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What Are Cellular And Wireless Game Cameras?
These cameras are dang, new-fangled technology, I tell ya what.
Trail cameras have been around for a long time. You put them on a tree, set them up, then leave for a while
Animals pass by and trigger the camera to take a picture of them. Sometimes wind causes a tree branch to move enough to do the same. Or, perhaps, a friend of yours puts on a bigfoot suit and walks by.
Then you return and collect the photos to look through them.
However, physically visiting the camera has two major drawbacks:
- You leave scent at the site
- You have to visit the camera
Filling an area you want to hunt in with human scent is a good way to scare off game animals.
Visiting the camera takes time even when you’re nearby. If you’re surveying a hunting area far from where you live, that can cost a lot of money in gas!
Also, you won’t have to worry about positioning the camera in an easy-to-reach spot if you don’t have to physically access the camera until you’re done for the season. Put it where it needs to go!
Wireless game cameras solve these issues.
You install them once and don’t have to visit again until they run out of batteries. And even that’s not a problem if you install solar cells!
How do wireless cameras work?
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless cameras can be used a fair distance from the camera itself. They connect to a smartphone app over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, so you won’t be able to use that old, indestructible Nokia.
Your chosen game camera will have a corresponding app. For example, the Browning Defender 850 connects to the Browning Trail Cameras app.
Now, these cameras will have a limited range. That Browning wireless camera can only connect to a phone that’s within 50 to 60 feet. That still keeps you and your smelly self over a dozen yards from the site, preventing possible contamination.
How do cellular cameras work?
Thanks to the wonders of modern cellular technology, cellular cameras act similarly to a phone and send you the photos.
Typically, photos are sent over MMS texts, though some cameras have advanced functionality. Some cellular trail cameras even let you peruse the photos through an app or the web.
A couple even let you control the camera from anywhere in the world!
You do need cell phone signal and, in most cases, a data plan for cellular game cameras to work. $75 for a year of data is cheaper than driving out to check on the camera each week, though.
And if you don’t want to pay for the data plan…
…these still make good offline game cameras.
Pros and Cons of Cellular Trail Cameras Compared to Wi-Fi Game Cameras
Cellular trail cameras aren’t the only game cameras which attempt to give you ranged access. Wireless trail cameras are a good choice for many people.
- Range—The biggest advantage of cellular cameras over wireless cameras is the range. Wireless trail camera ranges are measured in feet. Cellular trail camera ranges go anywhere the cell network does.
- Instant Notification—Cellular game cameras can notify you of an animal within a minute, often less, of the picture being taken. You have to get close to Wi-Fi cameras to find out if an animal has been nearby.
- Battery Life—Constant cellular connections drain battery life faster for cellular trail cameras than any other type, though you can add solar cells to bypass this issue.
- Service Charges—Most cellular trail cameras require a paid data plan, which adds a small but notable cost to their use.
- Service Areas—Cellular game cameras have to be installed in areas with a cell phone signal. The other type of wireless camera can be used anywhere, so long as you can get your phone somewhat close.
How to choose?
All of the game cameras above have some sort of wireless connectivity and have a camera connected to a passive infrared (PIR) sensor to automatically take pictures of moving objects.
Unlike some other products, such as hunting radios, you can expect every game camera to be waterproof (against rain, at least) and to store pictures and video to an SD card.
Beyond that, there are some very important differences in the features.
Megapixels, or MP, is a measure of resolution. It’s how many pixels fit into one image.
Truthfully? You don’t need your trail camera to take 12 MP pictures.
Larger pictures take up more space, both on the SD card and in data costs. They’re slower to process and send to you. The camera may have trouble sending larger photos with poor signal. Finally, the larger size is often not necessary to clearly identify the animal!
The ability to take huge photos is nice, but it isn’t a make-or-break option for me.
When discussing range with game cameras, this refers to the PIR’s range. There tends to be little difference during the day, but two cameras can have vastly different nighttime capabilities.
Generally, you can expect the camera to have infrared LEDs capable of illuminating at least 65 feet from the camera, though the edges will be dark.
Some cameras can go further than that. Others don’t have much range but have more LEDs for a brighter, more-detailed night vision picture.
Bluetooth, Cellular, and Wi-Fi
Wireless game cameras come in two basic categories:
- Short-ranged Wi-Fi/Bluetooth
How far away do you want to be when you download images from your camera? How much do you want to spend on downloading those images? Is there even cell signal?
You have to answer those three questions to figure out if you want a Wi-Fi/Bluetooth camera or a cellular camera.
Cellular trail cameras work with a phone network, so they can send photos to you wherever you are. However, they do need to be able to reach that network and so are not a good choice for particularly remote areas.
Also, you’ll typically need to pay for a data plan to even use that function of the camera.
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth trail cameras, by contrast, directly connect to your smartphone. Your phone has to be close by, so you have to get close to the hunting spot in order to download the photos.
This makes these cameras a poor choice for scoping out hunting areas a hundred miles from home.
However, they do not require an additional service subscription to use. You can also use them anywhere, not just in places with three bars of signal.
Most of my hunting in the Midwest takes place in rural woods surrounding a lodge. You have to stand on top of the building for a chance at cell signal, and even then you may only get enough juice to send a single text message. Cellular game cameras don’t work.
Wi-Fi game cameras work there just fine. We have them about 40 feet off the ATV path we use to get to the hunting blinds so we can pop by and see if there’s been activity recently.
So, you’ll have to consider your specific hunting area to figure out which will work best for you.
3G vs. 4G
Some cellular game cameras use the 3G network. Others use 4G LTE.
3G and 4G LTE are different generations of wireless cellular technology. 4G LTE is the more recent generation.
4G has a longer range and faster speeds. It’ll penetrate further into the wild than 3G, so areas covered by 4G may not always be covered by 3G.
However, 3G technology is often cheaper, so if your hunting spot isn’t too far from civilization, then a 3G camera may work perfectly fine.
Cellular Connection Methods
All cellular cameras can send a photo to your phone or e-mail through text messages.
Some have additional ways to connect, such as an app for iOS, Android, or both. There may even be a web portal, which is a website you can connect to on your phone, laptop, or desktop.
Even better are the cameras with firmware that allows you to control the camera and change settings remotely.
Unless you like having to fiddle with the camera itself, I’d recommend buying one you can adjust through the internet.
Though GPS in a stationary camera is not as important as in other devices, it can still come in handy.
When you install a GPS-enabled camera, mark that location down!
That way, you know precisely where to return. I lost one camera because it didn’t have a GPS, and I couldn’t find the camouflaged device after the seasons changed.
Have you ever thought of tracking down the elusive Bigfoot?
If so, you’ve likely traveled to Colorado, where you’ll find Bigfoot all over the place (especially on car stickers).
Bigfoot Cameras may be just what you need to take a picture of this upright ape. Or, more likely, you’ll get lots of high-quality pictures of deer and other woodland animals.
This company is part of Western Recreation, a multi-generational family-owned business that grew from a small archery shop to a large hunting equipment wholesaler.
Stan and Brad Love, two brothers, are the current leaders of the company. They continue to pour their love into the project, as they supply hunting equipment, especially archery-related, to anybody who loves the outdoors.
CreativeXP wasn’t originally a hunting equipment company.
This company was founded by a husband and wife pair, Daniel and Elizabeth, for the purpose of making inexpensive, reliable dashcams.
After being the victims of road rage, the couple wanted to get a dashcam, but all of them were either too expensive for a new family or were unreliable and prone to malfunctions.
However, both Daniel and Elizabeth are technological engineers.
Together, they designed dashcams which work all the time and don’t drain the bank.
As it turns out, add some waterproofing and some other changes, and you get a pretty good trail camera, too!
The USA doesn’t have a monopoly on hunting. Canada maintains a strong hunting tradition. SPYPOINT is from Québec, Canada, and operates in the US and Germany as well.
Though you’d expect a company named SPYPOINT to focus on tactical gear, SPYPOINT is focused on making innovative trail cameras.
Not all of their cameras are tapped into the cell network. They also have ultra-compact models, which let you save on space and weight. You can also get trail cameras with an integrated solar cell, so you don’t have to buy and wire one later.
What’s most interesting is the BUCK TRACKER technology they’ve developed, which analyzes the animals photographed and determines if they have antlers or not.
This is good for everyone from trophy hunters to people hunting during antlerless season. It can also be used by environmental scientists to track the deer population in an area more easily.
SPYPOINT does seem to have some quality control issues with their products. However, they also have a good warranty and will make things right.
How do you set up a cellular game camera?
There are three things you need to do to set up a cellular trail camera:
- Activate the camera’s data plan
- Configure the camera
- Install the camera at the chosen location
You’ll have to hash out the data plan yourself. Typically, this involves activating the included SIM card and either paying for a data plan or adding it to your existing plan.
Configuring the camera changes from camera to camera. This involves choosing the settings you want. I’d recommend trying the camera at home and making sure it works properly before trying to set it up in the field.
Finally, you need to physically schlep the camera to where you want observation in the wilderness. Many cameras have straps that allow you to attach them to a tree.
Make sure to double check the settings and test out the camera before you leave it to the elements!
How do you set up a non-cellular wireless game camera?
Wireless trail cameras with Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth are easier to configure than their cellular counterparts.
All you have to do is:
- Install the app on your phone
- Configure the camera
- Install the camera at the chosen location
You don’t have to purchase a data plan or configure your camera to send photos to your phone. All you have to do to use the camera is get close, connect to it with your app, and control it from there!
To learn more about setting up a game camera check out our article on: How To Setup, Program, and Position Trail Camera For Maximum Success!
Does the trail camera’s network have to match my cell phone’s network?
In most cases, your game camera’s cell network doesn’t have to match your own.
It’s like any other phone. A phone on one network can call a phone on any other network.
Though, it can be advantageous to buy a camera that uses your network, for two reasons:
First, it can be cheaper to add an additional line to your plan than to buy a brand-new plan.
Second, you can test for signal before you buy the camera.
If you have an AT&T phone that works in your hunting area and buy a Verizon camera, who knows if it’ll work until after you’ve hiked out there!