My New Toys: Trail Cameras, Drones, and Video Editing

Using his Campark trail camera, Jim captured this buck wandering through the woods.

I really should be writing about some crucial issues in the digital world, such as the overweening power of Facebook and Google for shaping our reality.

But let’s talk about my new toys.

They include two trail cameras, which are designed to be set up out in the country and take short videos of animals that pass in front of them. I have many clips of deer and rabbits and some raccoons. As I write this, rutting season is taking off, and I’m hoping to get some bucks jousting. Plus, I’m hoping to find a good location to catch some coyotes in action.

The waterproof cameras have camouflage coloring and can be attached to a tree or pole or building, idly waiting for some activity to trigger the motion detector.

They can also be used as a security camera. As I write this, political campaign signs are being stolen from yards. A trail camera could catch the culprit in the act.

I got an Apeman camera for $40, and a Campark for $65. The latter brand is an Amazon bestseller for trail cameras under $100.

Despite being different brands, the two cameras are functionally almost identical. The settings include photo or video, length of video clips (with 20 seconds the default), whether to include sound, the interval between video clips, and much more.

Regarding the interval setting: If you have a small herd of deer grazing in front of the camera, and it’s set to have the motion sensor triggered again after a minute, you’ll get a bunch of videos of pretty much the same thing. So far I’ve used a short interval of a minute or two, but I could see lengthening it to maybe 10 minutes to get more variety.

The Campark also lets me set the sensitivity of the motion sensor. On windy days I sometimes get hundreds of clips of blowing trees and vegetation, so it may make sense to reduce the sensitivity.

The main difference between the cameras is the trigger time: it takes the Apeman a half second to start recording video after motion is detected, whereas the Campark, with three sensors pointed in different directions, will start recording after a third of a second.

It’s great to see deer in their natural environment instead of dodging cars. Recently, a buck was rubbing the velvet off his newly grown antlers against the very tree that was holding the camera. All I got was an extreme closeup of his antlers.

Both cameras shoot 1080p HD video, including at night using infrared. However, night clips are black and white. The cameras use AA batteries, with as much as six months of standby time. The Apeman uses SD cards to store the clips and the Campark microSD. I can use a card reader to move the clips to my computer, or connect the camera to my computer via a cable. I can also view the clips via the LCD screen on the camera.

Of course, once I had a bunch of clips, it occurred to me that I’d like to try editing them and assembling them into a longer video.

Yep, I’m your tech geek, but I’m embarrassed to admit I’d never gotten around to video editing. It was fun! I used Apple’s iMovie, and at first the interface confused me. But after a couple hours I was cruising. I was amazed at how easy it was to piece together clips, rearrange things, and edit the clips in a wide variety of ways. No wonder there are so many people posting videos online.

iMovie is only available for the Mac, but there are similar video editors for Windows. VideoPad, available on both Windows and Mac, appears to be one of the more popular. A free version is available for non-commercial use.

I got hooked by these toys and decided that my next toy would be a drone! Time to also get an aerial view.

I went to Amazon and bought a Snaptain S5C drone with 720P HD video recording. It came with two rechargeable batteries and can stay aloft for 7 to 10 minutes per battery.

It was a challenge to learn to fly it, in part because any bit of wind would make it difficult to control. One can compensate for this by making some adjustments, but an experienced user explained to me that the only way to get full control is to buy a more expensive drone, such as a DJI, which integrates GPS to compensate for the wind. It can be as high as 40 mph, and the drone will hold steady until you tell it to move.

My next toy might be the DJI Spark or DJI Mavic Mini, both around $400.

Still, my drone has some amazing features that I haven’t even used yet, such as the ability to mount my smartphone in a bracket on the controller, enabling the drone’s camera to stream live video to my phone.

So many toys, so little time.

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