SpyPoint Flex Cellular Trail Camera
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- Last updated: 16/06/2023
Trail cameras, habitually dramatized as ‘camera traps’ by the scriptwriters of TV wildlife documentaries, are tremendously useful things. Putting a good one in the right place will provide oodles of useful information about the routes and schedules of the deer, predators and trespassers on your ground, in all weathers and seasons. Not all trail cameras are created equal, however.
First, there’s durability. Trail cameras have hard lives out in all weathers. So, if they’re not built tough, they’ll soon break, as the boxful of dead bargain-basement cameras sitting in the garage reminds me daily.
Only two of my cameras have survived the test of years, and both are Spypoints. Made of tough plastic, with effective weather seals, and evidently rugged electronics, they were 3-4 times the price of my eBay specials, but have already lasted 3-4 times as long, and have worked reliably throughout.
Secondly, there’s ease of use. Multiple switches and complex menus are a disappointment in waiting, tiny screens are a frustration and designs you can’t check or change batteries on in-situ are a pain in the posterior. The Flex model on test here is impeccably free of these sins.
Finally, convenience. Cameras on remote hunting grounds are obviously inconvenient to check. Moreover, until you get there you don’t know if they’ve recorded anything or if the batteries died a month ago. Plus, every visit means disturbance. However, the advent of smartphones and near-universal cellular coverage brought the solution - cameras that can be configured and monitored remotely using an app. The Flex is one of these.
Remote operation lets you tell if the camera is well-placed or needs moving. You can adjust the detector sensitivity, switch between video and stills capture, extend/shorten the video length, change the settings to extend battery life and keep the camera running until you can get out to it and schedule image transmissions to keep you abreast of what’s happening in the woods, plus much more.
Uniquely, Spypoint’s cellular cameras come pre-installed with a dual SIM that automatically connects to whichever network has the best coverage. Better still, your first 100 images each month are transmitted free of charge. Simply download the free Spypoint app (iOS 11/ Android 6.0 or higher), scan in the camera’s unique QR code, and you are ready to go!
When you need more images, it’s easy to upgrade to an enhanced plan, billable monthly or (at a 33% discount) annually. The Basic plan is 5€/48€ per month/year and buys you 250 images and the Standard plan (10€/84€) gets you 1,000. Finally, Premium (15€/120€) provides unlimited access. To husband data use, regular images have reduced resolution, but you can download full-HD files (33MP for photos and 1080p for video, complete with sound) on request at 5€ for 50 photos or 20 videos. When you want to park the camera or scale back your use, just change/cancel your enhanced plan via the app and return to the free 100-photo tariff. As the camera takes a microSD card (not supplied) to which all images are permanently saved, nothing is lost, even if you overrun your data limit.
However, whilst you can register multiple cameras on the app, you can only run one on each plan, and can’t transfer an existing plan between cameras. The solution is to join Spypoint’s ‘Insiders Club’. For an extra 79.99€/year, you get a 20% discount on all data plans, 250 images/month per camera, 50 full-HD photos on request, a 12-month photo history, cloud storage for 500 of your favourite images and discounts on selected accessories. There’s also some ‘exclusive member content’, but I didn’t join, so I can’t tell you what that is!
Being an Insider also gives you full access to Spypoint’s ‘Buck Tracker’ feature. This uses AI to identify species of interest within your images and lets you filter your library to focus on specific ones. ‘Un-antlered’ deer, (antlered) bucks, wild boar and humans aside, the remainder (turkeys, coyotes, moose and bears) are distinctly North-American. Not joining the club meant I couldn’t test it beyond the free-to-all ‘buck’ option. Trained on whitetail deer, Spypoint’s algorithm will potentially work with fallow, sika and reds, but as these are all absent from my ground, all I can say is that even my best roebuck didn’t make the cut.
More importantly, the Spypoint app gives you comprehensive control of the Flex wherever you are, either via your phone or by logging into Spypoint’s website from an internet-enabled laptop, tablet, etc. As well as checking the camera’s library for the latest images (all of which are automatically organised by date/time), you can monitor its status (battery, signal, data consumption, etc.), change the capture mode, adjust the trigger sensitivity, upgrade the firmware and manage your account settings.
A recent upgrade added two new functions: Weather, which lets you check the current weather conditions at your camera, and Maps, which lets you place any of 26 different markers (e.g., high seats, feeders, choke points and tracks) as an aid to monitoring/managing activity across your hunting area. Conveniently, you can test-drive the app by downloading it and logging into the demo account using the following e-mail and password: [email protected] / 123456.
Physically, the Flex has an angular housing in a neutral grey-green plastic, c/w loops for a tree strap (supplied) and a ¼”-20 tripod socket on the back for use with a tree mount (MA-500). The pivoting antenna on the side found a signal, even in the most secluded hollows. A door at the bottom is secured by a chunky clip and sturdy hinge, plus is lockable via a security cable (CABLE LOCKCLM-6FT). It provides protection/access to the camera’s forward-facing switches and LEDs, as well as the downwards-facing ports. Inside the door is a sticker with a guide to these, but actually they’re dead simple.
There’s just one switch (OFF/ON) and two buttons (FORMAT & TEST). Press the format button after installing the microSD card to prepare it for use, then use the test button to send a snapshot to the app to check the camera’s positioning and framing before you leave the field. A single LED shows when the power is on, and two arrays report signal strength and battery status (information that is always available via the app).
Battery installation works as per a magazine rifle, insofar as you load a tray with 8 x AA cells and press it upwards into the bottom of the camera until it clicks home. The design of the tray means it can only go in one way around and is easy to orientate by touch alone.
Spypoint recommends using matched sets of premium-brand non-rechargeable alkaline or lithium cells, plus they provide a choice in the app so you can optimise the camera for either one. As I was testing the Flex in the late-autumn chill, I opted for a set of Energiser lithiums. These lasted over 2 months, during which the camera took a dozen or more (sometimes many more) images and videos daily and updated the image library four times every 24 hours.
If you need a longer interval between visits, you can replace the caddy with Spypoint’s 7.4V/5,400 mAh rechargeable Li-Ion battery pack (LIT-22). Having an alternative power source such as a LIT-22 or a spare tray full of AAs (BATT-TRAY-FLEX) in your pocket is ideal, as it avoids fumbling loose batteries into the undergrowth! Alternatively, you might opt for an external solution, since Spypoint also do a solar panel (SPLB-22) with an integrated 15,000mAh Li-Ion battery, mounting bracket and strap, as well as a 7,000 mAh 12V battery in a waterproof ABS box, complete with a 12’ cable and carrying strap (KIT-12V). The Flex has a weatherproof cable port at the rear for this purpose.
The Flex offers four capture modes: photo, video, time-lapse and time-lapse plus. The last of these takes photos both at your preferred interval and when the detection sensor is triggered. Performance figures are good too, with the trigger having a fast reaction time of 0.3s and both the PIR sensor and IR flash have a range of 30m. Matching numbers here matter as they avoid images of un-illuminated or startled targets. Impressively, the flash is also configurable via a ‘Night mode’ that can be set to ‘Boost’, ‘Blur reduction’, ‘Optimal’ or ‘No Glow.’
My initial results with the camera were simply too good! I’d set the sensitivity too high and it blew through my 100-image allowance in a single night, so I had to spend a month on the Standard tariff while finding the best settings. Afterwards, seeing from my image library that a new position was covering a trail from the wrong angle saved a lot of wasted time/data. My only complaint about the imaging is that exposures sometimes seemed over-long, resulting in blurring that obscured antler detail. This suggests that the Flex is better calibrated for longer-range results in open country than close-in woodland work. Regardless, I loved testing the Flex and genuinely miss it now it’s back with the distributor, Thomas Jacks..