Trail cameras have been around for some time and like most modern technologies continue to develop and improve. Australian Shooter was given one of the latest offerings from US company Stealth Cam, distributed here by Tasco Australia.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, a trail camera is literally a camera that can be set up along a trail to record images or video of passing wildlife. The unit generally comprises a small camouflaged box that holds the camera, batteries and a sensor to provide a self-contained package that can be set up in a tree, or wherever practical, to automatically operate when triggered by movement. As cameras are designed to blend in with natural surroundings, they’ve also found a home in the security and surveillance field as a cheap option for farmers and landowners to see what’s going on in their absence.
Most trail cameras are digital and record to a typical camera Flash or SD card. After being in the field for the required time the owner removes or downloads the data on the card to view the images and/or video. Some units have remote cable or Wi-Fi connections for downloading or have a display screen on the unit itself.
The model for review was the Stealth Cam GXW Wireless which, as the name suggests, features a complete wireless capacity adding a whole new dynamic in that it allows both images and video to be uploaded directly to your smartphone or similar device. The system works off the international GSM (3G) network, so requires a data SIM card to be installed as with your phone, iPad or tablet and is operated by downloading an App to your favoured device. Once set up you can communicate directly with the camera to upload new images or sync to change settings, from video to still imagery for instance. The key to the system is connectivity – you need a signal but with an ever-expanding mobile network many rural areas now enjoy such coverage.
While I’m not totally ignorant of such matters I’d far from consider myself a ‘tech head’, so I was interested to see how I’d go setting up the camera. To be honest, looking at the instructions and website which lists the various features and settings, it appeared a bit daunting. In the end I figured the Stealth Cam GWX Wireless was no different to your phone or modern camera in that there are plenty of features you may never use or fully understand but they’re there if you wish to delve into the technical side.
To start there are three main items you need that aren’t included at sale, a data SIM card, an SD (memory) card and lots of AA batteries (the camera takes 12). I was able to gain an extra data SIM on my Telstra account which shares my existing phone data allowance for $5 a month, though different plans are available so there’s choice as to how you manage that. The SD card is the standard type you can pick up at a camera or electronics store and I bagged a value pack of good alkaline AA batteries.
There’s a handy quick start video on the Stealth Cam website ‑ basically you download the App on your device, set up an account, make sure the latest firmware is installed from the website then run through a procedure for the cellular network, similar to what might be required when you set up a new mobile phone.
I managed it myself which some might say leaves 98 per cent of our readers in good shape to do the same! If I had any criticism it might be that while instructions, both in the manual and website video adequately cover setting up the camera, there’s not much of anything on how to actually operate it. For instance, where best to mount it, how to aim it, distance and angles, basic operation stuff. It turned out most of this was pretty self-explanatory but I’d have been keen to see more in that area.
The operating settings include both programs and custom modes for how you want it to work. Issues like how many images you need to take over what timeframe when triggered, if in video mode how long it will record and so on. You can select when and how often it uploads to your device, be it instantly, hourly or once or twice a day and you can set what time this happens. Things like image size, which affects how much data you use, can also be set. You can limit data usage to avoid going over your monthly allowance and possibly running up a bill in extreme use cases.
All these settings also affect battery use. If taking lengthy videos and uploading instantly you’ll be chewing through batteries at a rapid rate. Effectively you can select an operating mode that best suits your needs while balancing against battery efficiency. Still on batteries, for extended use or semi-permanent installations the camera has a plug for a cable connection to a 12-volt battery. Stealth Cam even offers a package that includes the camera, cable, rechargeable 12-volt battery and even a small solar panel to keep the battery charged.
The App allows you to connect to more than one camera, so you can have them set up at various locations. You can even name the cameras, say by location, and have this information appear at the bottom of the image. At the same time you can have grid coordinates recorded – each image logs the time, date and temperature the instant the image is taken.
For an extended period I had the camera set up at the farm at the front of my shed on a support post. I thought it would be interesting to capture any wildlife that ventured into the yard and was surprised to find it was triggered every time a vehicle passed my front gate 30-40m away. To conserve batteries I set it to upload images once a day, so each morning for a month I had the Stealth Cam alert appear on my iPad which, when swiped, would select the App and download the previous day’s images. These most commonly provided a record of the comings and goings of vehicles on the access road through my property and while it wasn’t my intention, it was reassuring to have a record of passing activity from the farm and could give peace of mind for those with security concerns.
The camera comes with a strap of generous length to attach it to a tree or post and has provision for a cable lock that, when installed, secures the camera from removal or access to the control panel door.
It seemed it would take a random image of apparently nothing. It took me a while but finally I noticed it wasn’t nothing but a resident magpie that had taken to sitting atop the carport and swooping down to catch insects. On occasions I’d see the whole bird or just a wing tip disappearing off the edge of the image.
Finally, I gave the camera a run on a sapling facing one of my more remote dams and was amazed at the results as over a two-week period it caught the comings and goings of wildlife both native and feral. Pictures showed the morning visits of three little pigs, night time arrivals of a large boar as well as the regular wanderings of a passing fox, wombat, wallaby, kangaroos and birds too numerous to report.
From a hunting prospective a trail camera can be a great tool especially for the time-poor who might not attain the scouting periods in the field they’d like. By setting up the camera along a game trail, dam, feeding area or fence crossing they can monitor movement remotely. You might find your targeted quarry has a routine and passes the camera at a particular time, thus cutting out some of the guesswork as to when best make your stand. From a pest and stock protection aspect the same rings true- you might just recognise that dog visiting your sheep at night.