Wildlife cameras are rapidly gaining in popularity as a valuable tool for passive wildlife monitoring. As a professional ecologist, it’s easy to see how they could be used for ecological monitoring, for example, determining occupation of a badger sett or otter holt, or even establishing the presence of rare species, for example, the Scottish wildcat. Clearly the value of a wildlife camera stems from the fact that unlike a surveyor, a wildlife camera can remain in the field for days, weeks, even months in some instances.
It was during a recent training and networking event in Perthshire, that we finally gained some initial hands-on experience with camera trapping for pine marten and Scottish wildcat (see our blog from 8 March 2017). So, with our curiosity suitably piqued and recognising the onset of a busy survey season, where such a tool could add value to our services, we made a decision to speculatively invest in our first wildlife camera. However, with a veritable buffet of cameras to choose from, we initially struggled to sift our way through the various options and features on offer from a wide range of manufacturers.
After reading more reviews than we’d care to admit, in addition to a hand-full of helpful blogs, we finally selected the Minox DTC 390. Our selection was based on the fact that it offered broadly comparable features to a popular entry-level range of HD cameras but was up to £42 cheaper – an important consideration for a recent startup business! In addition, having read some unfavourable reviews about the build quality of a very popular wildlife camera brand on Amazon, we wanted to search for a more reliable alternative.
We ordered our Minox DTC 390 from Grooves.Land (www.grooves-inc.co.uk) for £83.63, although we could have purchased the camera from NatureSpy (www.naturespy.org), who also include a 8MB SD card and a handy quick guide for £99.99.
So what does the Minox DTC 390 offer the discerning ecologist? Well, for a start it comes in three colour options - grey, green and woodland camouflage, which depending on your needs, are suitable for use in a range of habitats. We opted for good old green, as we thought it would be a better all-round colour for our future survey needs.
The Minox DTC 390 supports the following main features:
- Capture Burst: 1-3 Images per Trigger;
- Resolution Setting: Up to 12MP (5MP sensor);
- Night Vision Flash: 42 No-Glow LEDs, up to 15m/60ft;
- LCD Display: 2.4″ Inch Colour Display;
- Data Stamp: Yes;
- Power Supply: AA (8x);
- Battery Life: Up to 6 Months;
- Video Resolution: 1080p (15fps), 720p (30fps);
- Video Length: Up to 5 Minutes;
- SD Card Capacity: up to 32 GB;
- Time Lapse: Yes;
- Audio Record: Yes;
- Hybrid Capture: Yes; and
- Warranty: 2 Years.
For a more detailed description of the camera’s specifications, just click on the following link: www.minox.com/index.php?id=dtc_390_1&L=1.
Within a couple of days our new camera arrived safe and sound! The Minox DTC 390 is shipped with a printed manual, a handy long nylon securing strap and, to our surprise, a mounting bracket for more permanent, long-term installations. We also noticed an external 6V power port on the outside of the camera casing, which is a great feature that is underplayed by Minox on their product description.
Understandably, we were keen to try the camera straight away, so our office garden became the necessary subject of a field
trial! After hammering in a short wooden post, we mounted the camera using the nylon securing strap as shown in the accompanying pictures.
In terms of camera setup, we selected the following options for our photo trial:
- PIR Interval: 15 sec;
- Capture Number: 2;
- Photo Size: 8 MB;
- Audio Recording: Off;
- IR LED: 42; and
- Side PIR: On.
After an overnight wait, we retrieved the camera early the next morning and checked the SD card for the previous nights urban activity! However, what was clear from one of a series pictures of an over-exposed fox, was that are short distances, all 42 IR LED’s were creating too much light - hence the over-exposure... On reflection, we didn't think this was too big an issue, as in terms of it's future use, at least the camera had the ability to light up a much larger area – as promised Minox in their camera specification. However, we suspected the resulting over-exposure was a combination of the full 42 IR LED array working alongside a very blight sodium streetlight outside of our office.
Clearly after a disappointing first night, a re-test was definitely needed! Unfortunately, the weather deteriorated over next couple of nights, so we waited for the next run of good weather, but this time we selected only 21 IR LEDs for a more balanced exposure, and moved the camera a meter to the left to avoid a cherry tree.
Early the next morning we checked the SD card again and were rewarded with series of correctly exposed pictures of our garden fox, which we think must have been checking out the fish in our pond!
With a correctly exposed still picture under our proverbial belts, we decided to investigate the video capability of the camera - after all, this is another major selling by Minox! So, the following night we set the camera to video mode (opting for a 10 second length video at 1080p) and deployed it back into the garden. Like clockwork, our garden fox obligingly returned in the small hours of the morning and we were delighted with the quality of the moving image.
So at the end of our garden trial what did we think of this camera? We certainly couldn't question the quality of the camera's still and moving images, which we considered to be perfectly adequate for our future business needs. In addition, for £83.63 the Minox DTC 390 certainly punches well above its weight; not only does it offer the same features as a number of well-known camera brands costing well over a £100, but it's also compact, inconspicuous and easy to carry to and from site - an important consideration if you're carrying quite a few of them! Finally, the camera even comes with a 2-year warranty. In conclusion, we'll certainly be investing in more of these cameras over the coming months, as they represent an ideal balance between budget and image quality.
Photo Credits: TETRIX Ecology