August 13, 2020
By John Taranto
For many deer hunters, late summer marks the start of trail-camera season, as we begin to surreptitiously monitor the whitetail herds on our hunting properties to get a sense of the animals we might target on Opening Day.
As everyone knows by now, cellular game cameras that transmit images and videos directly to a phone or other device have been a game-changer for scouting, and their virtues have been covered ad nauseum. Therefore, we’ll skip that spiel here and focus instead on the specific features and performance of one of the newest and most budget-friendly cellular cameras to hit the market, the Moultrie XA-6000. (Quick side note: The "A" stands for AT&T; the XV-6000 is identical, except it runs on Verizon’s 4G network.)
I’ve had an XA-6000 ($119.99; moultriefeeders.com) hanging in a small woodlot outside of Wichita, Kan., since July 21. While I’ve been generally pleased with its performance and the quality of the images it has produced, I’ve been particularly impressed with the functionality of both it and the Moultrie Mobile app.
Unfortunately, the deer didn’t get the memo that I was conducting this test, so captures of whitetails have been few and far between—though there’s been no shortage of photos of squirrels and raccoons filling my Moultrie Mobile inbox these last few weeks.
The XA-6000’s design and controls are straightforward and minimalistic, and its construction is solid. The modem that transmits images and videos is integrated within the unit, which weighs 19 ounces and measures 8 inches long, 5 inches wide and 3 ½ inches deep. The exterior is clad in Moultrie’s proprietary Pine Bark camo pattern. The oversized latch is very secure, and I’ve had no issues with moisture entering the body despite some periods of heavy rain since it’s been hanging.
The camera and modem require 12 AA batteries. Moultrie’s web site states that those dozen cells should provide 3-plus months of battery life; however, my batteries are at just 33 percent after 3 weeks of use. While I have the photo resolution and PIR sensitivity both set to "high," I’ve barely used the video mode, and I have the camera set to record just one image at a time (rather than a 3-shot burst) with a 15-second delay between each capture. Considering all that, I’m a little surprised the batteries have drained as much as they have so far.
The only thing I can think of that might have caused such a rapid decline is that AT&T’s cellular signal is not very strong where the camera has been hanging, and the unit must’ve burned a lot of juice while constantly searching for a signal. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a place to test the camera where AT&T’s signal is strong, and I didn’t have the option to test the Verizon model instead, so here we are. Regardless, this all underscores the importance of making sure any cellular camera you purchase will work well in the area where you intend to hang it.
Whereas most traditional cameras feature a series of buttons and switches to control the settings, the XA-6000 has just three: an on/off switch, a button labeled "Connect/Status" and a second button for formatting the SD card. The Connect/Status button is used to establish a connection to the wireless network and Moultrie’s server, and there are four LEDs labeled "Signal," "Battery," "SD Card" and "Server" that shine red, yellow or green to indicate the status of each. This paucity of integrated controls is due to the fact that the unit is maintained almost exclusively through the Moultrie Mobile app.
It cannot be overstated what a robust and intuitive tool the Moultrie Mobile app is. Once I’d downloaded it to my phone and set up my account, the XA-6000 showed up immediately. From there I was able to go into the settings and give the camera a unique name (this comes in handy if you’re using more than one of the same model), select photo or video mode, set my desired upload frequency, set an upload warning limit, choose single shot or 3-shot burst, select my desired photo resolution (low or high), choose how long of a detection delay I wanted (0 seconds to 5 minutes) and set the PIR sensitivity (low, medium or high).
Within the app, there are also controls for formatting the SD card; choosing whether or not images are presented with an info strip that shows the moon phase, temperature, date and time of capture; and for turning on or off Managed Memory. By leaving Managed Memory on, the camera will continue to capture images when the SD card is full but will remove the oldest image each time a new one is taken; turning it off tells the camera to stop capturing images once the card is full.
The app also allows the user to set up custom tags for images and videos. For instance, if you have a predilection for naming deer, you can establish tags like "Big 8" or "Scarface" and apply them to images and videos of specific bucks. Beyond that, there are a number of filters that allow the user to see only photos taken by a specific camera (if you have more than one cam on an account) or captures from a specific date range, time-of-day range, temperature range or moon phase. Users can rate individual images and videos from 1 to 5 stars and sort them that way or even sort by images taken with or without flash.
If all that wasn’t enough, Moultrie’s software also includes what they call "Smart Tags." Through some kind of black magic (more probably artificial intelligence), the camera is able to recognize if the thing that tripped the trigger was a deer (and whether the deer was a buck or a doe), a turkey, a vehicle or a person. Then, the user can filter the images to show those that feature one or more of the above. It should be noted that some of my photos with a “deer” smart tag showed no deer whatsoever, but every deer image the camera captured did show up when I applied that filter. Plus, the user can inform the software when it’s messed up to help it learn and become even smarter over time—kinda scary, kinda cool.
In addition to all of this functionality, the user can also manage his or her account through the app, access device manuals and submit questions to customer service. Plans start at $4.99 per month (limit of 100 images) and go up $16.99 (unlimited images). There is also a Pro Plan (also with unlimited images) that runs $34.99 per month for the first camera and $7.99 for each additional cam, which is ideal for users with three or more cameras on an account. There are no contracts and you can start and stop service any time you choose, though there is a discount if you pay for a full year of service up front.
If there’s one thing I would change about the XA-6000, it would be its trigger speed. At .9 seconds, it’s certainly on the slow side. By comparison, Moultrie’s first cellular cam, the XA7000i/XV700i, which was introduced in 2019 and costs $40 more than the XA-6000/XV-6000, has a trigger speed of .3 seconds. On one occasion, the camera captured a buck that couldn’t have been more than 6 inches from the shutter but produced just a single image of it—which showed only a portion of its rack. A faster trigger speed likely would’ve captured the buck before it got so close and given me a better look at his headgear.
The detection range and flash range are listed as 80 and 70 feet, respectively. Based on images my test unit captured, I can say that those ratings are at least close to accurate. Over the course of the test, I strapped the camera to different trees ranging from 15 to 30 feet away from a feeder. On multiple occasions, both day and night, it picked up deer slinking through the woods quite a distance behind the feeder.
The XA-6000 produces 16-megapixel images, which, while perhaps not tack-sharp, reveal more-than-adequate detail. The Illumi-Night 2 sensor and long-range infrared flash, with its 24 LEDs, produced excellent low-light and nighttime images.
As the majority of my photos were coming at night, I switched to video mode for two separate overnight periods. However, the camera failed to produce a single video. This is odd since an entire gang of raccoons was present at the feeder almost every night. Again, I have to believe that perhaps the cellular signal was not strong enough to support video capture. As such, I’m not able to speak to the camera’s video capabilities.
If you’ve hesitated to pull the trigger on a wireless camera because of cost or a fear of complicated set-up and controls, neither of those should be a concern with the XA-6000. At $119.99, this camera costs less that many trail cams that do not feature cellular transmittal capability, and the user experience truly could not be more intuitive or enjoyable.