When it comes to securing your property, there are some tried-and-true options. Obviously security cameras, alarm systems, and motion sensing lights can do a lot. But what about some more off-the-beaten path options like trail cameras? If you have a spare trail camera laying around, you may be wondering if it can be used as a security camera too like the way security cameras can be used as webcams (our tutorial).
Not only can you use a trail camera as a security camera, but they can also increase the effectiveness of existing security systems when used in clever ways.
Unlike the typical security camera you might in your home or office, a motion-sensitive trail camera has an infra-red detector built in which helps it to capture animal movements and body-heat. They’re also capable of capturing images in day and night, a big plus. And when used alone or as part of a larger security system, these features can offer some pretty serious benefits.
What Is a Game/Trail Camera?
A game trail known as a remote camera is a camera placed in the wild (typically trailside) by anyone trying to capture activities of wild animals without disturbing them or having to wait them out. Trail cameras, also called game cameras because they’re capturing pictures of game, don’t make any noise, and don’t move around, allowing them to capture images in secret.
They usually have Passive Infra-red (PIF) detectors, image sensors, a memory card, and a combination of other components that work together to give a perfect shoot. When the Passive Infra-red detector detects wildlife, it snaps a picture, then stores it on the memory card. Trail cams are not typically connected, so you’ll have to physically retrieve the memory card to check the pictures.
These cameras come in varying sizes and functionality. Most of the cameras can take colored pictures and videos during the day and black/white during the night with night-vision. Some more expensive units like the Spypoint SOLAR-DARK (on Amazon) even have built-in solar arrays to take care of their own power. They’re typically durable and weather resistant since they live outside.
Remember that your camera needs to be hidden, and the only part that is supposed to be made visible is the lens. Luckily, most of them are already styled to fade into the background with dark green/grey camouflaged coloring. You might need to get a little creative about hiding it if you’re not strapping it to a tree, but these units are designed to not be noticed.
Using a Trail Camera as a Security Camera
Trail cameras don’t just have to be used on the trail, though. All of the features discussed above make them a great component of any home security system as well. They’re especially useful to cover those low-traffic areas that it doesn’t make sense to put a security camera up at, like side-yards, carports, gates, and it’s hard to put it in your car as well (our guide).
Thinking about the positioning of the camera is the most important part. You don’t get a direct feed from the trail camera, so using one means you’re monitoring a space in a different way. While you might want continuous coverage of, say, your front-door step or backyard, there are other nooks and crannies that a trail camera fits well into.
If you have to park your car outside, for instance, or want to know if someone has come through a side gate at some point int he last few weeks, trail cameras fit that niche. They’re more designed to be used after the fact, so your trail camera footage will be the most important when you know someone was where they shouldn’t be and can use the trail camera footage to confirm that.
Getting creative will get you a lot of good results here. Remember that the camera is motion-sensitive, so if your goal is to capture any suspicious cars on your street, you’re going to get pictures of all the cars on your street. It’s more interesting to, for instance, point a trail camera at your driveway facing your house, to capture the plate number of anyone in your driveway. Then, you can check that as needed.
Another great example is the side gates to your backyard, which are typically not monitored otherwise. A well-positioned trail camera just inside the gate can fade into the background and remain hidden while capturing a picture of the face of anyone who comes through the gate. And because there’s not flash, it won’t draw attention to itself. I’m sure you see the theme here: there are tons of uses to trail cameras, and they give you some unique options within your home security system.
Managing your Trail Camera
One thing a security camera offers that a trail camera does not is the streamlined/automatic use. What we mean here is that a security camera – whether 4K or 1080p which we’ve talked about at length in our other guides – basically needs zero attention unless it literally breaks after it has been set up. A trail camera is much less likely to break on you (since they’re hardened fr outdoor use), but to get the most out of a trail camera being used for home security, you’ll need to pay attention to a few different things.
First, the power. Although some trail cameras like the model listed above can use solar power, that may not always be an option whether due to price or placement (if you need to put a trail camera in the shade). And you can’t run power to these cameras like you can a security camera–there’s just no input for it. That leaves one option: batteries.
Most trail cameras are designed to use rechargeable batteries, while some others like the Bushnell Trophy Cam Trail Camera (on Amazon) actually use eight AA batteries at a time. And as far as how long those batteries go…well…there really isn’t a fixed running time because power is used as a function of the number of pictures taken, and that can be higher or lower depending on where you place the camera.
So, this is our first complication: managing the power of the trail camera. We recommend a solar unit if you can swing it, and if the placement makes sense, just to automate this part of the unit. Otherwise, you’ll need to plan to check the camera routinely, maybe on a weekly frequency, to swap our or recharge the batteries. Luckily, there’s another reason you might be visiting them routinely.
The other major difference between how you’ll use your trail camera compared to a security camera is in how you actually retrieve and review the footage it’s captured. With a security camera, this is easy: there’s a live feed that goes somewhere, either over a wire or over your WiFi network. For trial cameras, all the images are stored on an SD card that’s within the camera itself.
So this means you have to actually retrieve that SD card and review the pictures to see if you’ve captured anything. It will be obvious that you need to do this if you suspect a break-in or other nefarious activity, but a more robust way to manage this will be to start routinely checking the footage. That also gives you a chance to check the batteries regularly.
So, to manage a game camera effectively as part of your home security system, you’ll want to plan your locations, but then plan on doing rounds on them every so often. Every two weeks, for instance, you can go out to your cameras, check the batteries, pull the SD car and check the images. You can even scroll through them right there if you take your laptop with you, making it easy to do this quickly, save the images you want, delete the rest, and pop the sim card back in.
As you can see, trail cameras give you a little more flexibility in your security system, but it’s a very specific kind of flexibility. Those edge cases, carports, sheds maybe, you can use a game camera to monitor things that wouldn’t normally bw within the net of your security system.
But they do require a little more cleverness than a security camera–you have to pick strategic locations, and you have to routinely keep an eye on their battery level and review the pictures they’ve captured. But at the cost, and for what they offer, trail cameras can be a very useful component to your home security system.