Bushnell Trophy Cam

Out in the field, it’s a challenge to remain inconspicuous when photographing wildlife. What if a hidden camera could help you spot unsuspecting species? SIMON BOOTH tests out Bushnell’s Trophy Cam HD

When I was asked to trial the new 2012 Trophy Cam HD from Bushnell I was thrilled. I’ve had my eye on these nifty little devices for a quite while now, but never felt committed enough to spend my hard earned cash on a camera that doesn’t take my full range of Canon lenses; and why would I? That said I can really see the benefit of them, especially since my professional work involves both photography and environmental consultancy. As an ecologist I can see the value of these cameras on a daily basis. We spend great amounts of time surveying for protected species such as badger, otter and water vole. And if anything could prove the presence or absence of a species for a client, then this is the gadget for the job. Similarly as a photographer, I may want to check whether the local fox is in fact the desirable subject responsible for taking the scraps from my garden during the night, as opposed to next doors greedy fat cat. So how does it measure up?

Straight out of the box
The camera looks and feels well constructed in a brown non-reflective hard plastic case. The hinged body has a sturdy feel when opened and contains a weatherproof seal to protect the internal components from the rain or moisture. The retaining clips/fasteners are robust and seal the camera shut very tightly. I was shocked to find that I had to buy 12 AA batteries to get it working when a rechargeable system would surely be better. On this amount of juice, the unit can run for an entire year before new batteries are needed. The camera lens is smaller than I would expect but then rain spots would likely become a problem if it were larger. The rain hood looks insufficient, even for the small lens, as it appears that it may only protect the lens from rain falling straight down. I think a slightly larger hood would improve weather protection. The internal 2.4in colour monitor is adequate for the job but could be larger like the 3in monitors found on DSLRs. The camera functions are fairly intuitive but I did have to use the manual to see how some of the functions could actually benefit me. On reflection, I think the camera does more than it actually needs to, especially in terms of image size, but more on that later.

Ease of use in the field
There are a number of niggles which need addressing and first is the tripod mount. It’s currently on the rear plate, which means you have to swing open the camera on its hinges so it’s facing away from your shooting area while using the function buttons inside. If the mount were on the front panel you could at least frame the shot with the internal monitor instead of relying on the motion indicator light on the front to see if your target area is in range once the camera is shut. As a photographer, this seems a fairly natural thing to expect from a camera. Additionally, if you use a ball and socket type tripod head, then the rubber DC plug cover keeps getting tangled up when the tripod head is screwed in place. However, if unlike me, you are strapping the camera to a tree, then this is not a problem. When I initially set the camera up, I did so just as the light was fading, so the camera wouldn’t be found by anyone, with a view to returning early the next day. The downside of this was I really struggled to see the menu buttons without a head torch, as they are small with the text and buttons awkwardly shown brown on brown? The text and buttons should at least be printed white or better still, illuminated so you can find them in the dark. Even in daylight the menu buttons are not easy to see, especially if you use reading glasses.


 

Performance
The HD Cam comes with a range of operating modes centred around video and stills capture, most notably duration/quality of video and quality/size of still picture. There are other options available with both video and still capture such as coordinates and field scan, which takes random pictures or video at set intervals regardless of the motion sensor, which some might find useful. The time and temperature stamps I found very interesting as they tell you lots about your prey’s movements. The camera has a range of still capture sizes: 3MP, 5MP and 8MP giving you a maximum 10in x 6in print and three video sizes 1280 x 720 (widescreen), 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 taking 20-30fps in the day and 15-20fps at night. The camera has an internal memory but it’s very limited with only 32MB of capacity. However, the camera will take a 32GB SD card, which will then store a maximum of 20,000 images, which is more than enough.

In terms of still picture quality I am a little disappointed and realise now that you would never get a decent image from the camera and to be realistic, you shouldn’t expect more than what you would from a decent camera phone. It fails to freeze motion if your subject is walking by, even during daylight so the subject is often soft and sometimes recorded as a blur. The parts of the image that are static appear to be over sharpened, as though the software is adding too much sharpening. At night I tried to capture our local hedgehog but found that when I got it close enough to make a decent image size, the infrared flash burned out/overexposed the shot. Even reducing the flash output made no difference with small mammals. Therefore you have to settle for small mammals being small in the frame; but at least the Cam picks them up. I can see the camera having much greater appeal in countries where larger mammals are more abundant and then this isn’t such a problem.

Finally, I viewed 5MP and 8MP frames using Photoshop, viewed at 100 per cent, which I felt were both poor by photographic standards. Therefore, as you are unlikely to print any of these shots in large size, there seems little point in using valuable memory card space on the higher file size. When each image is captured it’s given a frame number, which automatically resets to zero after each format. I found this to be irritating as I had to put every card download in different folders on my PC otherwise they needed renaming. An option for continuous numbering would be better in my opinion.

In terms of video, I found this to be the most exciting. The quality, especially at night is still not great for the reasons previously mentioned but the thrill of seeing what’s coming into the garden is not to be understated. The sound is good enough for the job, but don’t expect the sort of HD picture quality that you get on the television. It just isn’t there and I’m not sure it is a necessary addition to the range considering what it achieves, although I haven’t been able to compare the quality to non HD models. The video can run for intervals ranging from five seconds to 60 seconds a time, but I found around the 20 second mark to be a good duration. This is so it was not too short to miss anything and not too long to take up valuable space on the card.

Verdict
The camera is well built and more than adequately does what it is designed to do, and is very useful on a professional and recreational level. The poor picture quality doesn’t really matter when you consider that the purpose of this camera is to show you what is passing through any given area on any given day. The quality of the images and video are more than adequate for this purpose. If you want DSLR quality images to print out and share, then you shouldn’t buy one of these.

Pros
Great to see what is about when you are not around
Excellent build quality and battery life
Good information such as time and temperature
Good quality colour display, but could be larger

Cons
Can’t frame your shot as well as you might like without messing about
Fairly expensive
Menu buttons difficult to see
Tripod mount in the wrong place
Frame counter resets to zero instead of continuous numbering
Not fantastic image quality but more than adequate to see what you capture

Do I want one? Definitely yes

Would I buy one? Probably not

Specification:
• £320.00
• 8 MP full colour resolution
• HD Video – 1280x720 pixels
• 32 low-glow LEDs
• Day/night auto sensor
• External power compatible
• Adjustable PIR (Lo/Med/High) or Auto PIR
• 0.6-second trigger speed
• Programmable trigger interval: 1 sec. to 60 min.
• Multi-image mode: 1-3 images per trigger
• Video length: 1 second to 60 seconds, programmable
• Field Scan 2X with two available time slots so you can monitor dusk and dawn movement
• Temperature range -5° F to 140° F PIR sensor is motion activated out to 45'
• Runs up to one year on one set of batteries
• Adjustable web belt and 1/4-20 socket
• SD card slot
• Weather proof