Gear Review - Cuddeback Ambush IR 5MP Trail Camera
Today we are going to examine the Cuddeback Ambush IR trail camera, model 1187. I've owned two of these cameras, purchasing them both in the United States on hunting trips in Maine. Although they have replaced this model with a new one just out this fall, you can still find lots of existing stock out there so we think it still has a need to be reviewed.
One thing to let you know is that we are passionate and obsessed with trail cameras, almost as much as we are with hunting and fishing. Each member of our family delights in pouring over the pictures each day, no matter what the season. We have literally thousands of pictures from the past decade and think enough of then to back them up on the cloud so as to never risk losing them. Many an evening at the camp is spent looking over the pictures both for scouting purpose and just for reminiscing. With that in mind, let's get right into the review.
Right out of the box, the Ambush IR feels like a solid product. It is about average size and weight for a trail camera, and is shaped and coloured like a tree. This would be to help conceal it, as well as to make it look unique. Other companies are also trying this but to be honest we don't think it helps. In my experience, the animals know the cams are there regardless of what they look like. They hear them click no matter what model as they take pictures and are not fooled no matter how "natural" they pattern them. People also can quickly pick them out since it creates a pretty big profile on the tree at a level generally easy to see.
The package comes with a strap for attaching it to the tree. It seems to work well, but in all cases we recommend a lock box. They help to keep your investment safe from animals and at least slow down a thief or make them return more prepared. The lock boxes stop hungry bears and prevent crimes of opportunity.
Manufacturer Claim: ¼ Second
In The Field:
The Trigger Speed is where Cuddeback makes their name. With a blazing-fast 1/4 second trigger, when something gets in front of the camera, the Ambush IR won’t let you down. You’ll find nearly all of the pictures you get with the Ambush IR are centered.
Claim: 5 Megapixels
In The Field:
One thing we noted, was that daytime pictures are beautiful. Compared to other 5 MP cameras in its class, the Ambush IR takes fantastic daytime photos. Nighttime pictures were less impressive, as we touch on below in more detail.
Claim: Infrared, 100 Ft Range
In the field:
While there’s no disputing IR technology, the Ambush IR does not live up to its claim of a 100 foot range. We pointed the Ambush IR a number of ways and were unable to achieve triggering at anywhere near that distance. This is not uncommon, as most manufacturers claim a range closer to 40 feet, something more easily attainable.
Claim: Yes, 10/20/30 Seconds
In The Field:
The Ambush IR does allow you to record videos, both daytime and night with durations of 10,20, or 30 seconds. However, unlike some other models, the videos you record with this camera do not include sound. Videos are recorded in “Full Screen” at a 4:3 screen ratio, rather than “Wide” 16:9.
Claim: 5 seconds to 3 minutes
In The Field:
Another place where the Ambush IR truly shines is the incredible recovery speed. With a camera delay set as low as 5 seconds, the amount of pictures you take is truly up to you. You don't want to get a picture of a doe and miss the picture of a trailing buck because the camera takes two minutes to write and recover.
Claim: “Thousands” of photos, 6 months
In The Field:
The Ambush IR runs on 8 AA batteries. Cuddeback claims that these batteries will last for 6 months and take “thousands” of pictures. This is not a claim we can dispute, as we had the camera in the woods taking literally hundreds of pictures a week for months at a time between replacing them. We could get through our entire NB bear season of two months on a single set of alkaline batteries. I’m certain that with Lithium batteries we could easily reach the 6 month frame.
Suggested Retail: $199
The MSRP of the Ambush IR is $199 USD. However, since Cuddeback has released new versions of the Ambush cameras, we bought both of mine on sale for $119, and have even seen these for as low as $89 in store. The lock box retails at $39 but we purchased mine on sale for $19.
Real World Thoughts
The biggest trademark of Cuddeback cameras is trigger speed. Reported to be a quarter of a second, they claim to be the fastest trigger on the market and we will not dispute their claim. Some of the pictures we got from my bear bait barrel were extremely impressive, especially of the daytime crows that inevitably visit. If you are looking to scout animals that sometimes are on the move quickly you will be thankful for this feature. Regardless of how close the animal is to the camera, you won't get any pictures that are blank or capture its hindquarters as it has gotten out of the field of view.
They have an excellent 18-month warranty which is longer than any other trail camera on the market that we have seen. And their technical support seems excellent as both myself and a friend called them for assistance which was resolved through the firmware updates.
The setup is incredibly easy with only two buttons and a simple dial to change modes. we was able to set up the camera without reading the manual, something we cannot say is true for every other one I've tried.
The picture quality is the best of any camera we have tested in the daylight. The night pictures are good but not excellent. As an infrared camera, it seems to perform consistently with other models we have used. It does not spook the animals with the flash, but they definitely know it is there. Many of the animals are looking directly at the camera in the pictures, presumably from the click when it takes one. This appears to be consistent with any model I've found and the animals stick around for multiple images without being spooked enough to leave, so it is doing its job.
It also seems very watertight which is important if you plan to use yours for long periods of time, across multiple seasons. The controls and other compartments for battery both screw tightly into place with weather stripping to keep your investment protected from the elements. The compartment in the top for the SD card snaps down fairly tight with weather stripping as well, but we found my first camera to feel tighter than my second.
The camera is pricey at MSRP when compared to other cameras on the market. However, given that these can often be found for as low as $89, this may be a moot point.
The unit MUST have the firmware updated right out of the box in my opinion to truly see what it can do. When we took it out in the field we was initially extremely disappointed in it, but after the update it performs much better.
We were unimpressed with the detection range which, although reported to be 100 feet, actually performs very narrow. This unit takes great pictures when the animals are directly in front of it, but if it is slightly off to the side it seems to miss them. We actually set up another camera beside it of a different model and got twice as many deer pics on that model, including two of a buck that the Cuddeback missed. It has the narrowest detection area of any camera we have tested
The detection also seems to be much better if it is placed lower on the tree. If you think you are not getting enough pictures, move it lower and it may detect better. We found we had to place it lower than my usual waist high placement to get proper performance.
We question the quality control of the Ambush IR production. Because of our endorsement two of our friends purchased these. One of them was very unhappy even after the firmware update getting blurry pictures of low quality. He is planning to return it. The other loves his and uses his for both bears and deer hunting.
The Bottom Line
The Cuddeback Ambush IR is a solid trail camera but we cannot give it a total endorsement because of the problems my friend had with his, the narrow detection field, and the high retail cost. To be honest my first camera seemed to perform much better than my second one, purchased a year later. This could speak again to quality control. A camera in this price range needs to be consistently excellent. If we had written this review after only using it for my bear bait station it would have been much more positive.
In practice we have found it to be a great camera for bear scouting but less useful for watching a wide range like a food plot or trail. If you are looking for a camera to place over a bear bait barrel, and can get it on sale, by all means purchase this camera (with a lock box to deter hungry bruins). But if you want it for security, watching trails, or food plots, there may be better options out there.
The bottom line is that the Ambush IR camera is a solid product but not spectacular.
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