Digiscoping with a Digital SLR

The Concept

As a concept, digiscoping is as simple as it gets. Put your camera up to a spotting scope's eyepiece and take a picture of what the scope is focused on. However, we often find that in practice things are not as easy as they seem. It's been my experience that one of, if not the biggest challenge of digiscoping, is to get the right mix of scope, camera, and adapter that can easily and effectively be assembled as a complete, photography-ready unit. Why is this?

The Problem

I think the biggest hurdle here is the camera to adapter interface. In today's point-and-shoot camera market there is no uniformity in regards to shape, size, and features. It turns out that camera makers could care less about their products' suitability to digiscoping. As a result, the manufacturers of scopes and digiscoping adapters are forced to come up with intricate, highly adjustable, and often complex universal adapters to fit the plethora of cameras offered to consumers. I'm not interested in making digiscoping any more challenging than it already is. I'll always opt for the route that is fast, simple, and effective.

Pictured above are some of the "universal" digiscoping adapters. Large and mechanically intricate, they offer a less than optimal solution.

The Adapter Solution

The best hardware for digiscoping is that which requires the least amount of forethought or effort to put into use. In regards to camera adapters, the simple tube-style adapters on the market fit the bill perfectly. These tube adapters are simple, both in design and functionality. The premise is a hollow tube screwed onto the front of your camera lens that can slide over a scope's eyepiece, effortlessly centering both lenses at the proper depth. Not only are these adapters easy to deploy, they are compact and lightweight. Question: what's not to love about this type of setup? Answer: it doesn't work with a lot of cameras.

Pictured above are "tube" style adapters offered by Kowa, Vortex, and Swarovski

The Camera Solution

Very few point-and-shoot cameras have the functionality to attach adapters, filters, or boosters to the front lens. The absence of this feature is a design trend that seems to be picking up momentum, and as new models are introduced each year, fewer and fewer of them support filter thread attachments. Here is where a digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR) fits the bill nicely. Almost all DSLR camera lenses are inherently designed with filter threads that easily adapt to those wonderful tube style adapters. Warning: not all DSLR lenses are suitable for digiscoping. The best lenses are the short focal length lenses. Both Canon and Nikon make 50mm f/1.8 lenses that are relatively inexpensive and perfect for digiscoping. If you're shooting with a Pentax DSLR, you will want the Pentax 40mm f/2.8 “pancake” lens. When using a DSLR for digiscoping, you will need to disable the auto-focus, put the camera on its full manual settings, and set the lens aperture wide open. You will also need to adjust the camera's shutter speed to obtain the proper image exposure.

An exploded view of a full DSLR digiscoping rig, minus a tripod.

Nothing's Perfect

Using a DSLR for digiscoping doesn't come without compromise. DSLR benefits include universal adaptability via a threaded lens and the ability to use, and compose images through, a viewfinder. The drawbacks to DSLR cameras are the inability to use the lens' auto-focus and working with a bigger, heavier camera body. Because of a DSLR's size, I would NOT recommend allowing the camera body and lens to hang unsupported from the spotting scope for any extended period of time.
My current digiscoping set up: Leica 82mm APO Televid with Swarovski DCA and Pentax DSLR

What Are Your Options?

If you've got a DSLR or point-and-shoot camera that uses filter threads, and you need a good digiscoping adapter, I would take a look at the Swarovski DCA, Vortex Razor Digital Adapter, and Kowa DA10 adapter. These three brand-specific adapters accept rings to accommodate various lens thread sizes. I have had some limited luck getting some of these adapters to work with other brands of scopes. For instance, I'm currently digiscoping with the Leica 82mm Televid and, much to my delight, found that the Swarovski DCA adapter fits nicely around the new Leica eyepiece. Be prepared to get creative; if you are going to try to mix and match brands of adapters and scopes, you might need to make your own bushings or modify the adapters in one way or another.


Fall Walk

This past weekend my dad turned 60. We have started a tradition of getting together for Grandpa Bill's birthday to walk among the woods and fields of Southern Wisconsin while enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of fall. As you can see from the photo above, we have not quite reached our peak fall colors yet, though there are a couple hints of what's yet to come. Here in the southern part of the state, the color change isn't as dramatic as we see elsewhere. The Oak woodlands that make up most of the habitat tend to hold onto their foliage for a longer time and turn more of a brown/red color. As we go north into the Maple and Birch forests, we see more of the spectaular reds, yellows, and oranges that draw onlookers from all over the midwest.

This year we went to Lapham Peak State Park. The weather was gorgeous on Sunday and the park was full of visitors. I haven't seen a state park parking lot quite as full for a number of years. Maybe this was because the Green Bay Packers were only playing the lowly Detroit Lions??? Regardless, I was happy to break away from an afternoon of football to hang out with my family and take in some of the seasonal splendor.
One of our first finds along the trail was this beetle. I'm fortunate to have two daughters that don't shy away from the creepy crawlies. In fact, both girls will gladly come running to check out an unusual beetle, worm, spider, or snake. I came into work this morning and asked a coworker who knows his insects about this beetle. He looked at the picture and quickly identified the bug in question as a Blister Beetle. Following his ID of the bug, he added that it's best to not agitate them because the Blister Beetle emits a chemical that can burn or blister one's skin.

Here is Nya, getting a closer look at what I thought was just an innocent little beetle. Little did we both know that she was tempting fate here. Fortunately for all, the bug was lethargic and mellow. Not in a fighting mood, I guess. When I get home today I'll be sure to tell Nya more about the bug she was handling on Sunday and maybe use it as a lesson to identify such a critter before picking it up....
There was a hint of color in the trees and that wonderful smell of decaying leaves permeated the entire forest.

When we head outdoors we always take our binoculars. I recently got both kids new binoculars. We have a new 6.5x32 model that is particularly well suited for kids. With a wide field of view, narrow interpupilary distance, and bright optics, they are a no hassle piece of equipment that takes the technological challenges out of using binoculars. Especially for kids. They kept my two girls fully engaged for a few hours in the field.

Fall is a season of transition. We spent time with the kids talking about what plants and animals do in preparation for winter. A lot of time was spent looking at seeds and talking about why there are so many different types. Seeds that fly, seeds that bury themselves into the soil, seeds that stick to animals, and seeds that are eaten.

It's always a wonderful day when you get to bring generations together to enjoy and delight in the complexities of nature. I was able to convince the kids that it was a good idea to leave the beetles, leaves, and seeds at the park. To my delight, they did manage to bring home lots of questions. I see a 3rd graders presentation on seeds in my future....


E-Mail from Readers

So it's been a long summer without a whole lot of activity here at 600 Birds, but that sure hasn't slowed down the volume of inquiries I have gotten from regular readers.
Today we will spend a few moments answering your emails......

Chuck from Sheboygan, WI writes:
Great blog Ben! I've really been enjoying your bird photographs and the clever anecdotes that accompany them. My question to you is whether or not you have ever considered a career on television or in film?

Well Chuck, that's a timely question, as I've just wrapped up a short demonstration video of the
Swarovski UCA digiscoping adapter for the Eagle Optics website.

This could prove to be a big breakthrough for me as my agent is now in negotiations with a company who makes frozen dinners marketed toward digiscopers. I'll be sure to keep the updates coming here at 600 birds.

Speaking of digiscoping, Claire from Port Townsend, WA sent this inquiry:

Hey there Ben! I've been a long time reader
of your blog and was wondering when and if you are going to submit some of your photos to Swarovski's Digiscoper of the Year contest? I've heard that it's the place for digiscopers worldwide to show off their stuff!

Well Claire, your e-mail is timely indeed. It turns out I have not submitted any photos to the contest yet and the October 31st deadline is fast approaching! The good news is that I still have time to enter AND I can even submit digiscoped images that I've taken with my new Leica 82mm scope, such as this image of Surfbirds congregating on the rocky shores of Homer, Alaska:

If you have a moment, check out my entire gallery of images here, and give me feedback on any shots you think I should enter in Swarovski's Digiscoper of the Year contest.