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Spotting British wildlife can be incredibly easy but it's rare to get to see animals in their natural habitat, not on edge and learning about those characteristics unique to each. The Acorn LTL-5210A 12MP Scouting / Game / Trail camera has really piqued my interest in learning more about the wildlife around me. Bought for £130 the price hasn't come down much over the last 2 years but can be bought now for around £100. It's certainly not top of the range in its features but it is fascinating to see what it will pick up.
There are a couple of varieties in the Acorn LTL range including the 5210 which is only a 5MP camera and one offering MMS but my 5210A 12MP camera has a camo branch/bark design which does camouflage itself rather well against our trees. There's also a fuscous cover which I think would also work just as well. The only part of my camera which does stand out on the tree is the strap which is a deep green colour and can be noticeable around light bark.
The reason for going for this camera over some of the others was mainly down to the site it was bought from showing the results the camera could get in both video and picture for the budget and it being recommended as a good starter camera. At the time of buying the MMS feature cameras cost well over £200 and although would have been a great feature to have, hasn't actually been something I miss out on. I like the fact I can put the camera out in the forest and come back a few days or weeks later not knowing for sure if there is anything at all although this can also add to the frustration.
The camera itself is about 5.5" in length, just over 3" wide and about 2" deep when taking in the protruding side PIR sensors. This makes it very portable and surprisingly isn't that noticeable when on a tree unless you're specifically looking for it. There's only been 2 occasions when we've had to spread out in the forest to try and find it - we do have to make sure we make a note of where we've put it! Taking 4 batteries the standby time of 3 months is incredible (there's a battery pack with it taking another 4 batteries to extend this to 6 months) but you do soon find that it really does mean standby time and as soon as it does start filming, taking photos or viewing back they can deplete quite quickly. We can still leave it out for about a month (or in days/weeks amounting to a month) without needing to replace the batteries.
Setting up the camera is very simple (and the user manual is incredibly easy to understand). There's not actually much to the menu with options for taking photos only, video only or photos and video, 12MP or 5MP photos, 640x480 or 320x240 videos, set the clock, number of photos to be taken (up to 3), video length (AVI anything from 1 second - 60 seconds), intervals from 0 seconds to 60 minutes, Sense level - low, normal or high, time stamp, timer, password set, serial number, time lapse and side PIR. Although we started off just taking photos we quickly changed this to only taking videos finding a huge difference in quality between the two. It is set to 12MP and 640x480 but it can be quite slow to react at the higher settings which is annoying for wildlife but having the sense level at normal ensures we cut down on it being set off the by the wind moving foliage but not enough that we miss out on movement from animals. The side and main PIR (passive infrared sensors) set off the camera/video with changes in ambient temperature.
As the camera works in both daylight and at night there are big differences too in quality. In daylight the photos are rich in colour and detail but honestly I could take a better quality photo with my 10MP digital camera. At night the picture changes to black and white which in a photo can be quite clear but loses a lot of detail. In contrast, in a video during the day I find videos to look quite pixelly whereas the night shots are far grainier. The small display on the back of the camera makes playback look quite impressive in terms of detail and quality but when viewing on the laptop and viewing in full screen the quality really depletes. Having said that, I'm really not that disappointed in what I have managed to capture. The videos may not be that good quality but the majority of the time it's easy to see what you've captured whether it's just a few seconds of a badger walking up a hill or a rabbit or deer happily munching away on grass right in front of the camera. You can tell that they sense something is there (it does make a small ticking noise as it starts to capture) but of course they can't see the infra red light so they will happily continue to sit/stand/walk past at ease (a very recent video however caused a deer to run away after staring straight at the camera).
At night sometimes there are only the bright tell-tale sights of two eyes looking in the direction of the camera - quite creepy! Of course being in colour during the day you're pretty much guaranteed to know what you're looking at even if only spotting a tail or back end of an animal but the night shots are really not quite so easy and have caused quite a bit of discussion in the family. Is it a fox, is it a badger or is it a rabbit? The good thing about the 30 second videos is when the next video is set off you usually get to find out for certain with the same animal returning or walking away but a lot of the time we can watch a video numerous times and be none the wiser.
The camera will take up to a 16GB SD card. I've only tried a 2GB and 8GB SD card and both have been absolutely fine. Videos of 30 seconds are all around 20,000KB so are really not huge files. Unfortunately the majority of the time this is just the first few seconds of movement from an animal before it disappears and the rest just a view of the surrounding area so placement of the camera should always be considered first. The length of the videos can be set - I think 30 seconds is ideal though as there was one video where we captured deer walking past and then about 10 seconds later two of them came running back towards the camera which we probably would have missed. The most annoying thing I find when putting the camera out is not knowing if it's angled correctly to see along a path, up a hill or pointed towards a hole. The LCD is flush against the tree when switching it on so it's just a case of trial and error.
The camera has been out in all conditions and actually states on the box it will work from -22F to +158F (i.e. -30C to 70C). It doesn't state though that it may not work in the rain which has been the biggest problem for us. Occasionally if it has gotten too wet it's shut itself off and when trying to view photos or video will say the image can't be found. If we then leave it to dry out, it works again. There have been water marks in the LCD and dirt seems to get under the plastic far too easily but we can't get into it to clean it. We always view everything on the laptop though so doesn't really cause a huge amount of disruption. The other problem is trying to actually attach it to a tree as the plastic rectangle adjustable fastener on the strap is very hard to thread through in cold/wet conditions. This can be more of a problem on very thin trees more than fatter trees. The strap is a good size but there have been a few occasions where a tree is also too big to attach it to.
Actually getting footage of animals is completely hit and miss. There are occasions where it can be out for a week and we're lucky if we get 2 videos. On other occasions (like the last week) it was only out for 3 days and we ended up with 51 videos - a lot of wind/rain/foliage but a surprising number of animals too including grey squirrels, badgers (all different as noted by their markings and tails), roe and muntjac deer, foxes, pheasants, plenty of rabbits and even a couple of birds hopping along the forest floor. It makes you realise just how active animals are at night (helped of course by the time stamps on each video). Occasionally we do capture a few people walking their dogs but out of the last 1000 videos this would be no more than 20. Of course of this I'm glad as I'd hate for someone to spot it and steal it as it's not like it's an inexpensive piece of kit.
Living in Britain there's not a whole lot more you can capture really so having had the camera for 2 years now it does get a bit samey capturing deer, badgers, foxes and rabbits over and over again. If you can find a good spot and keep putting it out in the same place you get to understand their habits and figure out if you've seen that specific animal before. I am starting to look forward to taking this out of the country and seeing what else we can find.
The LTL Acorn 5210A has been a great piece of kit for spotting wildlife. Ok so I'm not going to win any photography awards or have David Attenborough hiring me to do camera work but I do find it fascinating to see just how active and just how much wildlife is so close to me. It's incredibly easy to understand and use, practical in that it's not huge so easy to carry through the countryside. It does have its negative points but for its price it's still a great introduction to remote cameras without spending a huge amount. Even having discussions and trying to find out what a mysterious grey object is in a night shot is a great way to learn and get others involved.
The camera can be triggered by sudden change of ambient temperature caused by moving game in a region of interest, and then take pictures or video clips automatically.