Regardless of your needs, a solid trail camera will improve your game hunting exponentially.

But how do trail cameras work? Today, we are going to take a look at how trail cameras work, and other exciting information about this revolutionary technology.

3 Most Critical Specifications of Trail Cameras

With a wide range of trail cameras available these days, it’s easy to choose the “wrong” one.

The “wrong” trail camera might record empty pictures, or pictures of the deer right in front of the lens of the camera, or simply catch the back of that deer.

Here are three factors that will help you choose a trail camera that will record all important moments, and will further explain how trail cameras work.

1. Recovery Rate

trail cameras that send pictures to your phone

The recovery rate is the time when the camera takes a break after taking a picture to get ready for capturing another picture.

If this break is too long – let’s say a minute – chances are, you might miss an important picture.

Modern trail cameras feature video mode that doesn’t need quick recovery time, though. Most of them allow users to set the interval and video length manually.

A lot of trail cameras feature a burst mode, which is developed for still images.

Once triggered, the camera takes 6 to 8 pictures in rapid succession.

2. Detection Zone

Having a trigger speed that’s sub one second is great.

However, the detection zone doesn’t trigger the camera to capture an image if it’s too narrow.

The cone-shaped area in front of the camera is called the detection zone, in which the PIR (passive infrared) sensor detects the “heat in motion.”

Many detection cones are short and wide, others are narrow and long. It greatly depends on the location and area that should be covered.

3. Trigger Speed

Nowadays trail camera manufacturers use trigger speed as a powerful marketing tool that helps to attract more and more attention to their trail cameras.

What is trigger speed?

It’s the time needed for the PIR sensor to spot “heat in motion” within the space, transferring an electronic pulse to the trail camera picture sensor so that it could open and close the shutter, capturing a picture and saving it on the SD card.

Many of the latest trail camera models feature a trigger speed of one second or less.

If you need to cover a trailhead, choose a trail camera with the fastest trigger speed possible.

It’s not necessary when you’re going to set your camera on the field or other open areas.

5 Factors to Consider When Buying a Trail Camera

how do trail cameras work?

Trail cameras come in many different styles and boast a variety of uses, depending on what exactly you are looking for.

A lot of the differences focus on retrieval and data storage.

Some people prefer instant retrieval, while others are okay with the traditional way of retrieving pictures through manual download.

Anyway, there are 5 factors that you should consider before you pay for your chosen trail camera.

1. Viewing Screen & Setup

Does the trail camera have an internal viewing screen? Is it hard to set up? If it’s too hard to set up, you might have trouble using it.

Otherwise, you will need to download send the photos wirelessly to your computer or phone.

2. Picture Quality

This goes without saying, but some manufacturers pay for ads promoting their trail cameras, and they are shown being able to take top-quality images.

In reality, some trail cameras have poor picture quality.

Ask the seller to show you sample pictures to see the quality of them, and be reasonable with what quality of pictures you actually need.

If you are a casual hunter, you may just need 5 MP photos, and thus do not need to spend the extra money to get 20 MP, crystal-clear picture.

3. Infrared emitters

Does a trail camera have a red glow infrared flash? Does it feature an undetectable ‘no glow’ option?

You are definitely going to want some of these features so you can track your prey at night.

Fortunately, many trail cameras that are manufactured these days have these features, but definitely double check!

4. Battery

How long does the trail camera’s battery last? If the power of the battery is low it affects the PIR sensor effectiveness.

It means more “false triggers” and poor detection range.

Cold weather can also decrease the camera’s battery life. Check out what temperature ranges and how long the battery can last.

9 Types of Trail Cameras Work and How They Work

how do trail cameras work in t

There are at least nine types of trail cameras to choose from.

Almost all of these cameras have their own features, advantages, and disadvantages, so do your own research and figure out what is best for you.

1. Digital Trail cameras

These work as traditional digital cameras do. Complete with data storage, power, and night capabilities, digital trail cameras are self-contained units.

A still frame is recorded as soon as a person or an animal will be around the camera’s detection zone.

This detection zone’s parameters are set by the trail camera manufacturer.

Depending on where the camera is placed, there are some detection zone’s parameters that you can change. Some digital trail cameras have a video option.

Data retrieval depends on physical downloading the pictures. Some digital trail cameras have night vision capabilities, featuring either traditional, LED, or infrared flash.

2. Cellular Trail Cameras

Cellular trail cameras capture pictures digitally, but those pictures aren’t stored on the camera’s memory card.

Instead, as soon as an image is captured, you’ll receive it on your phone right away since it is integrated with a cellular network.

This means you do not have to go to the physical location of the trail camera to get updates, which is incredibly powerful.

However, these cameras do require the use of a data package and a SIM card, though, the former of which usually requires a monthly data plan like a regular cell phone.

Moreover, excellent signal strength at the camera’s location is also important.

3. Film Trail Cameras

a hunter going to retrieve his film trail camera
A deer hunter heading into the woods, perhaps to retrieve his trail camera.

Film trail cameras are similar to the features of digital trail cameras.

There’s a slight difference, though.

Digital trail cameras record digital images onto a memory card, while film trail cameras use traditional film, which needs development.

Trail cameras that use film are definitely old school, but there is a charm to this classic style.

Some film cameras boast motion-sensing capabilities, though, in our opinion, these are definitely best for nature photography and not hunting.

4. Strobe Flash Trail Cameras

Strobe flash cameras are perfect for security purposes, although many are used by hunters for game and for monitoring their property.

With a strobe flash trail camera, a small, white flash is emitted once something has entered the detection zone.

If you’re using a strobe flash camera to detect theft, the flash serves as a warning to a theft.

Unfortunately, it can also scare away game, but because of the bright flash, they are generally able to take quality night shots.

5. Laser Aim Trail Cameras

Laser aim trail cameras function similarly to digital ones. The laser-guided aim is the biggest difference, though.

This feature allows the user to “aim” the camera, thus giving you complete control of the area.

Increased control, of course, leads to better quality photographs.

6. Infrared Trail Cameras

Many trail cameras function in darkness or low light.

However, sometimes these images aren’t clear, and it can be difficult to discern how many animals are in the shot.

This is where infrared trail cameras succeed.

Once the detection area is activated, sensors in infrared trail cameras turn on and start taking pictures.

The camera emits an infrared light that ensures every animal in the shot is captured. Infrared flash allows for secrecy and does not disturb the animals, unlike traditional white flashes.

The infrared light can be either white or red, depending on the model.

Generally, the infrared flash does not affect the quality of the images. But in some cases, some images might be slightly colored in a bit tinted shade of white, red, or green.

7. Wireless Activated Trail Cameras

Wireless activated trail cameras are perfect for detecting thefts.

Once the picture is captured, it’s sent through a wireless network.

You can link your wireless activated trail camera to any device you want, but it needs to be able to receive transmissions.

The strength factor and signal availability are prominent in this camera.

The function can be impaired in the wilderness areas, which is why wireless trail cameras aren’t as popular as cellular ones.

8. Security Cameras

Security is one of the various uses of the modern trail camera. Some use trail cameras to monitor the security of camping locations and remote cabins.

Security cameras are linked to a computer system – be it wirelessly or locally.

Pictures can be stored digitally with the help of flash storage or USB.

Pictures can be sent to another location, albeit it greatly depends on the security camera system you use.

9. Sound Producing/Recording Trail Cameras

If you want to record more than just standard trail camera photos, purchasing a sound recording trail camera is an amazing choice.

This type of trail camera stores the recordings of animal calls and noise so you can listen to them later.

Some cameras actually have the ability to produce sounds, which can lure in deer and other animals like traditional deer calls.

Based upon the sound selection, animals will be either repulsed or attracted by the sound. The pictures and sound are both produced digitally.

Some sound-producing trail cameras can be activated remotely while others must be activated with a timer or motion sensor.


If you are ready to take your hunting to the next level, invest in a trail camera that will meet all of your needs.

With a variety of new models appearing all of the time, there has never been a better time to invest in a quality trail camera.

We hope you have enjoyed this article, and we hope we have answered the question of “how do trail cameras work?” and which type of trail camera is right for you.

Looking for a model suggestion? Check out our article on the best wireless trail cameras.