Project Trail Cam

Most of you who follow Wildlife Whisperer will know that Simon, the rest of the team and I are very keen on the use of motion activated trail cameras to capture scenes of wildlife. Whether it’s a tiger walking down a jungle track in India or a Robin feeding in a UK suburban garden motion activated trail cameras are the perfect tool to capture those special moments.

Technology continues to progress at an amazing pace, particularly with motion activated trail cameras. It’s not my intention to write lots here about all the different types of trail camera available on the market, there are many, a simple Google search for ‘motion activated trail camera’ will offer lots of results. I’ve been through the process many times. Searching, comparing specifications, pricing, performance and I’ve used/tested many of the trail cams available. On almost every occasion it comes back to a few critical points. These are…

Resolution (of both stills and video)
Video Clip Duration (some trail cams only offer a fixed recording duration for video clips. I always prefer cams that offer variable video clip durations).
Trigger Time (How quickly the camera wakes up when it detects movement and takes a photo or starts recording. I always look for trigger times of 1 second or less )
IR Lighting (What range will the cam illuminate over. What kind of IR lights are used?)
Does it have a built in mic to record audio?

…hang on a sec. I’m going to start getting into too much detail here. Maybe there is a need for a definitive Trail Camera Buyers Check List? I’ll write one over the next few days and post it soon.

Anyway, getting back to my original subject for this post…

Of all the trail cameras I’ve used, I am continually drawn back to the latest Bushnell Trophy Cam range. All offer up to 8MP stills, 640×480 to full 1080pHD video recording, have built in microphones and trigger times of less than a second. That’s why the Bushnell range of trail cams are currently the camera of choice for Simon and I and why we offer them in our online shop. (We’ll also be reviewing some very handy accessories for use with trail cams soon and will be offering them for sale in our online shop).

‘Project TrailCam – at least 52 species over the course of the year’

I have a number of ideas for projects I intend working on in 2012, the first of which is Project TrailCam. My goal is to record (either stills or video) at least 52 different species over the course of the year. However, to add to the challenge, I’m going to try and record species that haven’t been recorded before on trail cams, experiment with some unique camera angles and possibly carry out a few modifications to the trail cams along the way.
As some of the creatures I wish to record are quite small, one of the first things I need to address is focal distance. Virtually all trail cameras have a fixed focus lens with a minimal focal distance of approx. 3m. For 98% of the time this will be perfect as it will offer good wide angle views increasing your chances of capturing your subject. However, as I want to try and get some exciting ‘close up’ shots of relatively small subjects I’ll need to modify my trail cam.

So, with a little trepidation, I decided to delve into the innards of my Bushnell 1080p HD Trophy Cam to see if I could adjust the minimal focal distance.

Before I carry on I would just like to say that although I’m about to explain exactly how I managed to reduce the focal distance of my trail cam, it’s not something I would recommend anyone else to do. Opening your trail cam and tinkering with the inside could lead to damage and will almost certainly void your warranty! So, if you decide to emulate what I’m about to describe then you do so at your own risk!)

Opening the rear case of the Bushnell 1080p HD cam reveals a small colour LCD display and the set up buttons. This panel is held firmly in position using 4 screws. I removed the screws and opened the panel to reveal the circuit boards inside.

I was pleasently surprised how simple the layout is inside, a very nice design. I’ve labled a few points of interest above.

Top Tip: As the microphone wires were fairly short I disconnected them from the circuit board enabling me to lay the panels down flat – much easier to work!

It was good to see that the infra red illuminators are on a separate circuit board too. I may experiment with removing and repositioning the these at a later date.

Once opened I was initially a little concerned to see that the camera lens had quite a large IR cut filter assembly on it. After closer inspection I couldn’t see a way to safely remove this and also noticed that the lens had been fixed in position by what looked like some sort of sealent.

This is the point at which, if any damage is to occur, it will be here!

To begin with I tried gently twisting the lens/IR cut filter but it appeared to be very securely fixed into position. Realising that if I couldn’t get the lens to move I wouldn’t be able to capture a lot of the images/videos I wanted I decided to ‘go for it’ and twist a little harder. To my relief the lens started to move… now we’re rocking!

Getting the lens in the right position to offer optimum close up views was very much a process of trial and error. I positioned a metal tape measure on a table and used the live view on the camera’s LCD screen to help me focus the camera to the desired postion.

As you reduce the focal distance of the camera the depth of field (the amount of image that will be in focus) reduces too.

Top Tip: I initially adjusted the minimum focal distance to 250mm giving a depth of field of around 50mm, which means anything in front of the camera between 250-300mm from the lens would be in focus. My first trial clips showed that this distance would be fine for small birds (Robin, Dunnock etc.) but wouldn’t be suitable for slightly larger birds such as Blackbirds. Therefore I tweaked the focal distance out to 350-400mm. This proved to be the ideal postion!

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