Trail cameras have become such a ubiquitous piece of hunting gear that it's difficult to remember what life was like before them. They're incredibly useful tools that continue to improve in quality while declining in price. We tested six cameras that sell for less than $300—some far below that mark—and found each unit to be a solid option. However, a couple of them would be standouts at any price. Click through for evaluations plus daytime and nighttime photos from each camera.
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Daytime – Browning Recon Force HD
The Recon Force was also one of the simplest cameras to deploy: Turn it on and it’s ready to capture images. Setting the date/time stamp, choosing modes, setting delays—it was all very straightforward. As you’d expect, the video captured at 1,920×1,080 resolution was rich and vivid on my retina-display Mac Book.
Nighttime – Browning Recon Force HD
The trigger speed was very good. The unit took roughly 1,000 images in one 24-hour period and didn’t seem to miss any opportunity to capture game. This is an excellent camera and just an incredible bargain.
$260; kodiakcamera.com Featuring a built-in Wi-Fi modem, the Kodiak allows for the remote transfer of images without the need for a SIM card or data plan.
Daytime – Comanche Kodiak Series
That feature alone makes the Kodiak one of the most innovative cameras of 2015, and makes it an excellent value despite its being the most expensive cam in our test. The Kodiak captures still images with a max resolution of 12 megapixels. Daytime images were outstanding, with good color and clarity. Nighttime images and flash range were on par with the top units.
Nighttime – Comanche Kodiak Series
The camera boasts 1,280×720 HD video with audio, multi-shot capabilities, and an SD-card cycle option. The Wi-Fi system works with a free app for iOS and Android. Get to within Wi-Fi range of the camera (50 feet with my iPhone 6; Comanche says the range will be “hundreds of feet” once the kinks are worked out) and you can view and download images.
$230; bushnell.com This latest unit in the Bushnell Trophy Cam HD line is arguably the best Trophy Cam yet.
Daytime – Bushnell Trophy Cam HD 8MP
Technically, this is a 2014 model, but it remains available in 2015. It offers an insanely fast trigger speed of 0.2 seconds, along with recovery times of less than a second. Combine that with a revamped passive infrared (PIR) sensor that improves the unit’s coverage area, and you have a camera that recorded a staggering 1,804 images in a 24-hour period—all but five of which included game.
Nighttime – Bushnell Trophy Cam HD 8MP
The list of features is long and varied: 720p HD video, a redesigned latch system, a time-lapse capture mode, and a super-long battery life are among the most notable. The daytime image quality was very good, though the 8-megapixel max image resolution couldn’t compete with others’ in the test. Nighttime images were just average. An exposed wire when the unit is opened causes some durability concerns.
$249; minox.com The German company Minox has earned a reputation as a maker of high-quality, reasonably priced sporting optics. Their first foray in the trail-cam game is the DTC 400 SLIM.
Daytime – Minox DTC 400 SLIM
As you might infer, the unit separates itself from the pack with its physical dimensions—it measures just over an inch in thickness, and the back of the unit is concave to fit snugly against a tree trunk. The unit maxes out at 8 megapixels and captures 720p video.
Nighttime – Minox DTC 400 SLIM
Its trigger speed was decent but not great. The unit can be set to take nine photos per burst. Daytime image quality was good; however, nighttime images were grainy, and the flash range was among the weakest in the test.
$99; wildgameinnovations.com Given its low price and just-6-megapixel camera, I was expecting this unit to be a clunker; but it held its own.
Daytime – Wildgame InnovationsCrush Illusion 6
Its advertised one-second trigger speed seemed to hold true. Images were captured as deer began to enter the frame and continued as expected with the delay set to 20 seconds. The daytime image quality was solid, and after-dark images were acceptable as well.
Nighttime – Wildgame InnovationsCrush Illusion 6
The flash range was very good. The overall build quality is improved, but the short bungee cords that ship with the unit are useless for mounting on any tree trunk thicker than your lower leg.
$200; moultriefeeders.com Recording the fewest number of photos of all units in the test, the M-990i Gen 2 tallied just 57 images over a 24-hour period—nearly 1,300 fewer than the Bushnell. To be fair, the camera was set to delay 30 seconds between images, while most others were set to 20 seconds, but that alone doesn’t explain the performance.
Daytime – Moultrie M-990i Gen 2
The M-990i’s trigger speed was sap-slow, failing to photograph deer until they had been in front of the camera for nearly a minute. It also went for long periods (10 to 20 minutes) with deer feeding in front of it without triggering.
Nighttime – Moultrie M-990i Gen 2
Solid features include multi-shot settings, 1,280p video with sound, and good battery life.
How We Test
Our evaluation took place in southern Michigan late last winter. Daytime temperatures never topped 14 degrees, and overnight readings were well below zero. The cameras were positioned over a food plot that had been baited in compliance with state recreational feeding laws. Secured to a double-trunked tree, each unit was placed in a nearly identical location to ensure accurate results for judging flash range, trigger speed, and overall image quality. Cameras were set to record images at the highest available resolution, with a single image recorded per activation and a 20-second delay (except for the Moultrie unit, which was set to fire after a 30-second delay; its only other sub-minute options were 5 and 10 seconds). Image quality was judged by enlarging each image to examine fine detail. A marker stake was set at 45 feet to evaluate flash range. A Day 6 Outdoors PlotWatcher Pro time-lapse unit ($229; day6outdoors.com) was used to confirm all game activity and evaluate trigger speeds.
Tony Hansen is a contributing writer to Outdoor Life. A Michigan native, he lives in the southern Michigan community where he grew up chasing deer, turkeys, and football-sized smallmouths with the most meaningful catch of his life, his wife, Nichole.