I have decided to split off much of my trailcam material from my main web site thomasoneil.com and blog. I fear my friends and relatives get a bit bored if I dive too deep into the details of my trailcam hobby/obsession.
I've been experimenting with trailcams since 2009 but it really got serious in 2011 when I got a Reconyx PC900. One of the very first sequences I captured with the Reconyx within hours of deploying it was elk in Wind Cave National Park in western South Dakota.
The "Joy" in the headline is getting an image like this. The "Frustration" is contending with the design limitations of trail cameras which are marketed primarily to hunters, not photographers. I am an amateur wildlife photographer, not a hunter, so image quality is my primary concern. While image quality has improved during the past decade, it is still crap when compared to a point-and-shoot from the previous decade. For example, I still have a Canon G6, which is a 7.1 megapixel P&S introduced in 2004. Here are the reasons why every commercial trailcam has worse image quality than a 14-year-old G6:
- Trailcams do not autofocus.
- Trailcam lenses aren't nearly as good.
- Trailcam megapixel ratings are intentionally deceitful. The manual for the supposed 12 MP Bushnell Natureview HD Essential says the sensor size is 5 MP. Bushnell discloses this in the tech specs; most manufacturers do not disclose actual sensor size at all as they claim resolution as high as 28 MP. The truth is closer to 4 MP. Reconyx is an exception as they give the resolution for my PC900, considered a high-end camera, as only 3.1 MP.
- Trailcam images are saved as JPG, leaving you almost completely at the mercy of the manufacturer in regard to white balance, sharpening and exposure. Once again Reconyx as a high-end brand allows some adjustments to in-camera settings, but not to the degree provided by the G6. The G6 can shoot RAW images which allows 100% control over white balance and sharpening and much more latitude when making adjustments to contrast and lighting In Photoshop.
So why put up with this frustration? The advantages of trailcams versus my relatively modern Canon 5D Mark III DSLR and 500MM F4 lens are:
- Trailcams allow a close view of the wild critters without spooking them.
- Trailcams are on duty 24 hours a day for months at a time.
- Trailcams don't worry about getting caught in the rain, snow, or even a forest fire.
For the current status of all of my trail cameras, see the page in the right-hand menu.