One of the biggest problems with regular trail cameras is the need to physically visit each camera to pull the SD cards and see your photos. You risk alerting animals in the area with your scent every time you visit the camera.
Hunters go to extreme lengths to minimize this problem, leaving them out for many weeks at a time, only pulling SD cards in the rain, and carefully designing visitation routes to avoid spoiling the area.
Wireless and cellular trail cameras offer the opportunity to avoid those potential pitfalls by utilizing today’s amazing wireless technologies. With 2G, 3G, and 4G cellular networks, you can now have trail camera pictures automatically sent your phone, tablet, or computer. Wireless trail cameras allow you to utilize an existing Wi-Fi network, or create their own local Wi-Fi hotspots to do the same.
If that sounds awesome, that’s because it is! There is a catch though, and that is the price tag attached to these game cameras. They are several times more expensive compared to even the best traditional trail cameras. The goal of the rest of this article is to educate you on the benefits and drawbacks of the technology, and review the best wireless and cellular trail cameras so you can make a good decision.
When people say ‘wireless’, they are probably referring to wireless like they use on their smartphones. Several technologies can be considered to be wireless, each having their own pros and cons. Wireless trail cameras should be thought of as using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, and cellular as using the same satellite networks as your smartphone. 3G and 4G cellular game cameras are by far the more popular of camera types for hunting.
Best Cellular Trail Cameras
The draw towards cellular trail cameras is the fact they can send your photos directly to your smartphone or tablet. They use the same cell phone towers as the phone providers (Verizon and AT&T), and you will need a separate service plan for each camera. Let’s dive in and compare the best cellular trail camera models available this year.
The HCO Spartan GoCam combines reliable performance with a reasonable price, which has been hard to find in the cellular trail camera category until now. The Spartan GoCam is certified by, and sold in AT&T, Verizon, and US Cellular configurations, so you have options no matter which service has coverage in your area.
Camera setup is very simple. Go to the GoWireless page for activation instructions for each carrier. The most popular plan for an AT&T GoCam is the $25/90 days/1 GB of data, and there are are two new plans, $45/180 days/2 GB and $75/1 year/4 GB.
If you have a Verizon GoCam you can add it to your account for $5/month, or $20/month without an account. The US Cellular GoCam is similar, with a $5/mo connected device plan, or $10/mo for 300MB without a mobile phone plan.
Normally, the GoCam will only send pictures to an email address, but there is a trick to getting text messages instead. When entering the phone number on your account, you can enter email@example.com for an AT&T smartphone. Enter firstname.lastname@example.org for a Verizon smartphone, where the numbers are your personal 10 digit cell phone number. Setup takes less than 5 minutes to activate the camera, for either service.
The premium GoWireless service sets the HCO Spartan apart from the field. This service gives you access to the mobile app and a host of additional functions. You gain the ability to monitor battery levels, change camera settings remotely, change the size of transmitted photos, cloud storage, and change image delivery options. The price for the premium service is just $4 a month on top of your data plan.
Performance: The GoCam has an average trigger time of 1 second, but makes up for this with an excellent trigger range of 80 feet, with a wide detection zone. Like on all cell cameras, the picture sent to your phone is smaller compressed image that tends to show some pixelation. The good news is the original full size photo will be saved onto the on-board SD card.
The night flash is average, but will do the job. According to tests, a set of 12AA Lithium batteries can be expected to last at minimum 2 months at a location with medium activity. Sites with less deer traffic can last much longer. Overall, the HCO Spartan GoCam is a reliable choice with a large detection zone and takes blur free photos. The GoCam would be a great choice if you are looking at buying your first cellular trail camera.
The Bushnell Aggressor is the successor to the popular trophy Cam HD Wireless camera. The Aggressor has already been receiving high praise from places like TrailCamPro and the non-wireless version was 2016 Editor’s Choice for Outdoor Life. The camera sensor has been upgraded from 8MP to 14MP pictures and 1080p video recording.
The Aggressor runs on the AT&T network and you register for service by creating an account, and adding the camera through Bushnell’s site. Monthly data plans range from $9.99 (1,500 pics) to $59.99 (15,000 pics). After activation, it’s a matter of getting into the cameras settings to input your phone number for text messages or email address. You will get text pictures 480×640 pixels in size, but you can order larger pics on the TrophyCam site. The website is also useful for remotely changing settings, checking cell reception, and monitoring your battery level.
Performance: This is a no glow IR camera, with excellent night flash range, and a fast 0.3 second trigger. Daytime photos have proven to be clear, rich in color, and with good depth range. The battery life is merely average, and is similar to the HCO in terms of expected life with 12AA Lithium batteries. If you need to improve the life, you have the option to add a Bushnell Solar Panel. Another trick is to set the camera to Batch mode, which uploads images at scheduled times, which reduces the number of times the camera has to power up to transmit over the cell towers. The Bushnell Aggressor is an excellent cellular trail camera, and comes with strong recommendations.
Reconyx is well known for producing high quality and reliable trail cameras that are made in the USA. The high quality come at a price, though, as their cameras are routinely 2-3x more expensive than other brands. If you’ve struggled with cameras lasting, or dealing with frustrating functional problems, you may want to consider a Reconyx. The SC950C is no exception, and should be considered a “professional” game camera, or security camera, thanks to its exorbitant price tag.
The SC950C can work with either Verizon or AT&T, and really is not too bad to set up. Reconyx packs out a very detailed setup guide that makes initial setup a breeze. If you have Verizon already, you can simply add this camera to your plan for $5 a month. For AT&T customers, you will be adding a $9.99 “additional line”. There is a CD with software that needs to be installed to complete the setup. This is where you will be entering the phone numbers and emails for the camera to send the pictures.
Performance: Like all Reconyx cameras, the day photos will be clear and colorful, and the night photos sharp with solid depth contrast. The text message pictures will be 512 x 384 in size, and digitally compressed to conserve data. The full resolution images are saved to the SD card for later retrieval. The biggest problem with the camera is battery life.
You can only expect to get 1-2 months out of the 12AA batteries. As such, you will need to use a Reconyx Solar Panel, and shouldn’t use this camera in a conspicuous location. While the Reconyx SC950C is excellent at what it does, the price and battery life may make it a better security camera than a hunting camera.
Covert’s latest offerings in cellular cameras are the Code Black 12.0 and the Blackhawk 12.0, the only difference is the wireless carrier. The Code Black is for AT&T service areas. To set up the camera, you simply go to Covert-Wireless.com and sign up/login to add the cameras IMEI number, and SIM card ICCID. Then you select your data place and give your camera a personal name and description. All in all it’s a satisfyingly streamlined process.
Like most cell trail cams, the Code Black can be controlled and monitored remotely via the Covert App or the website. All the settings are changed by simple On/Off buttons on your cameras page. You can change from Photo to Video, photo size, burst mode, sensitivity, timers, as well as set limits on the number of photos per day.
Performance: The full resolution daytime images are very nice, so don’t be alarmed if the text messaged pictures look a little off. This is due to losses that occur during compression, and the original image will be saved on the SD card. The detection zone is pretty solid, but the trigger is on the slow side at 1.3 seconds. Night images is where this camera stumbles a little.
From what we’ve seen in our research, it can be difficult to get blur free night photos off this camera. Power consumption of the Covert cams are fairly average for cellular enable models. You can expect to get 2-3 months on a set of 12AA lithium batteries, assuming the camera is in an area with average wildlife activity.
While the Crush Cell 8 may look strange compared to most trail cams, it’s actually a competent cellular trail camera with an attractive price tag. Getting the camera and service setup seems to be the thing tripping most people up with this camera. The Crush Cell 8 can be used on T-Mobile or AT&T (GSM networks). The key to getting the service setup is to have your SIM card activated as a “data and Android compatible”.
Once you have the SIM card, grab 4 D cell batteries, a 32GB SD card and you’re ready to program the camera with email addresses and phone numbers. Be sure to format the SD card before getting started.
There is no app or web portal for the Crush Cell 8, so you have to manually enter the numbers and addresses. That might seem cumbersome, but then again there is no additional charge for apps or web access.
Performance: The Crush Cell 8 has a lot of great features. Since it has an external LCD screen, you can preview what the camera sees so you get the perfect angle for your shots. 8MP pictures aren’t the biggest available, but we know the MP rating can be manipulated. The image and video quality is reported to be very good. You should know the Crush Cell 8 runs on 4x D cell batteries, which give the camera some much needed juice.
The new Spypoint Link series aims to be the most hassle free cellular game cameras possible. There is no wondering if your camera will work on your smartphone plan, or if there is coverage. Instead, you purchase the trail camera service plan directly through Spypoint, and they handle the rest. They have both a LINK 3G, and LINK 4G, depending on the speed you want. 4G is pretty awesome, but it does come at a hefty price over the 3G.
The biggest thing you need to know about this camera, is that runs on only 6AA batteries. Most other cellular cameras run on 12. To make your batteries last longer, you should utilize the Batch Mode. Instead of transmitting each picture as it is taken, you will get batches of photos at a set time interval. There is an external port for connecting a Rechargeable Battery with Solar Panel or external 12V battery for further extending the battery life.
Performance: The new LINK cameras have a ridiculously quick trigger speed of .07 seconds. The detection range is also good out to 70 feet or more. Spypoint Link plans cost from $15 (1,000 photos) to $25 per month (unlimited). The HUNT plan covers you for 3 months, but the ANNUAL+ plan looks to be the best value, with unlimited photo transmission, and unlimited photo history on the website. The easy setup and great looking pictures should the Spypoint LINK cameras at the top of your list if you can find one.
The Spypoint MMS is an intriguing cellular trail camera option. It’s the baby brother of the LINK 3G and 4G cell cameras, and gives you the most wireless company options of any cellular trail cam we’ve reviewed. It is very similar to those cameras in size, shape, and specs. The MMS takes only 10MP images compared to 11 and 12MP, but that’s hardly a huge difference.
The main difference with the Spypoint MMS is that it comes with an unregistered SIM card that can be activated in the most popular wireless companies including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular. Your first register the SIM with your preferred service, either as an add-on to your smartphone data plan, or with a pre-paid plan. Insert the SIM into the camera, power it on, and you go through a simple “Setup Wizard”. Then all you do is test the connectivity to the cell network, and you’re good to go.
The MMS isn’t configurable on the Spypoint App, so you have to do it manually before you set it out. It has the same blazing 0.07 second trigger, and photos can be expected to be just as good as on the LINK versions. If you are looking for a cellular game camera that is easy to setup, and is a reliable photo taker, the Spypoint MMS should be one to check out closely.
Readers of this blog know I am a big fan of Stealth Cam, so I was excited to see how their cellular GXW model has fared across the web. The GXW is supposed to be the first cellular cam to send you both photos and videos over the wireless network.
The camera runs on AT&T or T-Mobile GSM networks and setup has mixed reviews. Some users complained it was complicated, but the guys at TCP say it’s one of the easiest they’ve seen. In order to work, you have to first download the “Stealth Cam Remote” app for either Android or iOS and create a new account. If you want AT&T, the GXW comes packaged with a SIM, all you need to do is go to www.att.com/buyasession and buy a pre-paid data plan. After you load in batteries, the SIM/SD, and power it on, you simply follow the setup wizard and you’re ready to rock.
Performance: The Stealth Cam GXW takes excellent photos thanks to a large detection zone, with a sub ¼ second trigger. I expect nothing less from a Stealth Cam. Videos are small in order to send wirelessly, and are saved in full resolution on the SD card. Like all cellular trail cams, battery life can be an issue, so best practice is to use Batch Mode, and be sure to have 3 bars reception at absolute minimum.
Initial reviews were mixed for this camera, some people having wireless setup and account sync issues. However, newer reviews from 2016 seem to indicate the initial problems have be resolved, and the TCP guys really seem to like the camera overall. If you like Stealth Cam, the GXW cellular should be seriously considered for your camera fleet.
Wireless trail cameras typically use local Wi-Fi networks to transmit the photos to you. For this to work the camera must either be in range of your home Wi-Fi network or the camera has to be able to create its own Wi-Fi hotspot. The former option is better for property surveillance, while the latter option is best for hunting. Cameras with Wi-Fi ability allow you to stay far away from your camera while it sends its pictures over the cellular network to your device, which is not as fun as getting big buck text messages on your recliner, but it’s better than nothing.
If you really must avoid the extra monthly data fee, the Reconyx Microfire MR5 Wi-Fi trail camera may be your only hope. As you’ll see below, Wi-Fi cameras apparently don’t get much attention from the camera manufacturers and suffer from poor software and apps. I do not expect this will be the case with the MR5, as Reconyx has a bulletproof reputation to uphold.
First, the MR5 has a form factor that reminds me of a security camera, not a deer camera. But if you think about it, the 2”x5” round body has a really small profile and should make it easy to conceal in the woods.
The camera unpacks like a flashlight, with the 6AA batteries loaded into a can shaped holder, and all the electronics packaged neatly in the front. There aren’t even any external buttons on the MR5, all you need is the Buckview mobile app to operate the camera.
The Wi-Fi range is approximately 100 feet, but your mileage may vary. The images are a true 3MP (not interpolated like other cameras), and records 720p video. The MR5 is a no glow cam, so you get color photos in the day light and black and white at night. If you are looking for a wireless trial camera without the need for a monthly cellular data plan, the Reconyx Microfire MR5 is the only model I would recommend.
Kodiak Series Wi-Fi Camera – The Kodiak has many poor reviews online, and even Trail Cam Pro could not get the Wi-Fi function to work at all. I did some digging, and it sounds like you need to have a Class 10 or faster SD card to have a chance at it working. If you have the patience for this, you should be getting at least 150ft range for downloading your photos to your device.
Spypoint Tiny-Plus – The Tiny-Plus is a pretty good trail camera by itself, with a very compact design. Images can be expected to be sharp and clear, but it also suffers from disappointing Wi-Fi performance. I would steer clear of both these wireless trail cameras and get a Reconyx MR5 instead.
Cellular Trail Camera Pros & Cons
Still not convinced that cellular trail cameras are the future? Here are the pros and cons of choosing wireless over standard trail cameras.
You only have to visit your trail cam to set it up, change the batteries, and take it down. No more wondering about moving off deer by visiting your camera locations.
Cellular trail cameras take quality pictures and video, just like their non-wireless cousins.
You can setup your cameras to send you pictures via email, text message, or to a cloud based storage site for later review. Getting deer pics in your email is extremely fun, and one of the best ways to get pumped up for the upcoming season. Try it and you’ll see why.
Some cameras allow you to remotely change the settings on your camera. Say you get photos of a nice buck one day; you can remotely change the settings to take video the next time that ole slob comes through.
You can set up your cellular cameras in faraway locations and still get pictures. Think big, like setting up a camera on your hunting property in Kansas and viewing the pictures where you live in Minnesota.
Cost is the chief drawback of cellular trail cameras. Cell cameras are several times more expensive than stick and pic cameras. It comes down to whether the benefits outweigh the costs, and that will be different for each hunter.
It’s sad to say, but there are people out there who will jack your game cam if they see it in the woods. Cellular game cams make juicy targets for thieves, even though most can be disabled and made unusable should it get stolen.
Each camera will need its own cellular plan, which is an additional monthly cost to an already expensive camera.
The cameras can be power hungry. In idle mode most cameras draw very little power, but when they start to transmit images over the cell network, the juice gets used up at a higher rate. It’s wise to use Lithium Ion batteries, or external power for best results.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does the trail camera need to be on the same network as your smartphone?
No, cameras are setup to operate on a network out of the box, usually AT&T or Verizon. Each camera will have its own SIM card and its own monthly service plan. However, you can save some money by buying cameras that use the same network as your phone and making the camera an add-on device.
How much do monthly trail camera cell plans cost?
Plan prices vary widely, but you can expect to pay anywhere from $5 to $25 a month depending on your data needs. There is also occasionally activation fees required for each camera.
How strong of signal do I need for the camera to work?
The rule of thumb is that you need at least 3 bars of reception for the cellular trail cameras to work best. That being said, plenty of people have success with only 2 bars. You just need to know that ahead of time and experiment with placements.
What size SD memory cards can be used in Cellular Trail Cams?
Most brands and models will work with a maximum of 32GB SD memory cards. It can help to have SD cards with Class 10 speed or faster to work best with cell tower networks.
How large of data plan will I need to run the camera?
This depends on how active your area is, and how many pictures you want to see. Depending on your camera brand, the smallest plans will usually get you 1,000 to 1,500 pictures per month (30-50 per day). If that doesn’t seem like enough, there are plans up to 7,000 pictures per month and higher.
What are the best batteries for Cellular Trail Cameras?
Most cellular cameras run on AA batteries. The only batteries I can recommend are Energizer Ultimate Lithium AA. You can get a box of 24, which will get you 2 sets on a typical cellular game camera. You can get other brands, but they absolutely must be Lithium or you will burn through them at an alarming rate.
Can I use a Solar Panel with Cellular Trail Cams?
Yes you can. Many brands offer their own solar panel that keeps the batteries in the camera charged. Just be sure you camera is secured in a lockbox with a python cable, because a solar panel makes the presence of your expensive camera obvious.
Why are Cellular Trail Cameras so Expensive?
The electronics required to communicate with cellular towers is more complicated than simple point and shoot trail cameras. Like any other device, the more features there are, the more expensive they become. I suspect as HCO, Bushnell, and Reconyx perfect their technologies, the prices will naturally come down.