Troubleshooting Trail Camera Issues: Solutions from the Experts

Anticipate and prevent trail camera problems before they ever become issues.

Trail cameras are possibly the most revolutionary scouting tool in modern hunting. These assets allow hunters to scout multiple places around the clock, all without being there, and without applying much pressure to the local wildlife.

Unfortunately, as with all electronics, problems can arise, and troubleshooting trail camera issues becomes necessary. Here are SD and cellular trail camera mistakes to avoid and troubleshoot.

Avoid trail camera mistakes to prevent future issues.

SD and Cellular Trail Camera Mistakes to Avoid

Many SD and cellular trail camera issues are a product of user-error or making avoidable SD and cellular trail camera mistakes. By avoiding these issues, you can significantly reduce future issues with your trail camera setup.

Not Reading the Manual

Oftentimes, whether an SD or cellular trail camera, general setup issues can become a problem. Using incorrect settings, failing to properly activate, and more, can prevent a camera from working correctly, or at least limit its potential.

To combat the many problems that can arise during general setup, read through the camera model’s official manual. This will help ensure it is set up correctly, which ultimately helps prevent the need for troubleshooting trail camera issues.

Installing SD Cards with Very High Write Speeds

It might sound counterintuitive, but high-performance SD cards with higher write speeds can cause problems in trail cameras. A 16GB or 32GB class 4 SD card is the ideal option for most trail cameras. Trail cameras write very small file sizes compared to the professional photography- and videography-focused cameras high-end SD cards are meant for. Overall, at best, high-speed SD cards are a significant waste of money for trail cams.

Installing Micro-SD Cards (with Adapters) in Full-SD Card Slots

Some trail cameras are designed to use the smaller micro-SD card format. However, most models are meant for the standard full-size SD card.

While you can use a micro-SD card with an adapter in a full-size SD slot, this approach comes with some risks. The adapter adds an extra layer between the card and the camera's contacts. This increases the number of potential failure points, as there are now twice as many contact points that could malfunction.

In most cases, the micro-SD card will work just fine when used with an adapter. But this setup does carry a higher risk of issues compared to using the full-size SD card the camera was designed for.

Using SD Cards in Multiple Devices

Using SD cards across multiple devices can lead to issues. Using one SD card in two or more trail cameras, in a regular camera and trail camera, or other combinations of devices, can create malfunctions. Instead, have two dedicated SD cards for each trail camera. Label the camera with a unique name and apply the same name to its two SD cards. This ensures that SD card formatting issues are less of a risk.

Not Formatting SD Cards on a Computer

Each SD card should be formatted correctly. In-camera formatting tools can work, but usually don’t accomplish everything that a full PC format does. A full formatting via PC ensures there are no partitions on the SD card, which might remain and become problematic if using a quick formatting method, on-camera formatting, or no formatting at all.

Recognize a completed SD card re-formatting by checking the available storage on the card. If there is little or no data on the card, chances are good it is fully formatted. Format SD cards at least once per year, if not more frequently.

Failing to Replace Damaged Cards

SD cards have lifespans. If a problem arises, it might need replacing. Try reformatting, and if that doesn’t work, it might be time to replace it with a new SD card.

Using Poor Antenna Positioning

Most cell camera antennas are somewhat fragile. While some are solid shafts, others have hinges or breakaway pivot points. For the latter, always turn these so they bend directly away from the tree trunk.

Not Using External Power Sources

The entire purpose of cellular trail cameras is deploying them in the field and leaving them there for long-term use. These are meant to provide real-time information and cut down on in-the-field human intrusion. Having to frequently visit cameras to refresh batteries defeats one of the primary purposes of having a cellular trail camera. Pair cameras with an external battery source, such as a battery box or solar panel.

Allowing Corrosion to Take Over

Battery corrosion is one of the primary killers of trail cameras. Allowing corroded batteries to sit in a camera will eventually lead to corrosion, of which might enter the inner workings of the unit. Leaving corroded batteries in the camera, and failing to remove corrosion from it, will lead to problems. Always use caution and wear protective eyewear, rubber gloves, and long sleeves, when handling corroded batteries and contact points in cameras.

No one wants a pinkish trail camera photo.

Troubleshooting SD and Cellular Trail Camera Issues

Trail cameras experience a lot of wear and tear. Severely cold temperatures, prolonged high heat, water condensation, leaky seals, corroded batteries, animal damage, and more — these things can lead to trail camera problems. This in turn can produce a need to troubleshoot SD and cellular trail camera issues.

General Issues

While general issues can result from an array of problems, sometimes a simple firmware or software update can fix these problems.

User-Error False Triggers

Random false triggers can be due to one of several problems. First, ensure that the camera isn’t in timelapse mode. Next, double check for limbs or leaves triggering the motion sensor.

Faulty-Camera False Triggers

Some false triggers come one right after the next in regular intervals. Here, false triggers might be related to the PIR sensor. (The PIR sensor operates via detection of change in infrared radiation, and the Fresnel lens aids in that process.)

First, try a hard reset. Pull the batteries and install new ones. Reset the settings and start from scratch.

Next, set the delay to the lowest recovery time setting (for more frequent captures) and select single capture (not burst mode). Face it toward a wall or other still object where it cannot detect movement.

Finally, see if it continues triggering falsely. If it does, the PIR sensor is likely bad, it has a burned-out element, and the camera needs fixing or replacing. If under warranty, send it back for repair.

Overexposed Photos and Videos

When hanging trail cameras, it’s important to point these north and south, and not east or west. This helps prevent sun glare, which can impact the brightness of the photo.

Blurry, Cloudy Photos

Cameras that capture photos with a blurry, cloudy, or milky layer should start by cleaning the lens and other camera surfaces. Ensure its pointed north or south to prevent overexposed photos and lens flares.

Pink (or Red) Daytime Photos

If you notice your trail camera is capturing daytime images with a pinkish or reddish color cast, you'll want to check the infrared (IR) filter. This filter is responsible for blocking infrared light from reaching the camera's sensor.

If the IR filter is malfunctioning, it won't be able to properly filter out infrared wavelengths, resulting in the distinctive pink or red tint in your daytime photos. Addressing an issue with the IR filter is often the culprit behind this type of color distortion in trail camera images.

It might need to be reset or altogether replaced. Another cause that’s much simpler to fix is a battery issue. Try new lithium batteries, and if that doesn’t solve the issue, contact the manufacturer about the warranty.

Dark Nighttime Images and Videos

A sudden reduction in the quality of nighttime trail camera photos and videos is potentially a result of diminished battery life. Replace with new batteries to regain quality. Additionally, it might be a sign of low-quality, low voltage, or faulty batteries. Ensure the batteries are the best quality and are compatible with the camera. Lastly, it could mean that the infrared filter needs resetting or is altogether bad.

No Photos at All

A camera that powers up just fine, but takes no photos, is likely due to an SD card formatting issue. The card is either corrupt or not formatted correctly. It’s also possible the camera was hung and/or angled improperly and was placed/pointing to high or low. Furthermore, the camera might not have been armed properly, or might be in standby mode.

Short Video Lengths

A consistent reduction in video length (compared to the setting used), is likely due to depleted batteries. There simply isn’t enough juice to keep the camera running for the duration of the selected video length setting. Resupply with new alkaline batteries, or even better, choose a durable lithium option. Stay away from rechargeable AAs and Cs.

Cool trail cam photos are made possible by great trail cameras.

Maintain the Warranty

All things considered, it’s important to properly maintain a trail camera’s warranty. If it needs to be registered, do so within the allotted period following purchase.

Of course, if problems do arise, changing batteries, formatting SD cards, resetting cameras, and updating firmware and software, can solve most problems. However, it might just be a damaged camera that needs repairing or replacing.

Smooth trail camera operation makes photos like these possible.

Most trail camera companies have a one-year defect warranty. That said, some offer two-, or even five-year warranties. Reconyx offers the latter, and warranties cameras for up to five years from the purchase date.

Reconyx cameras are American-made and might be more easily repairable (for a fee) even after the warranty expires.

Trail cameras are essential tools for deer hunters and landowners. Reconyx offers an array of proven trail cameras. Browse through available options and outfit your property with these incredible around-the-clock scouting tools.

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