How we perform trigger time testing

Now that the folks that are using scouting cameras are becoming experts with their own equipment, we keep getting hit with the question “how do I do a trigger time test”?

Here is a list of things that you will need:

  1. Clock with a sweep second hand. Quartz type clocks will not work because it steps every second thus you could be off as much as a second.
  2. A portable stand to hold the clock and another to hold the camera at the same level as the clock. This must be portable because many cameras have a big difference in trigger time when flash is used verses non flash pictures. So a trip into the sunlight is necessary once you do the flash test in a dark room.
  3. A series of different types of filters to cover the flash during the inside tests because at close distances the flash will wash out the picture of the clock. I use cloth sometimes and masking tape other times. Experiments are necessary to reach the desired brightness, so I just keep changing the filter over the flash until I reach the desired brightness for a good clear picture of the clock.
  4. A lot of patience because it has taken as long as six hours to finally accomplish just one test. Because of the delay period of the camera it can be as much as three minutes between pictures then you must shut down, and walk to the computer to view the card to see that things are right.
  5. Make sure the camera is on minimum delay and single shot mode.

Setup and Technique

Once you have everything in place, you place the camera on the stand and fire it up to begin taking pictures. Cover the flash with whatever filter you choose to use to start with. Set the spacing to the clock at about 4 feet. Turn the lights off and stand alongside the camera and move your hand in front of the PIR sensor and get it to trigger and flash. This first trigger will be without regards to where the second hand is. (you will need enough light in your room to safely move around and still be able to see the clock but be dark enough that the camera will still flash)

After this first trigger just walk away and come back about 30 minutes later. Approach the camera from the side so that the sensor will not see you and then watch the clock for the second hand to reach the 12. Be ready and when the second hand approaches the 12.  You can wave your hand and trigger the camera but have it out of the way so your hand is not in the picture.

This first trigger is to test for sleep mode and if it is present (usually 3 to 5 seconds) then wait 2 minutes and repeat and wait another 2 minutes and repeat again. If the times appear to be much less than the first trigger then you will know that this camera is designed with the dreaded sleep mode and further testing is of no value. If the times remain the same as the initial trigger then you know there is no sleep mode and that is the true trigger time. Many trips back and forth to the card reader are necessary before you can know the actual trigger time. These trips also allow for the adjustment to the filter for good clear pictures.

We do as many as 50 triggers before we can definitely see an accurate pattern and give a proper evaluation. We disregard any that are obviously out of range as due to human error.  If you are not going to publish the trigger time pictures then as long as the picture quality is good enough to tell you what the camera is doing you will not have to play with the flash filtering like we have to in order to publish the pictures.

A Warm Hand

One of the aids that I have where my trigger time station is set up is this is where my cordless battery area is and the tops of these batteries that are being charged is somewhat warmer than my body temperature.  I just place my hand on these waiting for the second hand to reach the 12 and this seems to aid in the triggering. I have even used a large spoon that I had standing in a glass of hot water to do this also but made a mess if I was not careful. Now that all the inside testing has been done then move outside and repeat the same test without the flash going off. Some cameras will except the inside light as enough light to keep the flash from going off but my shop is very marginal so I must move outside in the heat to do the without flash testing.



The day of the hot spoon has slid away and the cameras have become much more sophisticated. We still use the old sweep hand clock for most things to get us an idea of where we want to set up the additional equipment. The lab now has climate control so now this nice cool environment that is put up against a highly sophisticated triggering mechanism. Having the control of temperature and environment was our biggest and most costly task. We needed to have things set so we could control not only where the camera was to operate but to control what it was suppose to see electronically. The years past and it was it seemed that the equipment inventory grew not only in number but in cost. Moving into the digital world where our data could move parallel solved most of our problems when it came to repeat-ability. To accomplish this technology we had a lot of high level advice and help along with some new devices that were adapted for our purpose and work extremely well. Limiting anything dealing with human control was accomplished and the setup procedures were standardized. Repeat-ability was key and became second place. Throw a couple of wrenches into the cameras circuits like adding light metering of maybe a faulty intermittent component and now out few minute task becomes days. If the repeat-ability factor is not there, we now have enough confidence in our system that we know now to look somewhere else. We have had cameras that we returned and had the factory look at them and return them to us but for some strange reason they seemed to work?????(but nothing was changed at the factory).

To put it very short and sweet, we have a computer controlled fairly automated testing station that will do both day (with filter controlled halogen lighting) to produce trigger times with out flash and have light metering control on those cameras that are so equipped. Trigger times can be slid one way or the other by re arranging the light metering function. This is very much in play on the IR cameras both black and red flash. Having the ability to watch the flash go off black/red/strobe/WIR and being able to scientifically measure the duration is also of interest. This system can tell us when the electronic/mechanical shutter has opened and when it closed and measure the time of that event. There was a push by some to try to carry the decimal point out a number of places but we feel to the hundredths of a second should be far enough. The old clock served us well and we had very little complaints as to the results we displayed over the years. We are now upgraded and will start to show part of our digital readout.

Having to do a heavy load of prerelease testing on cameras we report our findings back so improvements cam be made so when these units hit the market they will work properly. Many of the cameras that have come in here have gone back and were never released because of flaws we have found. This manner of testing required that we have the repeat-ability of testing to prove accuracy in the results. The nuts and bolts of this system is under cover and because a lot of individuals would like to have that insight we are forced to have a degree of secrecy. The engineering and development along with a great deal of expense has been put into this endeavor, and we have to protect it.


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