Thursday, 27 October 2011

Trailcampro Springfield, Missouri – Rich Howe and Crew

I have spent the last couple of days with the very busy Rich Howe, his Dad and staff at Trailcampro.  Rich took two days out of his outrageous schedule to show me the traps ! Trailcampro provide some of the best independent information on camera traps on the web and most of you will know of their website. The very competent team carry out any number of comparisons between camera trap and equipment and provide excellent summaries of their findings. I have been using this website for several years now so if you are not accessing this information yet, I suggest you have a look. They have done some very interesting tests on detection zones, trigger speeds, electrical outputs and batteries;  a new report on battery power will soon be uploaded to the website and gives some very helpful insights into battery type and charge.

I was fortunate to see and have described how Trailcampro carry out their tests including seeing the Triggernator in operation – a funky device designed by their Engineer (who sadly had gone bush so we didn’t meet) to measure trigger times between camera traps. If you check out their site you will see it in action, its very ingenious.

Trailcampro has access to every camera available as well as a range of equipment. I had a chance to see the new Spypoint camera, Moultrie, Leupold and Scoutguard with SMS functionality. The Spypoint Tiny-W has is a dual system and uses a wireless function to send the images to a detector that can be buried or hidden with just the antennae pointing towards the sensor device. It will be interesting to see how this camera performs – it certainly scored well in the shoot-out tests.

I suggest everyone should read Rich’s synopsis on batteries too. He has done some interesting research on batteries and charging and gave some good advice today; never ever mix charged and uncharged batteries together in the device – it can have serious consequences, one of which is battery melt down or a reversal in polarity. Always make sure each battery is charged equally.

Rich’s knowledge, and his staff for that mater, on camera trap functionality across all the makes and models is unsurpassed. We had some interesting discussion about the Ultimate Camera Trap specifications and how some of the functions have either been in previous models or are about to be released in new models.  Trailcampro have a dedicated staff member who monitors the camera list server site so we have a great resource of knowledge reading out questions.

Handy hint 1 - for those of us in Australia who order from Trailcampro, experience shows that if you can keep your order below $1000 the additional costs at our end are reduced !!!!! ………… if you know what I mean ? .

Handy hint 2 – if you are working in dangerous critter country, I have found a dual purpose camera setting device.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011


The guys at Trailcampro recommended this mounting device today, its excellent and affordable at about $20 USD. Its a Slate River Ez-Aim Game Camera Mount but does need a camera with a tripod mount. I have one to trial and will post any feedback.The device is screwed into a tree by hand or with a screw driver used as a lever.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Jay Eggert Meeting – University of Missouri & Smithsonian Institute Collaboration (Roland Kays)

This morning I had a short meeting with PhD student Jay Eggert who is working in collaboration with Roland Kays and others on testing whether image recognition software can be a future tool to wildlife camera trapping programs. The collaboration aims to establish broadscale Citizen Science programs (more to come following a meeting with Roland Kays) using camera trapping. Jay and his cohort are involved in providing the technological expertise to determine whether image recognition algorithms can be developed to extract relevant animal metrics that can inturn be used to identify animals from photos. In the IACRC and University of New England Australia, we have also been looking at this approach but these collaborators are already well down the track. I hope we can explore opportunities for some Australian connections and contributions when I return. We had an interesting discussion about their research and some of the possible barriers and complexities of using this approach.

Next stop TrailCamPro in Missouri for a few days playing with cameras and testing methods !

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Meeting with Reconyx, Holmen Wisconsin

Well this meeting was more valuable than I could have hoped for, the Reconyx team were a great bunch of blokes and we had between 5-6 people for the most part of the day discussing various aspects of camera traps. I provided them with a copy of the Ultimate Camera design and this was discussed at length, they were very grateful to all of the contributors for the list of functions and again some of the wish list are either in place or soon to come on line. One big message for me was how willing Reconyx is to listen to researchers and that there is flexibility in what features you can have customised on the Professional Series.
Interesting fact – did you know that the very first Reconyx camera was designed for a small mammal researcher and was not for hunting ?

Hunting cameras is now a major part of the Reconyx market but closely followed by researchers and they are very keen to further develop and refine this market. I found the team very keen and they were very willing to listen to any issue and try to solve reasonable suggestions to improve the products for research.

I was able to raise many of the questions that I gathered from the Camera Trap LISTERVER and have some great feedback and advice, but Reconyx have also asked me to put the list to them in writing and they will address anything else they can. They urged users to email their help line on with any problems or suggestions because they have a system in place to manage volumes of queries and they want to be able to provide customer support as quickly as possible. I have also suggested that they might set up a Q&A troubleshooting page on the website that is updated regularly and that has a search function so that our first point of call for advice is their website. I have also given them the list server address to keep an eye on so that they can contribute to the continuous questions that are raised between researchers. Hopefully this will provide an additional help avenue for use Reconyx users.

Here are a few answers to some of our questions;

Blurry images – check the settings in night mode firstly to make sure you have increased the setting to high because the default setting is medium, you can also reduce the flash intensity to get better images but your range will be reduced.

The PIR sensors in Reconyx cameras are designed for animal passage across the detection zone, where possible the placement of your camera is best set facing perpendicular to the road and not at an angle and definitely not straight down a track. 

Two weather conditions will impact on your data, rain and radiant heat from the ground in exposed sites, as such camera trapping in deserts is problematic esp. away from trees and shadows, but to my surprise I was told that during rain the heat signature of animals will be significantly reduced. Apparently rain and heat create a blanket to the PIR sensor, so your data will be affected. 

During setting we all know how important the walk test function is but Reconyx urges everyone to use it every time to maximise your detection success.

5.       Reconyx can customise the detection zone array to suit your needs in the professional series, so the standard design that I have been highlighting over the last year can be changed to suit a specific purpose, in particular some that the DZ is centrally focused.

6.       Reconyx is looking at how they can add a language function to their settings or a language choice in the customise settings so that when you program the settings in the software you can name the custom in a different language for the benefit of non-English reading field staff.

      They are looking at providing a date format in dd/mm/yyyy as well as the US form.

      Batteries do make a big difference; Lithium is the battery of choice. The team could not say with any accuracy at what point battery life effects performance but they confirmed that the camera will be affected by low battery levels. I suggested that lower than 60% may be a time to review changing batteries before deployment and this was thought to be reasonable.

      If using rechargeable batteries they are affected by extreme cold and hot weather, if you are working in very cold or very hot sites they advise only using Lithium batteries.

           Six batteries can be deployed per camera trap without harming the camera although there will be reduced LED performance at some point.

      The packaging of desiccant cylinders (see pictured) is problematic and Reconyx is exploring an air tight packaging option to reduce them crystals absorbing water during transport. They are looking into a great idea which should overcome this problem.

      Reptile and frog camera trap users – a better way to use cameras given the heat differential problem is to set the camera in time lapse mode at high intervals in daylight ?

     Different lenses are available in the professional series,  you can get a 2 x telephoto lens.

     While there is a function to adjust the PIR sensor sensitivity, the default choice should always be HIGH this overcomes any issues about detection variability the further the animal is from the PIR. If you reduce sensitivity it will reduce detection of small animals, so unless this is your objective always leave it on high.

Having never bought a HC800 I had never had a chance to use the Map View data base that Reconyx continues to develop for its users and I must say there are some very nice features, although in its basic capacity (Buck View) this program will reduce filing and coding time by over 50% for me. The software accessed your data, extracts the meta data (exif) including photo quality data eg saturation etc and send it to a data base, it also have a very fast viewing function that allows you to view images at a customised speed or manually. It uses Google or a map of your uploading to mark camera sites and then relates future data to those points. It also allows tagging and basic coding of your data. The data can also be exported in a CSV file and entered into your data base of choice. If anyone is using this program already, make suggestion to Reconyx on allowing some more research based customisations because they are keen to improve this software. There are still some modifications that I think would improve it and I have passed these comments on, but over all a nice bit of software. I now have a copy and will be testing it. I have also suggested that they might put a demo clip on the website so interested people can look at it and get a feel for its functionality. 

The other benefit of the professional series is the additional setting that can be accessed through the software, this is also available in the outdoor series eg HC600 but the features are fewer. I have never used this software and now realise how useful this is to fine tuning settings that could just make all the difference.

A significant take home message for me was that the extra cost of buying the Professional series of cameras eg HC800 is well worth doing, the design features are a bit more suited to our needs, the electrical coating to reduce moisture issues and the software are well worth considering.

Keep your eyes on the Reconyx website because they have a number of new products in the pipeline that are very exciting and some that will be released very soon !  Also for those facebook users, Reconyx have a site and it is worth checking it out because they keep their followers updated with new information and advice. This is also a good way of getting the research voice hear d even louder so I suggest we should all check it out. Pixcontroller also have a Facebook site so check it out.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Meeting with Bill Powers from Pixcontroller – Pennsylvania

After a short few hour drive but a serious number of grey hairs created by the traffic from Washington DC to Export, Pennsylvania I got to meet Bill from Pixcontroller. The most impressive initial observation is that the whole business is carried out by a team of five, so these cameras really are hand-made. In fact I watched one of their technicians constructing a new Raptor camera and every hole in the casing is surgically measured and cut. The Pixcontroller crew pride themselves on selecting the best components and they have invested a considerable amount of time and effort on buying good components for their circuitry. Pixcontroller are investing lots of time in redesigning and developing new camera traps and I was very impressed with their innovation, especially in regards to wireless technology. Not only have they mastered the technology of using the telecommunications system to transmit information gathered by camera traps, but they are also developing wireless sensors that are equivalent to a bullet cam sized component. They have also developed a circuit system that allows easy switching between wireless and normal PIR sensors which is quite advanced and very useful. In fact this was one of the requirements of the Ultimate Camera trap design !

 They also have a sensor that can ignore background noise and focus on animal movement which will be a serious advantage to those of us facing constant problems from vegetation movement.  The team is also playing around with cutting edge vibration sensors and pressure plate sensors to over come the challenges of camera trapping in hot and uniform background study areas. They also have a GPS feature for an additional charge- needless to say another Ultimate Camera Trap design requirement.  They are also playing around with covert cameras and live streaming camera traps (see their website for details).

The new Raptor camera is an infra red device and has some very nice features, they are also about to release the new white flash DigitalEye camera trap with some new features, including having components that enable wireless sensors to be used. The Raptor has some amasing programming functionality with delay programming as well as full control over what periods of time the camera can detect ie just night, just day and time periods – dare I say it yet another Ultimate Camera Trap design feature. The camera also runs off a gel cell !!!!!.  Apparently TrailCamPro have recently assessed the device so check it out. The UndercoverEye has even more wireless functions.

One feature that is very exciting is the ability to fit a yagi antennae to the Raptor to allow SMS messaging as well as daisy chain functionality – nice for those of us who have cameras set in remote areas where phone communication is negligible.

Bill is a wiz technician and understands his components very well and we had an insightful discussion about the limitations of components and camera trapping. A few snippets of information that are critical to our trapping were;
1.       As we suspected , but now I can confirm, PIR sensors have some major limitations especially in hot and glaring locations, so essentially using IR camera traps in deserts and dune systems where the motion sensors is swamped with light and glare and where ambient temperature and body temperature differentials are small,  PIR camera traps are not a wise choice. This is why Pixcontroller is experimenting with seismic devices and pressure plates.
2.       PIR sensors in camera traps are usually in one of two forms, a ceiling or dual element design.  Pixcontroller use a ceiling form which minimises dead zones but most others use dual elements meaning there are breaks in the detection zone bands, therefore creating yet another gap in our detection zone understanding. This has serious implications for some survey designs and especially for camera traps being placed horizontal and facing down. For some cameras this will not be a good approach. It also confirms that facing the camera directly in the path of an animal is a bad decision.

We discussed some of the concerns that have been raised by pixcontroller users and Bill is of the opinion that they have ironed out most of them. They are well aware of the speed to first detection problem that their camera trap have because they use a Sony camera, but hope the technology behind their designs overshadow this limitation. One area where they can get challenged is in timely delivery of large orders, simply because they are a home made product and one sick person can have a big impact.  But they are aware of this and try to do their best. The team are very motivated and driven towards camera trapping for research and they are keen to have a good name in the business.

Interestingly Australia is their biggest white flash camera trap market and they are not driven by the hunting market at all. Keep your eye on these guys they have some very funky equipment either out or soon to be released that will make some seriously big steps towards better camera trap designs for wildlife research.

Tomorrow I meet with Reconyx in Holmen, Wisconsin and have a long list of questions to ask them on behalf of the global wildlife survey users. Then Saturday I get to look around the cameras on sale in Cabelas, Wisconsin !!, watch out credit card.