Trail Camera Gain and Exposure

Just a quick little note covering gain and exposure:

To help shed some light, so to speak ironically, on night pictures I will try and explain what some of the biggest factors in getting good quality night photos.  As with most things a lot of it is open to interpretation and what you personally feel is a good picture.
For us, we try and achieve the maximum brightness while maintaining the lowest gain and exposure settings while attaining the furthest range/distance.
Distance is important because most cameras out there use a wide angle lens – which makes targets appear much further away then they actually are – giving the perception that the flash range is also much further then it actually is. So always know the distance. And since I have already covered the differences between red glow and no glow we will just compare only no glow in the article.
What is gain and exposure?
Gain is pretty simply explained by artificially increasing the brightness – there is more to it in reality but for the general term that is what you are doing by increasing gain.
To some, this is acceptable.

Normal picture from our system:cropped-p_049085

Now if we increase the gain a little you get something like this: Does the picture look brighter?
High Gain

We have this conversation quite a bit about what looks “good” and what doesn’t.  For us, quite simply, the less gain means a better picture. You get more contrast with less gain and better detail. Some will still argue that more gain means a brighter picture but in all actuality it isn’t. The target (in this case the deer) has more clarity and brightness in the normal picture with little gain. Because as you add gain you also add noise which will add to the pixelation to picture which then loses detail. It also adds that ghost look to your picture.

The other side of brightness to a night picture is the amount of exposure being used. The longer exposure you use the brighter the picture will be. The downside is that any target that is moving with long exposure times will end up very blurry. So with most cameras they are forced to use a very long exposure and lots of gain to appear to have bright pictures. Our systems use a very short exposure and very minimum amount of gain trying to achieve a nice balance of brightness and contrast so we can maintain the highest level of detail possible.