The DIY Hunter

Like many people that love trail cameras, I have been eyeing the jump to cellular technology for a few years now and in March of 2020, I picked up my first cellular trail cameras, a couple of Browning Defender Wireless Cellular trail cameras. These cameras are pretty cool. So I thought I would share the things I have learned about them, things I had so many questions about before I used them.

The first thing I noticed about the camera is that it is a little larger than my favorite Recon Force cameras. The extra size comes from a battery pack that takes 16 AA batteries instead of 8 AA batteries. The face of the camera has really cool recessed grooves in a camouflage like pattern. This makes it so it doesn't have any large flat surfaces on the front to reflect light off and it's pretty cool looking as well. There is also a metal bracket on the bottom to thread 1/4" 20 accessories mounts.

Another great companion to this camera will be the Browning solar panel which should be available around May of 2020. With a solar panel attached the camera can stay running indefinitely... or at least as long as a bear or other critter doesn't mess with the camera.

The cameras come in either a Verizon or AT&T version. They are the exact same camera but just have a sim card and controller board built-in for the specific carrier. One thing that may be confusing is that these cameras do not link to your current cell phone plan. They are completely independent of any cell plan. They are linked to a Browning Trail Cameras system (more on that system in a bit).

You should get the VZW or ATT version that has the best signal in the area you plan to use your camera. And that's the hard question, which camera would have the best signal in the area I want to place it? If in doubt, Verizon has a little larger network and has had the strongest signal in the areas I have been using my cameras. 

The Verizon version gets a better signal strength in the areas I have used my cameras so far, however, the AT&T camera has worked just as well even though it shows lower signal strength. 

Phone apps to check signal Signal Strength

As shown in the image above there are free apps to check the signal strength of the carrier of your phone and in my case that is AT&T. If you and a buddy each had an AT&T and a Verizon phone you could use apps like is shown above to hike into the location you would like to place a camera and see which carrier would get the best signal strength.

To help me know if a particular area has good signal strength I've been looking at apps for my phone to find the signal strength of the two cell carriers. My personal cell carrier is AT&T and I have found a couple of good apps to monitor the strength of the AT&T signal but because my phone isn't on Verizon's network I have no idea which carrier is best for that spot. I can, however, use my phone to get a good idea if the signal strength is strong enough for an AT&T camera.

So far my AT&T camera has worked everywhere I have tried with the lowest signal strength I have tried being -118dBm. The smaller the negative number (the closer to zero) the better the signal. The only issue I have found with low signal is transferring video has worked better when it's not in a poor signal area.

Browning Defender Wireless Cellular Trail Camera Verizon Signal Strength


Browning Defender Wireless Cellular Trail Camera AT&T Signal Strength

When setting up the camera in the field there is a setting to check the signal strength. Shown above is my Verizon camera showing high signal strength in this location and my AT&T camera with low signal strength. Even though this AT&T camera at this particular location shows a red "low" signal the cameras still works great.

Feature-wise other than the cellular connectivity, the cameras have the features you have on the non-cellular versions of Browning Trail Cameras. The only thing that I have noticed that is different from my favorite Recon Force Advantage cameras is that the video is standard 30 fps instead of the extra high frame rate of 60fps. I do like the 60 fps for editing video to a half-speed slow motion but unless you are geeky like myself with video editing, 30 fps is awesome.

Browning Cellular Thumbnail Image Quality - two deer

Browning Cellular Thumbnail Image Quality - Rabbit

Browning Cellular Thumbnail Image Quality - Deer Nap

Browning Cellular Thumbnail Image Quality - Sandhill Crane

These images are sample low-resolution raw images (no filters applied) that transfer immediately to my phone when the camera captures them. Great quality for low-resolution images if you ask me. If I see an image I want in high resolution I just flag it in the app and on my next scheduled sync I have it. Pretty dang cool stuff. You should also note that any high-resolution image you transfer will have the latitude and longitude in the file properties, so if you want to keep your location secret before sending the image to your friends you will want to strip this information off the JPG file. 

In video mode the camera will immediately transmit the first frame of the video clip as a thumbnail image. If I want to see the clip I can schedule for the camera to transmit the first 10 seconds of the video. The video transferred via cellular will also be downsized to 960x540 at 30fps. If I have the camera set to record longer than 10 seconds and I want to view the whole video clip or if I want to view the video in Full HD I need to physically go pull the SD card. Not a bad trade-off for how large video files can be. 

I have been experimenting with the video setting and having the video length set to 10 seconds, Smart IR Video turned off and Photo Delay set to 1 Second. With the camera set like this, I can transfer all of the video footage the camera captures. If a critter is moving in front of the camera after 10 seconds I will get a 1-second chop before it starts recording again. I'll play with the settings more but that is one option I have been playing with.

Below is a sample of the video quality that gets transferred via cellular. They aren't the Full HD quality that you will get off the SD card but the video clips are pretty decent for viewing purposes. And when you pull the SD card you will have the Full HD version.

Speaking of playing with the settings. You can totally adjust all the settings of the camera from the Strike Force app on your phone or on the Strike Force Wireless website. If I decide I want to switch to images or the photo delay length, you name it, you can adjust it in the app and on the next scheduled sync with the camera, the camera will switch to your new settings. The app and Strike Force Wireless website also let you know the battery level, cellular signal strength and percentage of available space on the SD card.

Scheduled Syncs. You can schedule up to 8 sync times per day. I have all of my cameras set to sync every two hours from 8 am to 10 pm at night.

So what all gets synced? Any setting changes and any requests you schedule to get HD images or video clips will be transferred at the sync times. Sometimes it takes up to a half-hour after the sync for HD images and video to transfer. As I understand it the cellular service the cameras use is on a lower priority than your cell phone so transferring larger images and video might get bumped back a little in priority by the cell tower over a voice call and cell phone usage.

You also have the option to have thumbnail images sent immediately when captured or only on scheduled syncs. I set mine to immediate.

I have been pleasantly surprised at the quality of the thumbnail images. While they are not high resolution they are pretty decent quality to see what is in the photo. If I like an image or video thumbnail I flag it in the app or on the website to download the HD image or video on the next sync.

HD image of a Mule Deer Fawn from a Browning Defender Wireless Cellular Trail Camera


HD image of a Rock Chuck from a Browning Defender Wireless Cellular Trail Camera


HD image of  Canada Geese from a Browning Defender Wireless Cellular Trail Camera

Click on the two images above to view the raw HD versions that I transferred via the Strike Force Wireless app on my phone.

To get the cellular to work you will need to set up an account at www.strikeforcewireless.com. On the website, you will then need to choose a monthly plan for the number of thumbnails, HD images and video uploads. Plans range from $15 to $50 per month. Depending on the plan you chose you can also add additional cameras to the plan for an additional $6 per month.

In the account settings on the website, you add cameras to your plan by entering the ICCID and IMEI numbers found on your camera. Once you have done this you are ready to start using your camera. It really only took me a couple of minutes to set up my account and have my first camera online transferring images.

After you have your account setup you can log in to the Strike Force Wireless app on your phone and control your cameras from your phone or from the website.

One thing that I hope gets fixed is that the audio codec on the videos won't work when posting the video directly to Instagram or Facebook. The video clip will have no audio unless you download it to a computer and re-encode the video with a video editor like Adobe Premiere. I am able to hear the audio fine within the Browning Strike Force app and using the VLC app on my phone. I'm betting Browning is working on this and maybe it is only an issue with Android or my phone. I'm using a Galaxy Note 10+.

I'm now waiting for a couple of solar panels to come in and the snow to melt so I can get up in the mountains with my Browning Defender Wireless Cellular Trail Cameras!

Browning Strike Force Wireless App

The list of my three cameras in the Strike Force Wireless App.


Browning Strike Force Wireless App

Previewing a list of thumbnails from the Strike Force Wireless App.


Browning Strike Force Wireless App

One of the many screens in the Strike Force Wireless app showing the battery level, signal strength and how much room is available on the SD card.

So I've been playing with the new Defender 850 trail cameras lately.  I thought I would share some of the things I have found that might help you get the most out of your Browning trail camera.

The option to connect to these cameras via an app on your phone or tablet is pretty geeky cool. I like this function most for going through the setting and using the live preview to point the camera in the perfect direction. Here's how the app connecting process works.

With the power on turned on the camera, you then open the Browning Defender app on your phone. The trail camera is always using low power Bluetooth so when you turn on the Defender App it will either automatically connect via Bluetooth or you will have to select the Bluetooth camera name and then press the connect button.

Once you have this Bluetooth connection established you then can click the "BLU <> WIFI" button to switch the camera into wifi mode. At this point be a little patient as it may take a few seconds for your phone to see the trail camera in your available wifi's to connect to. Once the wifi shows up select to connect to it and then hit the back button on your Android phone (not sure what the iPhone people do). Now you will have a wifi connection to the phone and can use the Live View, Playback and Settings options. Pretty simple.

In the video below you can see how the live preview works. This is nice to point the camera where you want it, walk past it and see how critters would frame up in the view and adjust the camera position as needed.

While this camera has some cool features the battery life (taking video) with the expensive CR123A batteries it uses just doesn't compare to my favorite Recon Force Advantage Browning trail cameras.

 

A photo posted by Brady Smith (@diyhntr) on

 

 

 

Trail cameras are the best! I love capturing the activity of the critters on the mountain. Especially in full HD video with my Browning Recon Force trail cameras. As you can see in the videos on this page I have captured some pretty fun stuff so far this year.

After seeing the 7x8 bull on my trail cam last year I have been hopeful some other "larger" bulls would be on my cameras this summer. So far I have only been getting two spikes and a variety of two year old bulls. I usually get a couple three year old bulls but none so far this year. Well if I did have a large bull on camera do you think I would be showing anyone until after I knew he was dead? ;)

For years I have been slowing digging out a marshy spring area trying to make it into a small pond for the critters to play in. I regularly pack in a shovel to dig from the safety of the solid ground around the muddy, marshy spring. In July I packed in waders for the first time so that I could really get into the mud and water and dig it out. I spent 3 hours in the nasty mud digging it out. I should have brought gloves as my right hand received a nasty blister. What a workout. I still would like to dig it out some more on one side but it will have to wait for another trip.

I have also been hauling in 50 pound mineral and salt blocks to help encourage the critters to hang around to get their picture taken.

On this page are some of my favorite trail cam action from this summer. At the bottom of this page is a YouTube playlist with most of the video action I have posted. 

The elk and moose have really been enjoying the new pond. Seeing the spike I call Thumper (a small spike with a notch in his right ear) splashing around in the pond is so awesome. Excited to see more of this in the future.

To stay up-to-date with my trail cam and blog action follow me on Instagram.

 

Browning Trail Camera with rechargeable batteries

I have gone through many alkaline batteries in trail cams from using them in video mode. To help save on batteries I made some homemade  DIY 12V NiMh Rechargeable Trail Camera Battery Pack but found that the bears and elk liked to rip them off the trees and chew the cords in half. This year I have been just using rechargeable batteries inside the trail cameras and they work fairly well. Because they don't start out at 12v with only eight batteries in them I like to replace the batteries every trip up the mountain to maintain enough power to run the cameras. The only downside I have found to using the NiMH rechargeable batteries in the camera is that the night video doesn't have quite as good of distance for critters that are further away from the camera.


Browning Trail Camera with rechargeable batteries

With fully charged Ni-MH rechargeable batteries the screen on my Browning trail cams will show around 53-60%.

 


 

A video posted by Brady Smith (@diyhntr) on