How do Trail Cameras Work?

Trail cameras have recently become an essential piece of outdoors recreation technology. They cover a variety of uses; from hunting to theft detection. What is truly amazing however, is the wide array of available options on the market. No matter what the intended purpose is, there is a camera to fulfill it.

Discerning Factors

Several factors distinguish the different categories of trail cameras, which are sometimes called game cameras. In addition to providing product diversity, these factors help provide a criteria for customer selection. Listed in this section are a few of those features. Although they discern different models of trail cameras from each other, these are basic functions available in most cameras. Many units have a motion detection feature which activates the lens aperture. Each unit has a set detection area, which when entered completes this function. Image resolution and sharpness is also a universal concern. Just like any other camera, trail cameras have to take quality pictures. Therefore, sharpness and pixel count also are factors. Lastly, the ability to, and speed of, lens focus is equally important.


Digital trail cameras function as most digital cameras do. They are self-contained units; complete with night capabilities, power, and data storage. Once an animal, or person, enters the detection zone of the camera a still frame is recorded. The parameters of this detection zone are determined by the manufacturer. Yet, many offer a surprising range depending on the placement of the device. Some units also have a video option, for those that require it. Data retrieval is contingent of physical downloading the images. Many also have night capabilities based on either; infrared, LED, or traditional flash.


These cameras are very similar to digital trail cameras. The main difference is in the medium. A digital camera records a digital picture onto a memory card.. A film camera actually uses traditional film. This film requires development, of course. Due to this lag in retrieval time, this camera is more ideal for nature photography. Many film units still have a motion sensing capability.


In these units, images are digitally captured. However, the data is not stored in the unit itself. Once a picture is taken, it is transmitted to the user’s cell phone. Utilizing the internet and wireless signals, this unit allows for instant image retrieval. The unit itself requires the use of a SIM card, like a smart phone. This means that a data package is required for its use. Additionally, good signal at the units location is must.

Laser Aim

Again the principals of digital photography apply to this model. However, the main distinction is the laser guided aim. The user can use this to control the area in the detection zone that the lens should focus on. This not only allows for great control, it makes better pictures.

Strobe Flash

Often the goal of a trail or game camera is stealth. This is the ideal behind the strobe flash camera. When the detection zone is activated, a small flash is emitted. The speed of the flash allows for the user to maintain secrecy. In cases where the unit is used for theft detection, the flash can serve as a warning to potential intruders. However, this warning could also ward of intended photography subjects.

Wireless Activated

One unit that is great for theft detection is the wireless activated trail camera. Once the image is taken it is transmitted through a wireless network. The unit can be linked to any desired receiving network or device. However, it must be specifically linked to permit transmission and receipt. Signal availability and strength factor into the use of this unit. In wilderness areas, function is impaired.


Many trail cameras are used in low light or darkness. In this case users may utilize an infrared feature. Sensors in these devices activate when assistance is needed. Once a picture is taken an infrared light is emitted which provides light for the exposure. Unlike traditional white flash, infrared allows for secrecy. Depending on the specific unit, the infrared light may be either red or white. Usually this difference does not affect picture quality. However, these images are colored in a slightly tinted shade of either green, red, or white.

Sound Producing

Often times the purpose of trail cameras are to record wildlife. Either for sport or research, some users want animals to approach the camera. Sound producing units store recordings of animal noise and calls. Later these can be selection for playback. Based upon the sound selection, animals will either be attracted or repulsed by the din. Storage of the sound is digital, as is the image. Some units can be remotely activated. Others are triggered with a motion sensor or timer.

Security Cameras

One of the uses of trail cameras is security. Sportsmen use them to keep an eye over their favorite hunting spot. Some maintain the security of remote cabins and camping locations. Traditional security cameras often can be used for these purposes as well. These camera are connected to a computer system, either locally or wirelessly. Data can be stored digitally using USB or flash storage. Depending on the computer system used, the data can also be transmitted to another location. Certain legalities do apply to the use of cameras, but this mainly applies to restrooms and other private spaces.

In Closing

Trail and game cameras come in a plethora of styles. These styles reflect the varied uses of these devices. Some units have been used for scientific research. Utilizing a hands off approach to observing animals in the wild. Many people use them for security purposes of some type. Whether protecting property from theft, or from animal damage. However, the primary use is still sport and game hunting.

To these ends, manufacturers of trail and game cameras offer many features. Many of the differences center on data storage and retrieval. Depending on the location of placement, retrieval can be instantaneous. However, other users may find the traditional way just as useful for their needs.