2014 Spring Flash Range Test

     Flash Range has a tremendous impact on the effectiveness of any trail camera.  If a scouting camera has a lightning fast trigger and a huge detection zone, it is still rendered useless for half the day if its flash is inadequate.  There are many variables which influence the power, range & effectiveness of a camera’s flash.
     Below we’ll touch on both the internal & external variables and explain why we test the way we do.  Since the majority of all trail cameras use an infrared flash, the items referenced below will only pertain to IR flash cameras.


Internal Variables

  •  # of infrared LED's– There is a direct correlation with the number of LED's and flash range.  Cameras which have a larger number of infrared LED's in their flash will almost always have more illumination than cameras with fewer LED's.
  •  Energy Used – Think of your hand held flash light when it’s low on batteries vs. the strength of its beam when a fresh set of batteries are installed.  The amount of power sent to a flash and the strength and range of its illumination are directly influenced by the amount of power sent to the flash.  At the expense of battery life, some cameras send more power to their flash than others.  As a result, those cameras can have more illumination than other cameras with the same number of LED's.  It is also important to note the level of illumination in many cameras decreases proportionately along with the voltage level of the power supply.  Weaker batteries often equal a weaker flash. We always purchase and use fresh batteries the night of our Flash Range Test.
  •  Exposure time – This is an area many camera manufacturers have manipulated in recent years.  At the expense of clarity, flash range can be extended by increasing exposure time.  Essentially, the longer a shutter is left open, the farther out a flash will illuminate.  Unfortunately, any movement during the time the shutter is open produces blurry photos.  This is why we always provide a photo with a subject moving through the field of view next to each flash range photo sample.

 External Variables

  •  Moon light – The phase of the moon and the intensity of its light greatly influence flash range and illumination.  A night photo taken under a full moon and clear sky can exhibit twice the flash range and illumination of a photo taken under an overcast sky with a crescent moon.
  •  Cloud cover – Regardless of moon light, cloud cover influences flash range as well.
  •  Tree canopy – A dense tree canopy can completely negate any flash enhancing benefits of a full moon or clear sky.
We always perform our flash range test for all models tested on the same night, under the same moon and sky, in the exact same setting, under the same tree canopy with a fresh set of batteries. Please be very careful when comparing nighttime photos as it is very easy to manipulate results.
Equipment Issues
The size and type of monitor one uses as well as the angle from which it is viewed will influence the perceived flash distance of a camera.  In our evaluation we use our largest and best monitor and tilt it at numerous angles to get the best range for each photo.  A great example of this is the photo taken by the Moultrie 880.  At first examination, the lower half of the photo has great clarity and is illuminated well, but the upper half appears completely dark.  However, if you grab the top of your screen and tilt it down towards you the upper half of the photo becomes illuminated and the entire photo is visible.  We make every attempt to assess photos from their best perspective.
Criteria we used to rank photos
I want to first say this is one of the few tests we perform where human subjectivity comes into play. Having said this, we ranked photos using the following factors with priority based on the order they appear.

1.      Overall illumination across the entire field of view

2.      Clarity, Contrast & Resolution

3.      Presence of "Hot Spots" or areas of overexposure
If two photos exhibited similar illumination, but one had better resolution or contrast we would award a higher ranking to the photo with better resolution.  In similar fashion, if two photos were comparable in every aspect, but one had a hot spot immediately in front of the camera which over exposed anything in that area, we would award a higher rank to the photo without the hotspot.
In the end, different individuals may value different attributes and characteristics of photos.  If nothing else, we have provided a sampling from most every camera on the market taken under very controlled and fair conditions for you to make your own evaluation.
Thanks so much for viewing our 2014 Spring flash Range Test


Editor's Notes & Observations
By the time we start our official round of tests each spring & fall we have usually spent several weeks, if not months working with the models we’ll be testing.  Charles has dissected every unit and run every electronic test imaginable. We have also placed each camera in the field and retrieved thousands of photos to evaluate. Typically, our final tests simply confirm what we have already discovered in the preceding weeks.  This Spring’s Flash Range Test had two distinct exceptions:
Reconyx HC600
The HC600 has been a rock solid performer for five years running.  While the HC600’s flash range has never been “Best in Class”, it has always been a very predictable top third finisher. In this most recent test we took the HC600 for granted and didn’t double check photos.  Unfortunately, the unit we tested had a defect and performed inconsistently with every other HC600 we have ever tested.  The unit in question has been sent back to the Reconyx factory for a very rare warranty replacement.  Please refer to previous years Flash Range tests for a better representation of the HC600’s performance.
Stealth G42NG
The G42NG is a new unit for Stealth which is also being produced in a new factory.  The engineers at Stealth have been constantly tweaking the firmware on this unit to achieve maximum results.  Apparently the firmware update we completed just prior to testing didn’t download correctly.  We have since updated the firmware and our G42NG is producing photos with outstanding flash range.  Please refer to our forthcoming review of the G42NG for a better representation of its capabilities.