Digiscoping

Digiscoping

Red-veined Darter Dragonfly with Swarovski STX85 Scope and TSL APO 23 adapter with Panasonic GH5 camera

Digiscoping is the process of taking pictures through a Bird-watching scope with a camera, Phone-scoping when a smart phone is utilsed instead of a camera

There are 2 Key reasons why people do this:

  • Allows photography while birding, without duplicating equipment

  • Substantially longer focal lengths (1-3000mm) are possible than with conventional lenses

My own Digiscoping started with the quest for longer lenses for Bird and Wildlife photography. I was bought up never to crop pictures, to respect the original frame. Although these days I do occasionally crop, it is usually by small amounts and frequently to compensate for camera aspect ratios, rather than to be substantially ‘closer’ to the subject in the way that many photographers seemingly chose to do.

A Swarovski STX modular scope - ideal for Digiscoping

A Professional photographer for many years, it is pleasure to be able to take time off, to enjoy a day of Birding and to relax, yet be able to capture images when the opportunity arises, without the burden of a large and heavy 500mm lens with a Pro camera body.

How does Digiscoping work?

Digiscoping is not as easy as first appears. Focal lengths are in excess of 1000mm at all times and with no image stabilisation or auto focus, tripods and heads need to be chosen with care and precise focus is essential.

Generally mirrorless cameras are more successful than DSLRs because the final image is viewable in the viewfinder and many of these cameras have ‘Peaking’. Peaking is artificial image enhancement that defines edges within an image in colour, making focusing faster when filming. Peaking also works very effectively for Digiscoping, significantly aiding manual focusing.

Mirrorless cameras from Panasonic, Olympus and Sony also have IBIS, the in-body stabilisation system that takes out some of the 'wobble' and helps to deliver sharper images. Within these systems, the maximum configurable focal length is 1000mm, substantially shorter than reality, but a way of reducing at least some of the shake when the scope is at 2000mm.

Using a phone with a suitable adapter is also possible and depending on the phone and the way it is setup, superb results can be obtained, as evidenced by the film clip of the Osprey below. Newer phones with the correct software and adapters can give startling results. Check out our worshops to learn more.

An Osprey close to the nest in Scotland, UK. Filmed with an iPhone 6s plus and a Swarovski STX85 scope. Effective focal length was around 3500mm for the female & chick

'Scopes

Theoretically, any scope will work, just as it does for Birding, but as with photographic lenses, you get what you pay for. It is perfectly possible to start with an Opticron or similar budget scope, but it is likely that after a while you may find yourself lusting after a more premium scope. I looked very carefully at the regular options, but quickly ruled out Leica and Zeiss very quickly due to the presence of excessive chromatic aberration in their optics.

The final choice came down to Kowa or Swarovski. Both brands are truly excellent optically, but Swarovski scopes are a far better designed for Digiscoping, with a modular architecture and a comprehensive range of adapters for cameras, phones, even a system of tripods and heads that make things relatively straightforward to setup.

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Swarovski Optik Nature’s TLS APO adapters connect to the camera with a cheap and readily available T2 adapter, then to their scopes by fitting over the updated and included eyepiece with a collar on the scope.
A thumbscrew holds the camera and adapter in place.
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Swarovski Optik Nature STX scope with TLS APO adapter and mirrorless camera attached. Although long, the combination is light and straightforward to use.
Image Gallery

Below are a selection of images photographed with my own Swarovski STX scope utilising the TLS APO adapters and a range of mirrorless cameras, including the Canon EOS R and the Panasonic GH5.

All images have been shot as RAW files and optimised in Adobe Lightroom CC. The key adjustment has been sharpening. Many images were shot in coastal and central Spain and the ultra long focal lengths are more prone to 'atmospherics' and heat haze than is normally seen with (much shorter) focal lengths on cameras. This was particulalrly noticeable with the pictures of Vultures, shot in a limestone canyon at 40 degrees C.

Double Click the first image to bring up a better quality click through gallery.

Want to know more about Digiscoping and Phonescoping?

Nick runs digiscoping and Wildife photography workshops in Scotland, Spain, Poland and Uganda - more information HERE

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