Context . Understanding how different camera trap models vary in their ability to detect animals is important to help identify which cameras to use to meet the objectives of a study.
Aims . To compare the efficacy of four camera trap models (representing two commonly used brands of camera, Reconyx and Scoutguard) to detect small- and medium-sized mammals and birds.
Methods . Four camera models were placed side by side, focused on a bait station, under field conditions, and the numbers of triggers and visits by mammals and birds were compared. Trigger = camera sensor is activated and records an image of an animal. Visit = one or a sequence of triggers containing one or more images of a species, with no interval between animal images greater than 5 min.
Key results . The Scoutguard 530V camera recorded fewer than half of the triggers and visits by all animals that the Reconyx H600, Scoutguard 560K and Keepguard 680V cameras recorded. The latter three cameras recorded similar numbers of visits by mammals, but the Reconyx H600 recorded fewer triggers by medium-sized mammals than the Keepguard 680V. All camera models failed to detect a substantial proportion of the total known triggers and visits by animals, with a greater proportion of visits detected (14–88%) than triggers (5–83%). All camera models recorded images with no animals present (blanks), with Reconyx H600 recording the fewest blank images.
Conclusions . Camera trap models can vary in their ability to detect triggers and visits by small- and medium-sized mammals and birds. Some cheaper camera models can perform as well as or better than a more expensive model in detecting animals, but factors other than cost may need to be considered. Camera traps failed to detect a substantial proportion of known triggers and visits by animals. Number of visits is a more useful index of animal activity or abundance than number of triggers.
Implications . Variation in camera performance needs to be taken into consideration when designing or comparing camera surveys if multiple camera models are used, especially if the aim is to compare animal activity or abundance. If maximising the number of animal visits recorded at a site is important, then consideration should be given to using two or more cameras.