My first experience with a digital trail camera had been in the early 2000s. Trail cameras back then were much larger than they are now, didn’t store near as many images and photo quality was nowhere near what they are today. That being said, when I got my first Cuddeback camera, I was thrilled to be able to catch digital images on our bear baits in the spring and summer game trails for deer and elk. Since that time I have had many game cameras from different companies. Of those trail cameras, some have been good, some bad, but always seem to be improving on past models.
As most of you know, over the past several years cellular cameras have been all the rage. Although these cameras have intrigued me, I hadn’t jumped in and purchased any. This was due to a couple of reasons. First, I didn’t like the idea of having to purchase several cellular plans for my trail cameras. Second, because out west many of the areas I want to use trail cameras, there is no cell signal.
However, this past summer I found an area, in cell service where I wanted to put a camera or more precisely, cameras. I had been seeing some ads for the Cuddeback Cuddelink cameras and really liked what I was seeing. So the order was placed and I jumped into the cell game to see what the rage was all about.
What is a Cuddelink Trail Camera System?
The simple version is you have a “home” camera that functions as a normal cellular trail camera. On top of that though it also receives images via a proprietary wireless mesh network. Do I know what that means? No, not really, but I do know that it sends the images without using a cellular signal from remote cameras to the home camera.
Then the home camera sends the images from all of the cameras to your phone/email. This also allows you to “daisy chain” the cameras together, allowing you to have cameras up to 4 miles away from the home camera. This distance varies depending on topography and vegetation. With this system you are able to send images from up to 16 cameras, only using one cellular plan.
Users can purchase either Verizon or AT&T models at this time. The cell plans come in 3 different plans. 750 images monthly for $15, 2,000 images monthly for $20, and unlimited monthly images for $40. If you go with annual packages those monthly fees are less.
- CuddeLink is not cell service or Wi-Fi. CuddeLink is a proprietary wireless mesh network that allows the cameras to communicate with each other.
- CuddeLink transmits images from remote cameras to a home image collection camera.
- CuddeLink networks can have from 1 to 15 remote cameras. Start with a few and add more cameras as you need them.
- Typical transmission range in a dense forest is ¼ to ½ mile. In open spaces CuddeLink has camera-to-camera range to over 1 mile. Like all wireless systems transmission range will vary with terrain and conditions.
- CuddeLink automatically daisy-chains cameras to extend range to over 4 miles, making CuddeLink deployable on properties of hundreds to thousands of acres.
- There is no monthly fee to collect images on the Home camera.
Trail Camera Setup
When I first received the cameras and started taking them out of the boxes and looking them over, I will admit I was intimidated. My wife came to the rescue though and being much smarter than me she read the directions and we were on our way! Before we left the house we set up our cellular plan, which was simple. They recommend you set up an email just for Cuddeback, so that is all you receive are your images and device reports. Once we had that setup, we headed to put out the cameras.
When we got in the field and followed the instructions, our home cameras weren’t communicating with our three remote cameras. I know, I know this isn’t good. I mentioned this though, to let you know how great this company was to deal with. We called the company, got right through and the nice lady easily talked us through what was going on. Our home cameras’ firmware wasn’t matching our remote cameras. She emailed us the correct firmware right then, we loaded on our camera and we were up and going. I don’t anticipate this being the case very often, but it’s great to know that they are so good to work with.
In the Field
Here is a word of advice, keep your instruction booklet and write down any notes you may have while putting them out. We knew that even in this area the cell signal may be spotty, so we made sure that we found a good place for our Home camera to catch images, but also where we had a good cell signal. Our next trail we wanted to place a camera on was only a couple hundred yards away and we easily had a good enough signal between that and our home camera.
The next camera I knew was going to be the test. We were going to be between a quarter and half-mile from the last camera and there was some pretty serious foliage and trees between. Much to our surprise though, the signal was strong and we were good to go. Another quarter mile away we set camera number 4 and we were all set up.
Trail Camera Battery Life
I’m not going to lie; putting batteries in these cameras is a little expensive. The home camera takes six D cell batteries, while the remote cameras take 4 D cells each. That being said we originally placed these cameras in early June and just barely had to replace them in early December after taking many pictures through a wide range of weather and temperatures.
When setting up the camera you can set up how many pictures are taken before they are sent or only at a specific time. Once the pics are sent to your email the images are stored there, unless, of course, you delete them. You can also view images on camp.cuddeback.com on your account. On my plan up to 2500 images are stored for up to 14 days, after which they will be deleted. Also, all of the images are stored on the SD cards within each camera.
During setup, you can choose between 5- and 20-megapixel images. We chose 5 megapixels just to keep from filling up memory cards too fast. Images were good, but obviously not as good as they would be at 20. In the future, I plan on doing 20-megapixels, unless I am in a very high-traffic area.
For the most part, the trigger speed has been good when my cameras were set correctly, facing down the trail and not crossways on the trail. On the trail camera, I set across from the trail I did get some just rear-end images on animals when they seemed to be moving fast.
The IR flash has worked well within reasonable distances and night images turned out good. Again, in the future, I expect higher-resolution details when cameras are set to 20-megapixels.
Final Thoughts on the Cuddelink Trail Camera System
Overall I have been very impressed and have thoroughly enjoyed the Cuddelink cameras. I truly believe this system is a fabulous option for being able to set cameras once and not having to continuously go in and disturb the areas when checking cards. Cuddeback also makes a version of this system where you have all of the capabilities without the cell plan option. I plan on getting one of these setups to use in the mountains where there are no cell signals. Again, I am an experienced trail cam user, but I am new to cell cameras. Still, I am very impressed with the Cuddeback Cuddelink system and can’t wait for this Idaho snow to melt so I can get back out and do some more experimenting with this setup.