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. (#ad) 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 instead of a molded plastic mount with metal insert embedded in the plastic.
Another great companion to this camera will be the Browning solar panel which should be available around July of 2020 (Covid-19 delayed). 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. The Verizon model had the strongest signal in the valley areas I have tried so far while up in the high country I tried the AT&T model has had a better signal.
As shown in the image above is a free app I found on Google Play 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 cameras have worked almost everywhere I have tried them. The lowest signal strength I have tried being -118dBm and the camera worked. The smaller the negative number (the closer to zero) the better the signal. My preference it is to try to get to at least -100dBm or better.
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 camera 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.
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 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 have mine cameras set to immediately upload.
I have found that new settings for the camera will sync with the camera on the next immediate thumbnail send or on the next scheduled sync, whichever comes first. For instance, in the middle of the night, I had a tumbleweed blow in and get stuck right in front of my camera. The camera had many hundreds of images of this weed when I woke the next morning and was still capturing them. I set the camera to just take one image per trigger and a thirty-minute delay before being ready to trigger again. This setting was pushed to the camera within minutes on the next capture and totally slowed the flow of images, saving the use of my allotted number of thumbnail downloads on my wireless plan with Browning. After about a day the weed dislodged on its own and I set the camera back to 8-shot burst and 1-second delay.
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.
I have found that the camera's work best if you set the image quality to any setting except "Ultra." In the ultra setting sometimes HD images will get skipped when you schedule to upload them. The Ultra setting really doesn't provide you much better quality of image over the High setting and that is only if you go and retrieve the SD card. HD images that are transferred via cellular service are the same 1920x1080 in size regardless the image quality setting.
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+.
These cameras are real game changers. I'm so excited to get these cameras out this summer in areas I may not have the time to physically hike in and check every couple of weeks. Nice work Browning Trail Cameras!