The Best Trail Camera Card Reader for 2023
Trail cameras can be a blast to use in addition to being powerful hunting aids. They can also be a source of serious frustration. As technology has improved and consumers have become more demanding, trail camera manufacturers have upped their game, making higher-quality cameras that are more feature-packed and user-friendly than ever before. It’s perhaps easier than it’s ever been to get high-quality images of the bucks that are living on your property. Still, getting the images on camera is only half the battle. Trail cameras either don’t have built-in viewers or using the viewer can be arduous since it requires you to bring the camera out of its location or spend a lot of time staring at the tiny screen sorting through potentially thousands of photos. Because of this, most people running multiple cameras choose a separate card reader or viewer. This viewer can be a significant factor in how effective and fun it is to run trail cameras. Currently, there are several card readers and viewers on the market and we have compiled some information to help you determine which is the best trail camera card reader for you.
The Best SD Card Readers for Trail Cams
Stealth Cam 4-in-1 Card Reader
Perhaps the cheapest and easiest way to view trail camera cards is a “dongle” type unit that allows you to view the images on your phone’s screen. These readers are very simple. You stick your card in the card slot, and then plug the unit into your phone’s cable slot. You can then view the pictures on your phone’s screen and download them to your phone’s hard drive.
Since the unit doesn’t include a screen or any memory and instead relies on your already-purchased phone, these units are dirt-cheap. Stealth Cam’s 4-in-1 Card Reader is an obvious choice for the budget-minded hunter.
I have owned several dongle-style units, and the Stealth Cam is a cut above many since it works with both iPhone and Android devices (many manufacturers offer separate models that work with only one or the other), reads micro and standard size cards, and can also be plugged into a laptop or tablet that has USB or USB-C ports.
While dongle-style card readers score major points in cost savings, they come with several drawbacks. For starters, they are cheaply made and prone to sudden failure for no discernable reason. I’ve had several models quit unexpectedly after only a year or two of use. Their low price means it’s not too big of an issue to replace them, but it can be immensely frustrating to find out that you can’t read a card in the middle of your “rutcation.”
If you have a lot of images to view, perhaps because you run multiple cameras or get a lot of activity on a bait feeder, they fall short too. Your phone isn’t the best place to view thousands of photos, much less store them. It can be hard to make out details on such a small screen, and organizing several years’ worth of trail camera images on a phone can be very difficult even if you have the memory to spare.
Overall, dongle-type card readers are a great option for hunters who are only running a camera or two at most, and who put a premium on cost-savings. They can be an excellent choice for hunters new to running trail cameras who are hesitant to commit a large amount of money to something they’re not sure will be a big part of their hunting strategy. But if you run multiple cameras and take a lot of pictures, they can be frustrating to use.
Wildgame Innovations Trail Pad Swipe
Several prominent trail camera manufacturers also offer tablet-style viewers. These viewers typically cost more but come with their own screen. The Wildgame Innovations Trail Pad Swipe is the latest iteration of a design they’ve had for several years and is perhaps one of the more popular viewers on the market.
The seven-inch integrated viewing screen on the Trail Pad Swipe is a big step up from a smartphone screen, and since the viewer is designed specifically for viewing trail camera pics, navigation is much easier. The Trail Pad Swipe is right in line with many similar offerings from other manufacturers, and for many hunters will be worth the added expense for the increased ease of use.
Once the card is inserted, the user can swipe through photos one-at-a-time, and even zoom in on photos. This can be very handy when trying to get a closer look at the tines on a buck, or for viewers with less-than-perfect eyesight. Overall, for a little bit of extra cash, hunters get a more specialized tool that is easier to use and makes viewing trail camera pictures more pleasurable.
However, there are still drawbacks associated with most tablet-style card readers. For one, they’re generally paired with a fairly lackluster power source as a cost-saving measure. The seven-inch screen on the Trail Pad Swipe is powered by four AAA batteries, instead of a rechargeable lithium battery like most other electronics with a similar power draw. This can be an issue if you have a lot of pictures to scan through. You can also only look through images one at a time, which is another limitation when viewing large numbers of pictures.
They also lack internal memory, which again, is a cost-saving feature by the manufacturer. No internal memory means that if you want to clear the card for further use in your camera, you have no way to save pictures you’d like to keep.
Most tablet-style viewers are a “middle of the road” option for viewing your trail camera pictures. They are substantially more functional than the dongle-style card readers, with larger viewing screens and fairly intuitive controls. However, they are built to distribute to and compete with other offerings in big-box retail stores across the country, which leads to some cost-cutting measures that prevent them from being as good as they could be. They’re a good choice for hunters who want a bigger screen, but they really don’t excel at viewing, storing, and organizing large quantities of pictures.
Hunters Mate Lowdown Card Viewer
The Hunters Mate Lowdown viewer looks similar to other tablet-style viewers, but what’s “under the hood” of this card reader puts it in a class of its own. According to Al Kaiser, owner of Hunters Mate, the Lowdown is the end result of years of research, field testing and a desire to, in his own words, “build the card reader I had always wanted to use.” Listen to Al give his full rundown on the trail camera card readers and his Lowdown viewer on the Huntin’ Land podcast below.
From a hardware perspective, this vision means a 60% larger screen than the average trail camera card viewer. The Hunters Mate Lowdown viewer has a 9-inch HD color touch screen for easier viewing; onboard memory for easy image storage; a 10-foot HDMI cable to allow viewing on any TV or computer screen; and a large, rechargeable lithium battery to make sure you don’t run out of juice midway through a card. The Hunters Mate Lowdown viewer boasts a “Flippin Fast” technology that allows for 3x faster viewing and loading of photographs and videos.
Hunters Mate’s years of research and field usage also resulted in some pretty clever software features, such as an onboard user tutorial so you’re never at a loss as to how to use the device; the ability to save, edit, and delete images to aid in organization; the ability to view more than one image at once on the screen to make going through lots of pictures quicker and the ability to properly format a trail camera card to ensure it continues to function properly.
All of these features together make the Lowdown a truly unique and premium solution to trail camera card reading and viewing. It’s tailor-made for hunters who run multiple cameras and get a lot of activity on them. According to Kaiser, “you can go through thousands of photos in 15 minutes…no problem.”
In addition to offering a premium product, Hunters Mate offers after-purchase support that is unique in the card reader market. In addition to a one-year warranty against manufacturer defects, they offer in-house repair options for almost every potential failure point on the viewer, including screen repair. Hunters with questions about the unit or who need repairs are likely to get Al himself on the phone.
“I wanna talk with our customers and know what’s going on. I probably take 80% of the calls,” Kaiser stated.
The Lowdown is a big step up from other viewers in terms of usability, functionality, build quality, and customer support. The old saying, “You get what you pay for,” holds true with card readers, because the Lowdown currently retails for $349.99. This may be too steep of a price for a weekend warrior who only checks one or two cameras on their lease, but for hunters who run multiple cameras and who regularly have thousands of images to sift through, the time and frustration saved dealing with cheaper alternatives makes it a very good purchase.
Game Camera Card Reader Points to Consider
When considering a game camera card reader, there are several points you should keep in mind. Here are some important factors to consider:
- Compatibility: Ensure that the card reader you choose is compatible with the type of memory card used by your game camera. Common types of memory cards include SD cards, microSD cards, and CF cards. Check the specifications of both the card reader and your camera to ensure compatibility.
- Transfer Speed: Look for a card reader that offers fast transfer speeds. This is particularly important if you have large files or high-resolution images and videos on your memory card. USB 3.0 or USB 3.1 card readers generally provide faster transfer rates compared to USB 2.0.
- Interface: Consider the interface options available on the card reader. USB is the most common interface, but there are also options like Thunderbolt and Lightning connectors. Choose a card reader that has an interface that is compatible with your computer or device.
- Portability: If you plan to use the card reader in the field or while traveling, consider its portability. Look for compact and lightweight options that are easy to carry and store.
- Build Quality: Pay attention to the build quality of the card reader. Look for a durable and sturdy design that can withstand frequent use and potential outdoor conditions. Reinforced connectors and a rugged casing are desirable features.
- Additional Features: Some card readers offer extra features like built-in USB cables, card slot covers, LED indicators, or multiple card slots. Assess your needs and preferences to determine which additional features are important to you.
- Brand and Reviews: Consider reputable brands known for their quality and reliability. Read customer reviews and check ratings to get an idea of the experiences others have had with the card reader you’re considering.
- Price: Set a budget and compare prices across different brands and models. While it’s essential to find a card reader within your budget, don’t compromise too much on quality or performance for the sake of saving a few dollars.
By considering these points, you can choose a game camera card reader that meets your requirements in terms of compatibility, performance, durability, and convenience.
How to Format SD Cards For Trail Cameras
To format an SD card for a trail camera, you can follow these steps:
- Insert the SD card into your computer’s SD card reader or use an external SD card reader if your computer doesn’t have a built-in reader.
- Ensure that you have transferred any important files or data from the SD card to your computer or another storage device. Formatting the SD card will erase all data on it.
- Open “File Explorer” on Windows or “Finder” on Mac to access your computer’s file management system.
- Locate the SD card drive. It is usually labeled as “Removable Disk” or “SD Card” and will have a drive letter assigned to it (such as “E:”, “F:”, etc.).
- Right-click on the SD card drive and select “Format” from the context menu. On Mac, you can control-click or two-finger click on the SD card drive and choose “Format”.
- A formatting dialog box will appear. Here are some key considerations when formatting the SD card:
- File System: Select the file system type based on the trail camera’s requirements. The most common options are FAT32 and exFAT. If you’re not sure, check the camera’s manual or website for the recommended file system.
- Allocation Unit Size: Choose the default allocation unit size unless you have specific requirements.
- Volume Label: You can give the SD card a name if you prefer, but it’s optional.
- Double-check that you have selected the correct SD card drive for formatting. Formatting will erase all data on the selected drive.
- Click on the “Start” or “Format” button to begin the formatting process. A warning message may appear, informing you that all data on the SD card will be erased. Confirm that you want to proceed with the formatting.
- The formatting process will take a few moments. Once it’s complete, you will see a notification or progress bar indicating the formatting was successful.
- Safely eject the SD card from your computer. On Windows, you can do this by right-clicking on the SD card drive and selecting “Eject” or “Safely Remove Hardware.” On Mac, you can drag the SD card icon to the trash or use the eject icon next to the SD card’s name in Finder.
After formatting the SD card, it will be ready to use with your trail camera. Make sure to insert it correctly into the camera, following the instructions provided by the camera’s manufacturer.
Trail Camera Card Reader Final Thoughts
Overall, whether you’re a hunter who just received his first trail camera this year, or an experienced user with a dozen or more cameras to check…there are plenty of good options on the market to choose from. Hopefully this article has made it easier to sift through the available options so that you find the card reader that is right for you!
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