Can security trail cameras get the job done at night?
The clearer the better
Once you have spent the time researching the myriad of home security trail camera models and have picked one based off of your needs and wants, you will want the images, video and audio fed to you as clearly as possible - especially at night.
It’s a common myth that more megapixels is equivalent to better image quality. It is rare for a trail camera to boast more than three true megapixels - the more megapixels listed, the more likely they are interpolated. Interpolated pixels are like a computer software ‘adding in’ or duplicating existing megapixels, rather than the camera itself. This means if a camera boasts 18-megapixels but is using interpolated pixels, it may not be worth the inflated price tag. This certainly rings true for night-time vision too: it is a common misconception that the higher the megapixel count, the more effective at night time shooting the security trail camera will be.
The best way to decide if your image quality is up to standard is to simply look at test images from a certain model, and see if it suits your needs.
Additionally, with wind, animals and other outdoor noises, the night time can be fraught with conflicting audio when you are trying to catch a thief, or get the perfect shot of a critter. Many trail camera devices record audio, so you will want to make sure the audio is up-to-scratch depending on how loud the camera’s night time surroundings will be.
When purchasing a security trail camera (check our our trail camera buyer's guide), it is important to look at the detection range. Detection range dictates what your camera will pick up on from a certain distance, and is a very important consideration before purchase. But did you know that a security trail camera’s daytime and nighttime detection range can vary wildly? Look for the night time detection range if you are intending to use your device mostly in the evening or night.
To flash or not to flash?
The best trail cameras offer one of three main types of flash, which you should consider before making a purchase for a security trail camera intended for use at night time for the following reason.
Classically, trail cameras will use a bright white flash (an LED or incandescent) to capture pictures of a high quality, even in dark surroundings. The quality of flash imagery is great, however you seriously risk losing your surreptitiousness in the process. The flash will go off just like one on your digital camera or phone. In short: an LED or incandescent flash makes it very clear that you have a trail camera hiding somewhere. There are options for a lower level flash, or a ‘low glow’ security trail camera.
The other type of flash is called an “invisible flash” - or infrared (IR) flash. Infrared flash is favoured by hunters, wildlife enthusiasts, and those just looking to protect their home or property, due to its discretion at night. It doesn’t set off any obvious lights, and therefore doesn’t disrupt the surrounding you are capturing, making it the perfect trail camera at night. The overall quality of the image suffers slightly, but in the best security trail cameras, infrared flash is available at an impressive standard.
Below, we list the pros, cons and bottom line for these three types of infrared flash: white flash, low-glow and no-glow.
- Devices with a traditional high-LED flash, or bright white flash, yield the highest quality of image compared to its low and no flash counterparts.
- The bright flash can scare wildlife or perpetrators.
Low or Red Glow
- Low-glow security trail cameras are invisible to humans and most wildlife;
- This type of flash boasts 30% brighter imagery than a no-glow device;
- Out of the three types of flash, low-glow offers the furthest possible detection range;
- Low-glow devices are often cheaper as they require less LED than the alternatives.
- They give off a slight red glow when in use. Occasionally this can alert a human or creature to the camera’s presence.
- No-glow security trail cameras are invisible to humans and most wildlife;
- No-glow devices are often the cheapest of the three, as they require no LED.
- The imagery on no-glow security trail cameras is up to 30% less bright than on its low-glow counterpart;
- An artificial boost in exposure to make up for the lack of flash means sometimes images are distorted.
Trail cameras at night: what flash suits best?
Ultimately, what you intend to use your device for will determine which flash type is right for you.
A bright, white flash is often used by researchers to determine exact markings on creatures. Generally, these are not used in hunting or home security circumstances based on how obvious the device becomes when the flash goes off. A low-glow flash is the perfect choice for a private space like your home or commercial property. You will get high-quality footage that is brighter and more defined - and a little red glow shouldn’t be noticeable by anyone. A no-glow flash is best for extremely dark places, where even a hint of light could throw off critters and vandals alike.
When it comes to using trail cameras at night, there are many things to weigh up - such as clarity of footage, night time detection range and, of course, budget. But perhaps the most important thing to weigh up for night time surveillance is flash type.