Digiscoping is nothing more than taking a photo with a digital camera through a spotting scope. The simplest technique is to handhold the camera in place. If you are in a situation where you must do that (such as when you come upon a rare bird and don't have any kind of adaptor), don't hold your camera with two hands--rather, cup your left hand around the scope's eyepiece using your curved fingers to hold the camera in place while your right hand makes slight corrections to the camera's position and then clicks the shutter.
To take better photos, you will have more consistent positive results using a digiscope adaptor. The adaptor has three jobs--to hold the camera centered at the right distance from the scope's eyepiece, to hold the camera steady enough that when you press the shutter, you end up with a crisp image, and to block out peripheral light. Some adaptors do two or even three of these things. Some professional and amateur bird photographers have done amazing jobs with standard digital cameras that have filter threads allowing them to be attached to digiscoping adaptors, some complicated adaptors have been developed that work when the camera has no filter threads, and several great people have been very generous with their information about how to set up these kinds of digiscoping setups. The best results I've seen have been with digital cameras that allow the user to focus and to make aperture and shutter speed adjustments.
But I'm a point-and-shoot kind of person, and much more a birder than a photographer, so I wanted something simpler and very fast. I also am not very adept with Photoshop--I know a few little editing techniques, but in order to get good results, I really need the original photo to be pretty close to the end result. With some experimenting I've come up with a homemade system that works well for me.
The most important piece of equipment for digiscoping is the spotting scope. I use a Zeiss 85mm Diascope. Because I worked at Binoculars.com, I had access to try out all three eyepieces before choosing one (well, I ended up buying two). As useful as the zoom eyepiece is for birding, there was ALWAYS "vignetting" (that black circle framing the image) when I used the zoom eyepiece, even at its lowest magnification. I never got vignetting with the 30x or 40x. I haven't experimented enough with other scope makes and models yet and am not enough of an authority on optics to be 100% certain, but I'm pretty sure that in every case, with a given scope body, a fixed power eyepiece will give better results than a zoom. I originally tried digiscoping with my old Kowa-TSN4, with the zoom eyepiece. But the moment I tried taking photos with the Zeiss scope, I was so satisfied that I stopped there for now. I was given the Canon SD500 specifically for digiscoping. It's got 8.1 megapixels, so allows a lot of cropping while still getting a usable photo, but it can hardly be the only point-and-shoot camera that does a great job.
My first digiscoping efforts: Here's my spotting scope and camera, held together with the Zeiss Diascope Digital Adaptor. This is a slick and ingenious invention that screws into the digital camera tripod screw mount, and swings the camera to the side so you can use a spotting scope without it. Why didn't I keep using it? It's very heavy, took some adjusting each time I brought it back into place to shoot a photo, and the camera shook slightly when I'd press the shutter. A cable release would be necessary to use this system really well. Also, the system doesn't block peripheral light. And finally, I often wanted to take a picture of a plant or insect, and would have to detach the camera and reattach it each time.
So I wanted something simpler, lighter, more steady, and faster. But what? I was mulling over the whole problem when I happened to be sick with pneumonia this winter. My whole family had been sick, and we'd gone through a lot of bottles of liquid Nyquil, those little measuring cups piling up. Suddenly I had a brainstorm. The measuring cup seemed about the right size to brace against the spotting scope to hold the camera in place. I cut out the bottom of the cup with a little scissors, and voila!
It sort of worked. Here you see the camera lens inside the Nyquil cup bottom, and the lip of the cup is braced against the scope's eyepiece. When I first tried, the camera wasn't focusing properly. I figured out that the cup was holding it a bit farther back than the scope's eye relief, so cut off about a millimeter more of the cup, and that worked. It might take some experimentation to get the cup the right size for your spotter scope.
So now I had an "adaptor" that held the camera in the right place. But it didn't hold it steady--the Nyquil cup alone worked really well with the Zeiss zoom eyepiece, because when the eyecup was extended, the lip of the Nyquil cup fit precisely within the eyecup, holding it firmly in place. But the fixed power eyepieces were smaller, and the cup harder to hold in one spot--it slid from side to side rather easily. Also, the translucence of the measuring cup allowed light to seep in from the sides, causing weird effects sometimes. What to do?
I thought maybe an opaque tube that fit on the outside of the eyepiece could hold the Nyquil cup in place. I just happened to have an old digiscoping adaptor I'd gotten a couple of years ago for my spotting scope (I ended up not using it hardly at all because it was just too complicated). One component of it fit perfectly around the outside of the scope's eyepiece. I stuck Velcro around the inside of that, and on the outside of the Nyquil cup, put the two together. I also put a bit of Velcro around the inside of the Nyquil cup to give it a tighter fit against the extended camera lens. That's all my adaptor is:
|Here's the camera pointing inside the Nyquil cup, but now there's Velcro on the outside of the cup.||And here's the Nyquil cup with Velcro sticking inside the larger tube that fits on the outside of the scope's eyepiece.|
If I didn't happen to have that digiscoping adaptor I used for the outer part of my adaptor, I'd have rigged up a less rigid but just as effective tube using cardboard and duct tape. The tube needs to fit securely against the outside of the scope's eyepiece, extending up enough to hold the Nyquil cup in place.
My adaptor holds the camera in the right position (you might need to play with the length of the cup to get it at the proper distance from the eyepiece, and use Velcro or something to fill in any gaps between the opening and the camera's lens), blocks peripheral light, and somehow makes it easy to press the shutter without shaking the whole thing--I think the hand pressure holding the camera in place is enough to hold it all steady when the shutter is released, because really, I don't have unusually steady hands. Best of all, it's fast. When I spot a bird and get it in the scope, it takes less than 10 seconds to pull the camera out of my right pocket, the adaptor out of my left pocket, pop the adaptor and camera in place, and click!
I hardly ever use the camera's zoom feature, and just about all the times that I've tried, the results have been grainy or out of focus. The Zeiss scope has a wide enough angle that there is simply no vignetting at all even without zooming the camera.
Because my camera settings are always point and shoot, the camera may focus on something a bit closer or farther than the bird, so I tend to take a lot of photos and delete the bad ones. Best and most consistently good results are when the scene doesn't include vegetation or other things the camera might mistake for my subject. It's very tricky to get good results of distant subjects in fields, on water, or when birds are feeding on the ground--the camera very often focuses too close or too far. But again, I take a lot of photos and delete the bad ones. That's why I have a gigabyte memory card in the camera.
I'm not a professional photographer, and am as likely to use photos for educational as aesthetic purposes. These photos may be used for educational purposes without permission. Please leave the copyright information on them. I'd also appreciate you linking to Binoculars.com
Written by Laura Erickson
*Editors note - For best results look into purchasing an SLR camera with a remote shutter adapter. This will eliminate vibration on the camera and spotting scope associated with clicking the shutter button with your finger.