With the advent of digital cameras and their increase in popularity it wasn’t long before the first digital trail cameras hit the market. Over the past several few years we’ve seen and used a lot of trail cameras that weren’t worth the packaging they were shipped in. At one time it basically got to the point where we had so many problems and issues with trail cameras that we nearly stopped using them altogether. We’ve had constant battery issues, confusing set-ups, and countless wasted trips into the field to retrieve cameras that hadn’t even been working. Anyone who has been through this painstaking process can surely relate.
When we first heard about the Predator Evolution camera the touch screen user interface was what caught our eye. While we work in front of computers and use technology on a daily if not hourly basis when it comes to trail cameras and anything we bring into the field; simplicity is king. We don’t want to read a complicated instruction manual in order to use a trail camera. In the past, some of us had actually written cheat sheets to use in the field when trying to set up certain cameras. This isn't exactly fun.
We’ve now been using our Predator Evolution cameras for the past few months and will give you the straight forward product review that you deserve. After all, that is what Trailcam.com is all about. Providing straight forward, unbiased opinions of trail cameras and trail camera accesssories to help you, the consumer, make better purchasing decisions.
Overall Design and Impressions
The guts of the Evolution are housed inside of a compact and waterproof polycarbonate case. This is the same material they use to make bullet-proof glass! The case is very similar to many of the high quality camera cases that are used by professional photographers to protect their camera equipment. The Evolution's case is unbreakable and won’t crack like many of the other trail cameras that use a cheaper ABS plastic housing. When you are paying good money for a trail camera the last thing you want is for the case to break or crack, allowing moisture into the unit which can destroy the electronics. Speaking of which, all electronics in the Evolution are tightly packed behind the LCD screen with only a single visible “On-Off” switch visible when the case is open. The entire unit is very small in size, which we love. Big, bulky, heavy cameras are not only a bigger pain to carry around the woods but also present a larger target for deer, and theives, to spot.
The Evolution has one of the most impressive fit and finishes of any camera we’ve seen or used. From the touch screen to the large secure latch this camera has been built right. Our only real complaint is the storage of the batteries. Predator uses a battery pack that holds 10 AA batteries. This is somewhat loose inside of the provided holding area and could be improved, but it works fine as-is.
|The user interface of the Predator Evolution is extremely easy to use and well designed. The only problems we encountered were during cold conditions when the screen became slow and at times almost unresponsive.
Setup & Ease of Use
When we first received our Predator Evolution trail camera we opened the owner's manual, and found very little information about how to use the camera. We loaded it with batteries, turned the unit on (with the very simple “on-off” switch), and quickly realized why. It has quite simply some of the easiest and most straight forward controls we’ve ever seen. The first time we had ever seen, used, or turned the camera on we had it completely set up in a matter of 2 minutes. It was beyond simple and actually enjoyable to set up, unlike many of the cameras we've tested over the years.
The huge 3 1/2 inch touch screen does what it was designed to do. It puts all of the information in a very organized list. You can very simply access all the functions and settings by scrolling through the options with the arrows located at the bottom of the screen, and by using “Enter”. Every function and/or setting is very simple to understand and clearly spelled out for the user. Even someone who has never set up a trail camera in their life should be able to figure this camera out in a matter of minutes.
When looking at the ease of use of a camera the most important thing we want to know when we're walking away is that it is working properly and we won’t return to find an empty card. There's not many things in the November woods that can send us off into a furious tyraid than checking a trail camera that we've had over a hot scrape for the past 7 days only to find out it hasn't been working. And believe me, we've had this happen more times than we'd care to admit (and I'm sure we're not the only ones). The Predator Evolution does what it’s supposed to, with very little possibility of not turning it on or not setting it up correctly. When you flip the switch to the "On" position there is no further action needed to make sure this camera is going to take photos. Simply close the case and walk away.
The Evolution allows the user to choose between video clips or still photos. The video is a great feature for those who are looking to get the best possible look at an animal from multiple angles. However, beware that this camera is extremely sensitive so you may end up with video clips of birds, squirrels, raccoons, and other small animals as well. Also, if you are going to use this camera in video mode your best success will come in areas where your quarry is in a stationary position for a few moments. Places like food plots, mineral sites, scrapes, and wallows work the best.
Images and video are stored on either a Compact Flash card or mini-USB drive. Both formats work well and for those of you who may have a stash of Compact Flash cards already this shouldn't be a problem. However, we would like to see added functionality for accepting more widely-used memory sticks such as SD in the future. Compact Flash cards seem to be getting harder and harded to come by, and certainly aren't coming down in price. The cheapest card we could find at a local retail store was $45 for a 2.0 GB card, compared to $25 for a 2.0 GB SD card.
The Evolution is an infrared nighttime illuminating camera. This means there is no white flash for your night time photos or video clips which could potentially scare game. We’re not going into any further detail regarding the infrared other than it works great. Distance is good, anything within pretty much 15-20 feet is illuminated very well. Beyond that, like any other camera, it has its limitations.
The picture quality and video quality of the Predator is probably middle of the road. We’ve seen higher quality photos from different systems, but this isn’t something we always consider a top priority. Generally speaking, we're not blowing our images up and making posters out of them. We are using them to gather information on what types of animals are on a particular piece of ground. The images and video we’ve gotten through our Predator cameras are good, but could certainly be improved on. Infrared images are occassionally washed out and excessively grainy. It would be nice to see this improved in future product releases.
Still photos from the Evolution are 2.0 megapixel color images during the day, and 1.3 megapixel black and white images at night.
The trigger speed of the unit is excellent. It’s as fast or faster than any other trail camera we’ve used. Predator advertises a trigger speed .15 of a second and although we have not gotten our stopwatches out and tested this, it certainly seems fast to us. It also has an adjustable sensitivity level from 1 to 9 depending on the size of the game you're after, and the conditions that you're using the camera in. This is a nice feature to have because we have set up cameras in certain areas where a blowing leaf or corn stalk has used up both our memory card and batteries before it could take any real pictures.
|Although battery life could certainly be improved upon, the interchangeable battery pack is handy for quick changes in the field. Here you can also see the rubber o-ring on the inside of the case that creates the water tight seal when closed.
Battery life of the unit is OK, but could certainly be improved. Like most of the trail cameras on the market when the cold hits the life of the batteries go downhill fast. In warm weather we have had units last for up to a month. In cold weather the length of operation drops dramatically, sometimes lasting only a few days. The Predator is not nearly as bad as some units we've tested and with the use of rechargeable batteries it’s manageable, however this is one area we would like to see improved in the future. AA batteries are not exactly cheap so if you have multiple units and it gets cold things can get expensive in a hurry. Especially when you're chewing through 10 AA batteries at a time.
Mounting and Security
The Evolution uses a separate mounting bracket that is secured to the tree first and then the camera is placed on the bracket. This is a great little feature that not many other companies have thought of. A heavy duty mounting pin is then put through the rear of the camera unit to mount it onto the bracket. Predator offers additional mounting brackets for additional functionality and versatility.
In order to secure your camera Predator offers a cable locking mechanism and also features a 4 digit security code which makes the camera effectively worthless should anyone steal it. Trail camera theft is an unfortunate reality in today's woods and it's nice to know the guys at Predator are doing their best to help prevent it.
Of all the cameras we’ve seen and used, we believe that the user-friendliness of the Predator Evolution makes it an excellent choice for anyone. It has some great features that go beyond many other similarly priced cameras out there and because of the great touch screen interface we believe it is a hard trail camera to beat.
Please keep in mind that the Predator Evolution has many features and benefits that we haven’t even gotten into. This review has been based on the features that are important to us.