Friday, 17 January 2014

Cuddeback vs Bushnell: camera traps pros and cons

Camera Traps are cameras that trigger due to movement, and are commonly used for monitoring wildlife. They are also called Remote Sensing Cameras, Trophy Cams or Trail Cameras. There are a variety of brands – but choosing a camera can be tricky – going by 'specs' can be misleading and lead to disappointment.

I started using camera traps for a project in the Amazon in 2003. Back then it was still film that had to be developed,and a poorly placed camera triggered by a hot waving branch could be very expensive as well as frustrating. Camera traps have come a long way since then in our digital and video dominated world. At least a waving branch is only frustrating now – unwanted images are easily deleted.

During 2006 I saw Cuddeback Capture camera in use for the first time – great quality images in the dingy forest environment. At Blue Hill Nature Reserve we invested in Cuddeback Capture camera traps in 2010 and were not disappointed. The cameras revealed the presence of a range of creatures from genets to leopards, and much of this wildlife we have not yet even seen as these animals are nocturnal and shy.

Cuddeback Capture night time capabilities were excellent - pixelation of this image of an Aardvark were caused by image processing

Cuddeback Capture were good at capturing action in the right light - here a Grey Rhebok on the run

This post on Jaguars is illustrated with photos from the Cuddeback Capture cameras:

A few years later, after drowning one camera in a flood and loosing another (baboons ripped it off the mount) it was time to get some news ones.

One faulty camera had been replaced by the 'improved' Cuddeback Attack that featured video capabilities. This overexposed images at night, but we thought this might be just a camera fault. We ordered 5 more – but even after updating firmware we remain disappointed with the flash of the new generation of Cuddeback cameras. While flash strength can be adjusted, this doesn't seem to help. Night photos are often whited out from over exposure.

overexposure with Cuddeback Attack of 2 leopards. This was before updating Firmware.
After updating firmware - still some odd effects in night time photos - illustrated by this Grey Duiker
Cuddeback Attack daytime images are good - a Grey Duiker in the same position as the previous photo

The old Cuddeback Capture could be installed on a post and processed quickly and conveniently by opening the front flap to change memory cards, settings and batteries. The new design means the camera has to be removed from its mount as access is from the back, which means more fiddling as the screw that tightens the flap also doubles as the mount hold.

There is more functionality on the Attack – but you need a manual to figure out the options, as they are coded. Although I've tried the Guard Duty option (a photo every 15 seconds), this was not useful for me. Lastly, the Trophy Room software that comes free for organising photos is just terrible. While it supposedly does all sorts of tricks to examine your time stamps in relation to moon phases, these are still in development. It is also very biased to North America -  there is a preset list of options for naming animals that cannot be modified and does not apply to anywhere else in the world.

The only plus side to the Attack series is the phenomenal length that the four D cell batteries will last for – literally 3-4 months of continual use with top of the range Duracell or similar. Many pundits prefer Cuddebacks due to the fast trigger speed (with Bushnell you may only get a tail of a passing animal).

Video quality is okay – but there is no sound.

A Cuddeback Attack video:

 I first saw Bushnell Scoutpro in action in the Amazon in 2010. I didn't rush to buy these as the Cuddeback Capture image quality was better at the time. However, they have now become my camera of choice: they are smaller (although this means 8 AA batteries), more versatile (a variety of capture possibilities including multiple images of a passing animal),  and you can figure it out without having a manual in your hand thanks to the digital screen on the inside. It opens from the front (so you don't have to remove the camera from a mount when changing memory cards or batteries) and image quality is acceptable at higher quality settings. I have been using these to monitor wildlife visiting Protea flowers:

Bushnell IR photo - recording a mouse visiting Protea lorifolia flowers
Resolution for both makes is adjustable - this photo of a Malachite Sunbird was at standard resolution, resulting in file sizes less than 1 Mb

I've since gotten over the need to have color image night images, and am now a fan of IR – the infra red capabilities that render black and white night-time photos AND videos (not possible with flash type cameras). They are stealthy, and can be used for surveillance under even very sensitive conditions.  These posts on Black Harriers demonstrate the Bushnell photo capabilities:

A Bushnell ScoutPro video of a Black Harrier on a nest demonstrating Infra Red (IR) capabilities:

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