Note: This post has little to do with binoculars! :)
Like many brilliant innovations, the origins of digiscoping are part fact and part legend. The most common and generally accepted history ascribes the discovery of the technique to Lawrence Poh of Malaysia who, while out birding one day, sighted a rare hawk perched too high in a tree for his 35mm camera to be able to photograph effectively. Thus, in a moment of equal parts desperation and inspiration, he held the lens of his recently acquired pocket digital camera up behind the eyepiece of his spotting scope, used the viewing screen of the camera to verify the image, and took the picture. Despite all reasonable expectations of what was then commonly understood about photography, it worked.
For more than a decade now, the popularity of digiscoping has been rising rapidly. Using a technique that is essentially unchanged from Mr. Poh’s original method—steadying the lens of a digital camera behind the lens of a spotting scope, using the viewing screen to check the focus, and snapping the image—tens of thousands of both amateur and professional photographers have discovered the benefits as well as the enjoyment of this relatively easy-to-learn skill. But whereas the early practitioners primarily made their own devices to help them steady their cameras behind the lenses of their scopes, today, many optics firms produce a range of innovative accessories to help digiscopers achieve results that can rival, and even surpass, those of conventional digital camera photography.
The key to digiscoping is first and foremost stability. After all, even without using a camera, simply viewing a subject using a spotting scope at magnification levels as high as 50x requires keeping the scope very steady to prevent a “bouncy” image. Add to this the fact that the camera’s own zoom mechanism is often additionally used to magnify the image displayed in the spotting scope’s eyepiece before it is recorded into the camera’s memory as a still image, and preventing even slight movement of the scope and attached camera is of the utmost importance as it means the difference between a sharp or blurred final result. Therefore, a sturdy tripod and a camera adapter are necessities for capturing good digiscoped images.
For this reason, many optics firms have developed bracketing or coupling devices to help digiscopers attach and secure their digital cameras, usually small, pocket-sized models, to their spotting scope body, or the scope’s eyepiece itself. These can range from simple cuff-style adapters that remain attached to the camera and slide easily on to and off from the scope’s eyepiece, to sophisticated bracket-style frames that allow the camera to remain attached to the scope and pivot or swing to allow the scope to be used either directly or as a digiscoping “rig” (as a spotting scope and camera assembly is commonly called).
In addition to these styles, there are also converter attachments (also called converter lenses) that allow a larger format camera body, like a DSLR, to be attached directly to a spotting scope body without the use of a spotting scope eyepiece or a camera lens. Originally used with SLR film cameras, these converter attachments can offer DSLR camera users the equivalent of a 600mm, 850mm, or even 1000mm lens for a fraction of the price of what such a camera lens would cost by itself.
When it comes to digiscoping, few optics companies can compare to Swarovski in terms of offering a variety of equipment options that all incorporate technical excellence with ease of use. With four different magnesium-bodied, HD lens spotting scopes models capable of being combined with three different eyepieces, including a true 30x Wide and their new 25-50x Wide Zoom model, Swarovski offers just about every combination of scope and eyepiece any digiscoper could want. In addition to this, they also offer three different digiscoping camera adapters that range from the simple cuff design of their DCA model, to their latest universal UCA adapter capable of attaching not only pocket digital cameras to the scope, but full-size DSLR cameras, and even smaller digital video cameras as well.
And speaking of DSLR, Swarovski also offers an adapter that allows DSLR users to connect their camera body directly to the spotting scope body in order to produce the equivalent of an 800mm camera lens. Finally, for those who might want to do a little digiscoping through binoculars, the Swarovski Snap Shot Camera Adapter allows Swarovski EL binoculars users to position and steady a wide variety of pocket digital cameras up to the binoculars’ eyepiece in order to capture a quick, optically magnified image.
Kowa, quite possibly the first optics firm to incorporate Magnesium Fluorite into their spotting scope lens systems in order to offer their users superior image color management, is another leader in digiscoping equipment. Digiscopers using Kowa optics have quite an assortment of camera attachment options available to them. The brand offers three different accessory assortments for most styles of pocket digital cameras, as well as three different conversion adapters for DSLR style cameras, including one with a variable magnification feature.
Leica, maker of some of the world’s most famous cameras, is also a significant supplier of state-of-the-art digiscoping equipment. Being one of only two optics firms to offer all elements of a digiscoping rig from camera to spotting scope, Leica has been in the game since the beginning. Many of the earliest stories of how digiscoping began, including that of Mr. Poh, involve a Leica spotting scope. Having recently released two dynamic spotting scope models, the Leica APO-Televid 65 and APO-Televid 82, the company has also developed the cuff-style Leica D-LUX 4 digiscoping adapter to connect the Leica D-LUX 4 camera with the Leica 25-50 WW ASPH eyepiece. For those who wish to use another model of camera with the Leica APO-Televid spotting scopes, the Leica bracket-style Digital Adapter 3 makes the use of most pocket digital cameras a snap.
Another famous camera firm offering a fine selection of digiscoping equipment is Nikon. Offering camera adapters for all four of their spotting scope model families, including their new EDG Fieldscope models, Nikon also offers digiscopers the opportunity to employ the same brand of both camera and spotting scope equipment. With three different models of camera adapter as well as two SLR/DSLR converters to that allow direct connection of a Nikon camera body to one of their Fieldscope models, Nikon truly offers a selection of equipment that will help digiscopers of all levels to realize their photographic aspirations.
When it comes to innovation, few can compare with the designers at Zeiss. One of the few optics firms to offer an integrated eyepiece-camera combination unit, the DC4 Digital Camera Eyepiece for the Victory FL Diascope, and the only completely integrated camera-spotting scope combination, the PhotoScope 85 T FL 7MP Digital Camera Spotting Scope, Zeiss is truly pushing the technological envelope when it comes to advancements in digiscoping. For those looking for something a little more basic, they also offer their classic Diascope Quick Digital Camera Adapter II that allows the use of most any pocket digital camera with many of their fine Diascope spotting scope models.
As with many techniques that are fairly simple to learn, the secret to getting the best results is the amount of time and effort invested in practicing. Even the best digiscoping rig in the world won’t guarantee professional-quality results if the user isn’t familiar with how it works, and has spent little time in the field learning the subtleties of the process.
Using a digital camera to take a picture through the eyepiece lens of a spotting scope is as much an art as a science. Pushing the shutter button is only the final step. What comes before, such as learning to judge the conditions, gauging the light, taking advantage of the features of the particular camera being used, and a host of other things that can best be learned through experimentation, as Mr. Poh did over a decade ago, are the largest part of the digiscoping journey.