How Does a Trail Camera Work

Have you come across trail cameras? These cameras were primarily designed for viewing wildlife and for hunting. Even though hunting is not that common today, the popularity of these cameras did not fall behind.

Trail cameras have significantly developed over the past couple of decades. They have become the perfect companion for nature photographers and wildlife enthusiasts to view wildlife and collect data on them while being sneaky simultaneously.

I was not a frequent user of trail cameras until 3-4 years ago when my cousin asked me to join him in a wildlife photography session. Since then, I have been on multiple adventures with a trail camera and have loved using them thoroughly. Even though I mostly accompanied my cousin, I also enjoyed many solo sessions.

trail camera

But, I have observed that many people do not precisely know what trail cameras are and how they work. Hence, I came up with this article where you will learn about trail cameras in detail and their functions.

Want to know the proper answer to the question – how does a trail camera work? Let’s start without any further ado.

What are trail cameras?

Let us start from the basics before answering ‘how does a trail camera work?’. Trail cameras are also known as remote cameras or camera traps. These devices use infrared technology to monitor and track wildlife creatures roaming freely in their habitat.

When capturing a moving animal, it is not easy to do manually if you want to capture each detail. Hence, trail cameras come in handy in these scenarios because you can mount them in an appropriate location, after which they will keep recording and taking photographs without any manual intervention.

These cameras are appropriate for taking wildlife photographs because they are weatherproof, and you can carry them around even in harsh conditions. The lightning speed with which trail cameras capture photos is its specialty. Plus, the stealth factor is remarkable.

what are trail cameras

And it’s not just about clicking images; trail cameras can also record videos, even in time-lapse. The storage options are not limited either, and you can opt for wireless storage or even an SD card.

However, the setup is the key here. And depending on the type of environment you are shooting in, the setup has to be appropriate.

Types of trail cameras

Trail cameras are categorized into two types: Cellular and non-cellular (traditional) trail cameras. Let me cover a little bit about each to make you understand better.

Non-cellular (traditional) trail cameras

This type of camera clicks a picture every time it detects motion. And it stores the images in a memory card for you to access later. Some of these traditional cameras also allow the recording of brief videos to help you understand and analyze the behavior of any particular wildlife creature in its habitat.

non cellular

If you are worried about the budget, you may like to choose traditional trail cameras as they are comparatively cheaper than cellular trail cameras. But the only obstacle is that whenever you want to view the pictures, you must retrieve the camera and check out the SD card.

There is one more issue where you will have to get an SD card reader if you want access to those pictures and videos on your phone.

Cellular trail cameras

These cameras arrived late in around late 2019. And they work like a traditional camera, capturing a picture when the sensor detects motion. And then, those images are stored on a memory card.

cellular trail cameras

So what is the difference between cellular and traditional cameras? It is the ease of use and convenience you get with them. Using a cellular trail camera, you can receive the clicked images via email or text whenever and wherever you want.

This is done with the help of data connection and the internet, but I especially like this type of camera as they make it easier to view photos and videos easily on your phone and your laptop. You can also modify the settings of the camera using your phone in some of the models.

But is this feature worth it? Yes, because you do not always have to check or unmount your camera, as you can check the videos on your phone in the middle of a hectic schedule. Not everyone may enjoy this type of camera, but the cellular trail camera is another excellent option for homeowners who want to keep a constant on their property.

How does a trail camera work?

Now let me come to one of the most vital sections in this article and answer the question- ‘how does a trail camera work?’ As already mentioned above, trail cameras use infrared technology to function. But saying only this will not suffice to understand how these devices work.

Back when wildlife enthusiasts wanted to capture any creature in motion, they used to set up a string across a trail. And when this string tripped, it triggered a clock. That same concept is still being used in modern trail cameras today.

how does a trail camera work

Trail cameras typically have a rugged body and have been designed mainly for use in the wild. The detection field in these cameras is approximately 50-100 feet, and I love the picture resolution when the weather is nice and sunny.

However, trail cameras need the help of a few components to do their job correctly. First is the detection circuit, batteries, infrared emitters, a flash, and a viewing screen.

To illustrate how a trail camera works, imagine a trail area or meadow where any animal usually feeds or spends time.

Now, if you mount your trail camera that overlooks this area, it will act like an extra set of eyes and ears. And when any living creature steps in front of the camera, the motion sensors will detect it immediately and click a series of images for you to access later.

Sometimes the creature can pass by your camera in a fraction of a second. Hence, the faster the motion sensor and trigger, the better your images will turn out.

What are the main components of a trail camera?

Trail cameras need support from a few components to work in the best way possible. Each of these components has its role to play, and your trail camera will not be able to do anything without the presence of these. Let’s discuss the components in detail to understand their function better.

Motion sensor

How does a trail camera work? All trail cameras have a motion sensor that helps detect movement and heat. If you are into wildlife photography, purchasing a trail camera that works fast in capturing the footage from its field of view will be better.

Wild animals do not have a particular pattern for movement, and your camera sensor needs to be super fast to capture any activity as soon as it occurs.

Good-quality trail cameras feature a fast sensor which takes significantly less time to take a shot and then get ready for the next one. A wide variety of trail cameras are available on the market featuring different ranges. So how to choose the best range for you? That will depend on your requirements and the number of cameras used. Even the angle has a significant role to play here.

I recommend trying out the trail camera before purchasing so you know how the sensor and trigger work and whether they are fast enough.

Infrared emitters

The primary objective of this component is to work on the quality of images when the camera is operating in low light conditions, like at night. These emitters let out a slight glow, sufficient enough for capturing images.

The stealth factor is the specialty of using trail cameras. And when the quality of the infrared emitters is good, your camera will be better at stealth. This factor is vital for clicking wildlife pictures, as even the slightest sound can scare them away, and you can miss your shot.

infrared emitters

However, infrared cameras have a slight disadvantage as well. They only support monochrome images. And if the animal is in motion, it can lead to slightly blurry pictures. Trail cameras are getting new updates, and today you can find LED-mounted trail cameras which support colored pictures even at night.


How does a trail camera work when it needs power? Batteries are an essential component of any trail camera. And the battery life is critical in these cameras. When you are in the middle of the woods trying to capture gorgeous shots of wildlife creatures, you will not come across plugs to charge your camera.


Hence, most trail cameras include rechargeable batteries. Plus, they are not expensive at all and are eco-friendly. The battery life is essential because you do not want the camera to die in the middle of the forest, primarily when you have long shooting sessions.

Trail cameras typically use AA or AAA batteries. And some of them even last you for a year, even if you use a variety of settings and features.

Lens and SD card

Irrespective of your camera type, the lens is a literal game-changer. Since you will be using a trail camera mainly in the woods, you want the lens to be clear so it does not fog up and can handle a few collisions.

You may notice that some trail cameras come with a high megapixel count. But does that equal good-quality images? Not necessarily. If the lens is terrible, the images will have poor resolution, and the results won’t be as satisfactory.

lens and sd card

Another thing to remember is that as soon as the detector detects any motion, it clicks a series of images to store it in your memory card. In other words, there is a massive quantity of photos to store in a space very quickly. Hence, the SD card you used should have sufficient space.

Factors to consider before purchasing a trail camera

Now you know the essential components of a trail camera. But what factors do you need to look for before you purchase? Let’s have a look.

Trigger speed

The trigger speed of a trail camera is its main USP. It refers to the time between the motion sensor detecting any activity and capturing the picture. Even a fraction of a second is vital in this scenario because wild animals are always on the run. They hardly need a second to move how from the field of view of your camera.

Most manufacturers display the trigger time on the front and center of the package. You will see that many modern tale cameras have a trigger feed of less than one second. Ultimately, it would be best to look for a trigger time as fast as possible.

Shot lag

This term refers to the time taken by a trail camera to get prepared who take a picture immediately after taking a previous one. It is also known as recovery time. If you want to record videos, the shot lag does not matter as much since you can manually set the length and interval. But it does matter if you are capturing photographs instead.

shot lag

Today, many trail cameras feature burst mode, where the camera takes 5-7 images successively once triggered. So this is an excellent feature to look for.


The flash or illumination factor is critical. Typically, you will get a white light (available in any conventional camera), low-glow infrared (containing a slight red glow that is visible to animals sometimes), or a no-glow infrared (not easily visible and not likely to get stolen).

Image and video quality

The sensor resolution and flash type can significantly impact the image quality. Look for a higher megapixel count and a good-quality lens. Even though a higher megapixel count means using up more storage, you will still get to capture incredible quality images.

Power supply

You already know trail cameras are charged using batteries. Lithium batteries are usually recommended, but keep an eye on the battery life before purchase since it can affect your sessions.


You will need an SD card to store your images and videos. I recommend using one with at least 32 to 64 GB of storage space. It should be sufficient enough that if you capture several photo bursts, the card should be able to store all the photos comfortably. Get a big-sized SD card, and get one the camera can handle.

Build quality

Trail cameras have to be durable and weatherproof. You will not get to experience ideal weather conditions when you are roaming around in the woods. Hence, this is where the ruggedness of a trail camera comes into play. But be prepared to face faster battery drainage if the weather is freezing outside.

Other features

There are a few other features to take advantage of, but they are not mandatory. The time-lapse recording is an interesting one, and so is the scheduling feature using which you can schedule a particular interval and duration. Then some trail cameras include a Python cable lock that you can use as an attachment while mounting the camera on a tree. It would be best if you also had a high shutter speed. The more you explore, the better the possibility of coming across different features that may be useful for you.

Pros of using a travel camera

  • You get to enjoy long hunting sessions.
  • Trail cameras make it much easy to explore and take photographs of exotic wildlife species.
  • Wildlife experts and hunters can collect maximum information by constantly checking them.
  • You can also choose a live-telecast feature to broadcast a particular animal and its habitat on different wildlife shows.

Cons of using a trail camera

  • Trail cameras can only cover a fixed area and cannot offer a complete view, including all the angles.
  • These cameras fall on the slightly expensive side.
  • Your trail camera is likely to get stolen because of its high cost.


Hopefully, you are now clear about the concept behind- ‘ how does a real camera work?’. I tried covering as much information as possible to give you a clear idea of this incredible device. And I hope I have provided you with enough clarity on this topic to help you understand the motive behind the introduction of trail cameras and their uses.


Do trail cameras need Internet?

Traditional trail cameras do not need the Internet or wireless connectivity to function correctly. However, cellular trail cameras operate through a network, and you must select a plan to make it work. However, these cameras do not need Wi-Fi to record videos and capture images.

How do trail cameras send pictures to your phone?

Typically, cellular trail cameras send pictures on your phone via a cellular network. On the other hand, a Wi-Fi trail camera uses a Wi-Fi network to send photos to your phone.

What triggers trail cameras?

Trail cameras have infrared emitters which release a beam received by another unit. As soon as this beam is broken, that trail camera gets triggered. The camera is triggered whenever the motion sensor detects any activity.

How long do trail cameras record?

The duration can depend on the model of the trail camera you are using and the length you set for recording. The usual range lies between 3 to 300 seconds.