Two summers ago I was in the market for a new trail camera, my first digital model to be exact. Up until that point I only had experience with my 35 mm CamTrakker units which worked great but I was eager to get into the digital world and stop paying those film development costs. So I did a little bit of research to see what was available in my price range with the features I was lookign for and settled on the Cuddeback Excite 2.0 megapixel digital trail camera. The unit was fairly compact in size with a reported excellent trigger speed, battery life, and traditional flash for night photos.
With a retail prce of around $300 (which has since falling to under $250) it was one of the more affordable digital trail cameras on the market, and I had heard a lot of good things about Cuddeback units in general so I placed my order. Several days later a nice new trail camera showed up at my office. I was eager to use the camera so of course the first thing I did was take it out of the package and start figuring out how to use it.
My first complaint was that the camera didn't come with a flash card or have any internal memory, which meant I had to go buy a flash card somewhere. While this is fairly common for most trail cameras, it still frustrutes me none the less. Would it really be THAT hard to bundle the cameras with a flash card? I'm sure most consumers would be willing to pay a few extra bucks to avoid that trip to the electronics store when they'd rather be in the field using their new trial camera. In any case, off I went to my local Best Buy to pick up a compact Flash card, which set me back another $40 or so. I also picked up 4 "D" cell batteries while I was out, and I was finally ready to go.
When inserting the batteries into the camera I then became frustrated by the metal plate that holds the batteries in place. I couldn't seem to get it to stay put properly and the batteries kept falling out every time I turned the camera on it's end. However, after a few minutes of tinkering with it I finally figured out the trick and got everything in place. A word of advice - make sure the little plastic lever behind the battery cover is pulled out and to the side when inserting the batteries, then push it back in place once you've inserted the cover. It took me a few tries to figure out how to work the battery cover properly, but once I figured it out I haven't had a problem since.
My next step was turning the trail camera on and figuring out how to take photos. After a minute or two of running through the instructions I managed to set the date, time, and camera settings without too much effort. The menus are fairly simple to understand and easy enough to set properly, which I really liked. The buttons that control the camera are big enough that they're easily depressed, and there's not so many of them that you can't figure out what they all do. The on/off switch is also good size and right in your face, which is a plus. Like many other cameras I've played with in the past with my Cuddeback Excite you have to remember to set it to "live" mode once you turn it on or you won't capture any photos. Just because it's on doesn't mean it's actually taking photos, remember that! A few pushes of a button once you turn the switch on and you're ready to go. Additionally, there is an easy to adjust hi/low sensitivity setting which allows you to adjust how sensitive your camera is to motion in case you have the camera in a high-traffic area and don't want to capture every photo of every raccoon, squirrel, or bird that comes by.
Once I was ready to hit the woods with my new Cuddeback Excite I had to figure out how to attach it to the tree where I wanted it set up. I couldn't figure out the eyelet that comes attached to the back of the camera, I'm assuming you're supposed to use some sort of strap through the eyelet but that seemed like too much of a pain for me, so I opted to go with the torx-head screw that is included. This is a nice little feature that allows you to screw the camera directly into the tree for a nice solid attachment, then the cover goes over the screw head and can be locked for an additional measure of security. Just make sure you've got a torx-head wrench with you when you want to move your camera. I forgot mine in the truck once after a long walk and I was none too happy when I had to turn around and go back to get it!
A week or so after I set my camera out I came back to check on things and was amazed to find out that even though the camera showed a bunch of activity, there were no photos on the compact flash card. Dejected and pissed off I took the camera home to do some testing. I tried several CF cards and numerous setting changes with the same results - the camera would activate and say it was taking a photo, it would even flash in low light, but there were no photos on the card. Eventually I gave up and the camera sat on my desk for a few months without moving. By the time I got around to figuring out what was wrong the season was over and my camera hadn't taken a single photo of a deer.
After deciding I must have had a defective camera I went on the Cuddeback website in hopes of finding a number to call for some help. What I found instead was an FAQ area that walked me through some simple troubleshooting before deciding that my camera was indeed defective and needed to be sent back. An online RMA process gave me all the info I needed so I packed my camera up and shipped it back to Cuddeback. I was very impressed with their online system for returns and repairs.
About two weeks later my repaired camera showed up at the office and it was time to start over. Kudos to Cuddeback customer service, this was a very painless process and I had my camera back in my hands with a new set of instructions and a repair sheet to tell me what had be done. (If I recall correctly I believe they replaced the actual circuitboard inside the camera). So I threw some batteries in, put my CF card in, configured all my settings and put it up on my desk. After a few test shots I tested the camera and bingo! I had plenty of good photos on the card this time. At last, I was ready to put it out in the woods for a real test.
That weekend I took a trip down to Pike County, IL with Craig Neace from BowhuntingWhitetails.com. I decided to see how the Excite would do on the farm we would be hunting later that fall. Craig and I located a suitable spot for the camera, screwed it on the tree, turned it on, and off we went. I knew I wasn't going to be back down to this spot for at least 4-6 weeks so I hoped the batteries would hold up and I would have some good photos to show for it.
Early September arrived and it was time to go hang treestands in preparation for the October 1 opener, and check my Cuddeback Excite while I was at it. Much to my surprise the camera still had plenty of battery life in it after 6 weeks in the field, and it had taken nearly 100 photos without a hiccup. Now it was time to see what type of photos we had.
Overall my impression of the photos taken by my Excite is so-so. This is a middle-of-the-road camera so I didn't expect the best photos in the world, which is what I got. The 2.0 megapixel images are plenty large to view fullsize and see pretty good detail, but a lot of the photos are blurry, especially if the deer is moving at anything more than a slow walk. I'm no expert but it seems that the problem is caused by a shutter speed that is a bit too long during daylight hours, trying to gather additional light without using the flash. It can be frustrating at times as about one third of my photos are pretty blurry. (click the photo on the right to see it full sized for an example) However, the rest of them are pretty crisp so I can't complain too much. (click the photo below to view larger version) Trigger speed appears to be great as I didn't have very many butt shots, and sensitivity appears to be pretty good as well as I didn't have many empty shots either. All in all, I was very happy with the results of my first real test in the field.
I set the camera back up with some fresh batteries and didn't check it again until the 20th of October and the same as last time I had a lot of photos, some good, some blurry, and plenty of battery life remaining. Once again the Cuddeback Excite did it's job and I was happy.
My next test and last of the year came during the late season here in Illinois when I set the camera up near a hay field that the deer were hitting hard on a nightly basis. Unfortunately something must have been blowing in front of the camera because it took one photo every minute for 800 minutes in a row until it ran out of battery life. A week later when I came back I was disappointed to find 800 images of the forest, and only a few chance shots of a few does that wandered in front of the camera near dark. Since the hunting season was over and it was brutally cold and snowy outside I took the camera home and did some more testing, which showed it was working alright, before putting it up for the year. Next time it goes out in the field (in about a month) I'm going to try the sensitivity setting on low to see how it performs.
With this summer comes a new test of the camera entering it's 3rd season. I'm hoping to take advantage of the extended battery life during the warm summer months so I don't have to check the camera very often, thus minimizing my scent in the areas I'll be hunting come fall. I hope to put the camera out sometime in July at our new hunting spot in Brown County, IL and leave it up for a month or so before returning to check on things in August. Overall I have been pleased with the performance of this trail camera. With prices dropping to the $230 range this is an excellent option for people who want a digital trail camera with good trigger speed and decent photo quality. It may not by an infrared camera, but the standard flash does a good job at night with the pictures turning out pretty good. Nighttime photos are a little grainy at times, but they are good enough to get the job done.
Overall I'd give the Cuddeback Excite 2.0 megapixel Digital Trail Camera a 3 out of 5 rating.