Filming Hunting Adventures: A guide to adding a camera to your hunting kit
Written by Jacob Villasenor
We all have different motivations to hunt and oftentimes it is important enough to us that we want to save the memory. No matter how we record the experience we either want it to refresh our memories, share it with others or a combination of both. In the past, hunters would write articles or journal entries paired with pictures since this was the most available medium to record hunting. Since the invention of digital photography, the option to record hunts through video became a real option for many hunters. The advancement of video recording technology has grown so much in recent years that even entry level camera equipment can produce high quality and even professional level images. Done properly, anyone who puts in the time can capture a story around hunting that is much more personal than words on a page can express. Whatever your motivation is, here are some tips to get you started filming your hunts and saving those experiences we cherish so much.
Before we dive into gear and techniques, it is important to say that adopting the task of filming a hunt inherently increases the difficulty of that hunt. Whether it is solo or having someone following you with a camera, try to capture a hunt on film increases difficulty. So before you add a camera, batteries and accessories to your gear list, think about what you want out of a hunt and out of filming it. This is important because there may be times when you have to make the decision about whether you want to drop the camera and improve the odds of success. If you are hell bent on capturing every event of the hunt, realize this will likely lead to seeing animals running away with nothing to do about it but curse the camera or camera man. So don’t say you weren’t warned of the impending challenge.
At the time of writing there are arguably 4 categories of cameras an entry level consumer can use to capture hunting. These include your phone, handycams/point and shoot, DSLRs/Mirrorless, and action cameras. All 4 can effectively capture different aspects of a hunt and be utilized to compile a well rounded library of clips. I will include a description of these cameras as well as their typical uses and the pros and cons of each. If you ever feel as if you don’t understand some of the vocabulary used to describe a camera, google should do a good job in further explanation.
The first camera I am going to tackle is the one in your phone. I have used this platform more than you would think over the years and it has served me well. I’m not gonna bother going into stats and describing different models since most of you know your phone's camera better than me. Although quite limited in scope, the quality of phone cameras has increased to the point that they serve as excellent vlogging cameras and can capture alternative angles such as hunters moving in a blind or a timelapse in a treestand. They don’t offer much range so I wouldn’t try to capture subjects further than 40 yards away. They are quick and accessible so don’t pass up this option when looking to add to story telling or capture multiple angles of a setup.
HandyCam (point and shoot cameras): One of the least expensive and simplest options, handycams are designed for consumers looking to frame the subject of the video whether that be a person, animal or landscape and press the record button. Point and shoot cameras have similar designs and often produce similar images so do some research about which one will suit you better. With designs centered around automatic settings and the fixed unchangeable lenses, inexperienced users can pick up this camera and capture whatever they can get the camera in front of.
List of Pros and Cons
Inexpensive: Cameras packages start somewhere around $300 for an inclusive setup including a tripod, extra battery, memory card, and case.
Easy to use: Simple controls and usability allows even the most technologically challenged individuals to become familiar with functionality with only a few hours of practice.
Generally lightweight: Starting weights including battery start somewhere around half a pound (8-10oz) making them a very light camera system to take into the backcountry.
Generous focal lengths: With impressive zoom capabilities (optical zoom upwards of 50x (1740mm equivalent) and clear image zoom upwards of 100x. This means that some of these cameras can match the same magnification as some spotting scopes. While this means you can capture animals far away, keep in mind the image quality will decrease at the further ranges and become even worse during the morning and evenings.
In camera stabilization: Stabilization within these cameras in most cases works very well and corrects a lot of the bumps and sharp movements often experienced on hunts. This will make handheld video very smooth and allow the user to VLOG with ease.
Lacks Creativity: Since most of the settings (ISO, IRIS or Aperature, and Shutter Speed) are automatic it hinders the users ability to get creative and capture dynamic shots seen in more cinematic productions.
Image Quality: Although most of these cameras shoot in full HD (1920x1080 pixels) or even 4K(3840 x 2160 pixels) the image quality will be softer and less pleasing compared to DSLRs and Mirrorless cameras. This is mostly due to the capabilities of the sensors used to capture the image as well as a fixed lens.
Durability: Although with care these cameras can last years, the mostly plastic designs and small mechanical parts like lens covers can break easily if dropped. As any hunter should know the woods don’t provide a safe environment for even the toughest gear making it only a matter of time before something fails on this style of camera. Rain and snow don’t mix well with handycams making filming in bad weather more difficult.
Mainly Designed to Shoot Video: Although most cameras can capture still images they are likely worse than that of most phones rendering the function almost useless. With DSLRs and Mirrorless cameras most cameras have the capability to capture professional quality stills increasing the uses one can get out of a camera. Video quality also lacks when comparing the same resolutions compared to a DSLR or Mirrorless.
HandyCams are a great way to start for those looking to capture their hunts. The ease of use will help those transition into the mindset it takes to add a camera into the mix. The generous zoom and image stabilization paired with a tripod (in many hunters kit already) will allow those who spot animals at far distances to capture at least an image of what they spotted. Although the image quality lacks compared to other platforms it is more than enough for those looking to relive or share the basics of a hunt. With that being said many well known youtube channels still use handycams one being Stuck in the Rut who offer clean, straight forward story telling utilizing the zoom capabilities to capture long range shooting around western states. The number of kill shots they have captured is indicative of how easy the cameras are to use. Despite having limited creative abilities, there are few shots that these cameras cannot capture. I would probably recommend this platform most for hobbyists who have little experience with photography and are content with simple straight forward shots.
*Solvid Camera mounts are designed for most handycams and allow hunters to mount these systems to their head to record hands free. It would likely take more practice to dial a set up like this over a go pro or action cam. Although it would also add flexibility to the use of your camera and increase usability. If this interests you the developers of this system film hunts and upload the videos so you can see the product in action. You can use the discount code elkshape on their website to save 15% off your purchase
Common HandyCams (w/ prices)
Canon VIXIA HF R800 Camcorder ($220)
Sony HDR-CX405 HD Handycam ($230)
Sony FDR-AX700 4K Camcorder ($1898)
DSLRs and Mirrorless Cameras
Breakdown and Differences:
Pros and Cons:
High Image Quality: In comparison with handycams these cameras at the same resolution will produce crisper more pleasing images (both photo and video) aided with improved colors and dynamic range.
Flexibility: The ability of these cameras to change lenses allow users to capture just about any type of shot one has seen in movies and tv(barring special effects). This however comes at a price with quality lenses sometimes costing as much if not many times more than the camera body depending on what you purchase. In most cases it is easy to attach any type of audio recording device to the sound you can capture.
Durability: Most of these cameras are designed for heavy use and combine high quality plastics and metal to increase overall durability. Many cameras and lenses are also weather sealed allowing shooters to be comfortable shooting in light rain and snow.
Low Light: Many sensors in DSLR’s and Mirrorless cameras do much better shooting in low light conditions than handycams and point and shoot cameras. This will aid in early morning and late evening situations when capturing details in low light becomes difficult.
Starting Professional Level: These cameras can translate into professional videography as the images they produce rivals professional level cameras. In some cases, professional videographers in many industries use these to capture creative shots and have back up alternate views. If you invest in something like this it's not out of the realm of possibility to be paid for high quality stills or video being produced on something like a Sony A7 series, Nikon Z series and Canon R series camera.
Price: Can start to rack up bills when you factor in a camera body, multiple lenses and accessories to increase shooting capabilities. At the lowest end you will likely fork out 500 dollars for a setup including a couple lenses covering most focal lengths. The price range is endless as professional lenses can cost upwards of $6K. Don’t be intimidated by the price as the investment will often carry over into other aspects of life.
Learning Curve: To get the most out of these cameras users must dive deep into the ins and outs of photography and videography. Be comfortable with setting changes and setting custom functions. With that being said the internet is chalk full of tutorials and different ways you can use your camera, so the learning investment is usually a matter of time. Of course you could buy one of these and get away with shooting on auto at all times but it won’t maximize the potential of the camera by a long shot.
Size: This one is specifically for DSLRs, as mirrorless cameras are relatively small and light. Since DSLR’s require a mirror to project images onto a sensor they tend to have a bulky appearance. When this paired with a 70-200mm lens and you’ve got something to haul around, especially in the mountains on a hunt. If you’re looking to keep your set up smaller, consider a crop sensor mirrorless design with two zoom lenses designed to cover a wide range of focal lengths.
In the end DSLRs and Mirrorless cameras are meant for hunters looking to up their game from starter level video cameras and begin capturing high quality images. Be prepared to spend time practicing and learning the ins and outs of both photography and videography with one of these cameras. Many YouTube tutorials later, you should be ready to go out in the mountains only to realize how difficult it is to change settings and focus a camera on a game animal within range of whatever weapon is being used to hunt. In some cases you will capture what you intended to but it will take time to dial your skills in order to build a file ready to drop into Adobe Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, or even Windows Movie Maker and put together something coherent and entertaining. With that being said, it is rewarding when you capture something you’re proud of and get excited to show friends and family back home. I would invest in one of these cameras if you are serious about taking up photography and videography as a hobby. If you just want to capture simple images stick with the other options.
After the invention of the GoPro, the action camera has become widely understood as a go everywhere option. Action cams are for those looking to capture video of activities that take up all the attention it would take to carry along a traditional camera. Although hunting doesn’t necessarily fall into a category where it is impossible to self film, action cams make it possible to draw a bow and fire without touching a camera besides hitting the record button. The issue you run into is that action cams tend to be very wide angle (10-20mm), which creates distortion and makes subjects at long distances difficult to see, or seem as if they are much further away than reality. Also if worn on your head or pack, they must be oriented in such a way that they capture exciting events when they happen. There likely isn’t a perfect orientation since if they are facing forward will capture what you see until you go to draw your bow and face your head or body in a way that orients the camera in the wrong direction, or vice versa. They often work similarly as phone cams in that they offer a different perspective than the primary camera, the only difference is the ease in mounting to different things such as weapons, packs and body parts. Be careful and read your states regulations since it isn’t always legal to attach a camera to your weapon. There have actually even been special cameras designed to be put on bows and rifles specifically so this may be an option. I wouldn’t however purchase an action cam unless you are primarily a bow hunter who only cares about capturing the shot. Another feature you might consider is the fact that they are waterproof and durable enough to endure the rigors of a hunting trip.
For a more in depth description of action cam options in 2020, check out this link.
Like anything you might be seeking some tips to get you started once you are out and about with a tag in your pocket and a camera in your hand or attached to your head. Here’s a list of things to help you get the most out of filming your hunts.
- Film as much as possible without taking away from the hunt.
- Hunting has long periods of waiting and little activity followed by quick burst of action. As a videographer you will want to film what is important to the narrative. Whether it be shots of your location and updates in lulls between action or just letting the camera run while you’re trying to capture a bear quickly feeding away from you. The bottom line is that no videographer was frustrated for capturing too much unless they filled up all of their memory cards.
- Buy Extra Batteries
- You don’t want to run out of battery before the most exciting events of a hunt. So the best way to do this isn’t filming less but having enough battery life to capture everything you want.
- Practice at home, scouting, or preparing for season
- The more you get comfortable with the camera, the more likely it will be that it doesn’t hinder you when buck fever strikes and you can’t take the scope caps off your rifle quick enough, while finding a place to set down your binoculars.
- Get a hunting partner to begin filming with you
- Alternating who is running the camera and who is hunting has led to the success of many popular hunting groups like Born and Raised and Hush. When multiple people are comfortable recording each other, it makes filming hunts less of a chore and more of a predetermined task that one person picks up as the other becomes focused on the main objective of notching a tag.
- Don’t let filming a hunt determine the hunting trips success
- When hunters put this weight on a trip it can often lead to disappointment or arguments when things don’t work out the way you want. Hunting is an experience we all love for its ups and downs. Regardless of whether an experience is burned onto a SD card doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Cherish your time in the field as it is a finite resource that comes and goes quickly.
For those of you considering taking up this challenge, I would tell you to be prepared for it to be a challenge at any level. If it was me I would make it another reason to get excited to get out in the woods every season. Good luck this season and I look forward to seeing the things captured in the coming seasons.
Cameras Used to Make this Film: