Some of the technological advances we have witnessed over the last 10-15 years have proven to be a huge help to us in our hunting endeavors. One such advancement is the use of digital trail cameras to help us scout our hunting areas. Nothing quite like being there, even we can’t be there, to help us learn the animals in our favorite hunting spots, their patterns, their movements and even to learn where we can get away from other hunters on public land.
I have used a number of trail cameras over the past several years to help in my quest for filling those hard to acquire tags. As part of our 2011 hunting season here in New Mexico, we decided to do a series of reviews on a number of cameras in search of the perfect camera for our extreme hunting conditions here in New Mexico. Which camera can go from timberline during elk season to the lowest desert for our sheep hunts and function everywhere in between for lions, bears and deer? One thing is for sure, we learned a lot about a number of different cameras.
In this series, I will do my best to relay to you the strong points and weaknesses we found in each one of the cameras we used over a four month period from July through October to help us scout for elk, deer, bears and lions in the high country of southwest New Mexico. Once I finish these reviews, we will put the cameras back to work out in the desert lowlands scouting for our January deer, sheep and ibex hunts. A second round of reviews will follow for each camera at the conclusion of those hunts.
The next camera we used is the Day 6 Outdoors PlotWatcher Pro (Model TLC-200-C). The technical specifications of this camera as advertised are as follows:
- Tru-Video automatically compiles images in video format, making it much easier, quicker and enjoyable to review your files
- 2.5” LCD on-board for camera setup, video aiming, and camera status messages
- Start and stop the camera automatically based on the available light or by defining specific start and stop times based on the camera’s clock.
- Accepts add-on telephoto and wide-angle lenses
- Temperature and moon-phase info shown on each image
- Uses SD card storage and saves video files in 1/2 of the memory space
- Security cable ready
Now that we know what the technical claims are for this camera, let’s talk about what we found it can really do. All in all, we found this camera to be a very solid performer for uses far different than what it was originally created for. Yes, I know, it seems strange to think about using a time lapse camera intended for monitoring food plots in whitetail country on our hunts out west, out here where we have no food plots, no fields to monitor, no daily routine for our wildlife. Well, after 4 months of using these magnificent cameras, I am truly wondering how I ever got along without one! Day 6 Outdoors has done a great job of putting a lot of useful tools into this compact camera. If you want to know what is happening in your favorite spot during daylight hours, you have to get one of these cameras!
The typical traits we would be looking at in a regular trail camera are not the same in the time lapse world. PIR length, recovery speed, IR flash range, all are non-issues with this type of camera. Ease of use and set-up, picture quality, and analysis of your photos become the key. The PlotWatcher Pro provides many useful tools for quick and proper set-up, consistent photo quality, and easy review of the multitude of photos you will get from your camera.
A series of four toggle switches is used in setting up the camera. These switches allow you to set the interval between photos (5 seconds, 10 seconds or custom), set a mid-day skip (pre-programmed from 10:00 Am to 2:00 PM, custom set by the user, or none), and start and stop times (preset at light based from sun up to sun down or custom set by the user). With the easy to use menu on the camera and the interval viewer, the user can quickly and easily set up the time and date and all custom settings that the user my wish to use. Once set, the user can simply switch the four toggles to the proper locations and the camera is ready to go. Once mounted to a tree or other secure location, the preview selection which will display a photo on the internal viewer of the area at which the camera is pointed can be used to insure that you have your PlotWatcher positioned exactly where you want it before you leave it.
Overall, the picture quality was very good. The pictures were clear with plenty of detail to zoom in on your subjects and had good color. Each picture is date/time stamped and displays the moon phase, temperature and remaining battery level. The pictures taken by the PlotWatcher Pro are saved in a video format with a number of consecutive photos saved into a single video (normally two to five videos per day depending on length of day and interval set). These videos can then be viewed to see what animals have been through your favorite areas.
OK, I know what you are thinking, if you set a 5 second interval from daylight to dark with no mid-day skip, that is a LOT of pictures to have to look through for possibly only one picture of an animal! Actually, that is correct, and it works out to whopping 720 photos per hour, or 8640 per day from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM. Looking through all of those photos would be too much for anyone. However, Day 6 Outdoors includes with each camera their GameFinder software that does all of that work for you. Simply open the software, open your first video with it, and tell it to search. The software quickly runs through the video stopping at each photo that contains an animal. A five hour video can be reviewed in as little as three minutes!
We tested this software thoroughly, going back through numerous videos one frame at a time to verify no pictures with animals were missed. Animals between 100 and 200 yards were easily recognized by the software and we did not find any instances where the software missed animals. This made using the cameras a true blessing. Once you hit a picture with an animal, the software quickly allows you to save that individual frame as a JPEG photo, or, you can choose to save a series of consecutive frames as a video to watch the animal move through the area.
We placed the PlotWatcher Pro’s in a number of places that provided us unique PIR problems. A huge stock water tank with dozens of trails coming into it from every direction, an open meadow where we knew elk were feeding in the mornings, and water holes were we just could not get a trail camera situated within PIR trigger range. I had never realized how many times I had placed cameras in places where I accepted what I had for placement rather than positioning them in the actual best places watching the hottest spots.
With the PlotWatcher Pro, we were able to monitor high mountain water holes that were 100 to 200 yards across with a single camera. If we would have been limited by PIR trigger distances, we would have needed dozens of cameras to cover those water holes. In most instances, we were able to cover the entire location with a single PlotWatcher Pro and not have to worry about missing a single thing. In other locations, we placed regular trail cameras on what we thought would be the high traffic trails and then strategically placed PlotWatcher Pro to cover the whole location. We were truly amazed at what we had been missing!
The PlotWatcher Pro will operate on 4 or 8 AA batteries. We operated the camera with 8 AA batteries. Battery life was excellent compared with the other cameras we reviewed, which was expected due to the absence of a flash from the Day 6 cameras. After 4 months and thousands of pictures, the cameras battery life still ranges from 65% to 85% on the cameras we used. All in all, I would say that the camera could easily operate for the full year (as advertised) with one set of high quality batteries.
The balancing act comes at night. Obviously, you will not get any pictures on the PlotWatcher Pro during nighttime hours. It is specifically designed for daytime use. Based on what we saw from our use of this camera during our first round of hunts, I honestly do not believe this would even be a consideration when contemplating the purchase of this camera. What we were able to see during hunting hours, what we learned by seeing far beyond what we had been capturing with PIR cameras and the wealth of information we gained from movements we saw on these cameras that we were missing on others, leaves no doubt that Day 6 has earned a permanent spot in our gear bag for the future.
Overall, we would highly recommend this camera to anyone looking for a time lapse camera and the price is right too (around $100). Additionally, we would highly recommend that hunters in the west consider these types of cameras for our western style of hunting. No need to guess the right trail into or out of that wallow anymore, watch them all with the PlotWatcher Pro. Open meadows, large mountain water holes, travel corridors and more can all be monitored with a single camera during daylight hours to see what you have been missing!
For more go to: Day 6