Digiscoping Primer--page 1

This primer is designed to help you take high magnification photos with a spotting scope and digital camera, a technique often referred to as "digiscoping". With few exceptions, the photos at Digibird.com are the result of coupling a Nikon Coolpix 990 digital camera with a Leica APO Televid spotting scope. Although some other scope/camera combinations appear to yield similar results, the discussion will be somewhat specific to the Nikon/Leica combination.

This page contains an overview of advice and technique, with links to pages with in-depth explanation. The basic technique is to frame the subject in the scope's field of view, hold the camera lens against the eyepiece, and let the camera focus and meter automatically. What could be simpler? Of course, the details make all the difference. As a first step, you should be confident with the independent operation of your camera and your scope. Practice using both before you try to use them together.

It is important to realize that if your primary goal is to take publication quality bird photos, then this technique isn't for you--there are too many compromises in using spotting scopes for telephoto imaging. "Traditional" telephoto technology (i.e., SLR/film) is much better for this application. However, if your goal is to expand the capabilities of your spotting scope, and make a personal record of your observations, then this technique can be very rewarding. Here we go.

Many of the photos in this primer were taken at the San Francisco (USA) Zoo. The Zoo hosts an avian rehabilitation facility. These bald eagles are rescued birds, incapable of flight. The others are wild birds.

Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

1) Location, location, location

This photographic technique requires a certain level of cooperation from the bird. You'd like it to hold still for a bit so that you can get the scope, then the camera, on it. You'd like it to be well lighted from the front or side, and you'd like a clear line of sight through stable air. You'd like to be close enough to fill the frame, so as to maximixe the number of pixels on the bird. And, of course, the bird should be of interest to you. Scout locations before you try to take bird photos. Try to understand your bird's behavior, and use that understanding to set up your photo. It may take half a minute for you to go from "I want a photo of the bird I see through the scope!" to taking the first frame--will the bird still be there? Sit still, be quiet; learn patience.

2) What can you expect to photograph?

The specifications of the camera and scope, along with basic optical limits, will determine the quality of your image. Through the scope, the camera's image will be very slightly degraded from that seen by eye. An APO scope with large aperture and short focal length will yield best results. Scope resolution is limited by the aperture; for the Leica (77 mm) at 32x, angular resolution is approximately 0.0005 degrees at the object, or 0.45 mm at 50 m under ideal conditions. At full camera zoom, the camera/scope field of view is 0.68 degrees (versus 2.3 degrees for the eyepiece only), or 0.59 m at a range of 50 m. The depth of field is approximately 0.6 m at this range. For a more detailed discussion of digiscoping optical parameters, look here.

Allen's hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin)

Full-tight field of view at 32x
35 mm equivalent 3637 mm

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