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Digiscoping

The concept is simple. Place a digital camera next to the eyepiece of a spotting scope...and fire away. 



Why does this generate such great advantage? A good quality spotting scope can produce an excellent image at 30x. Many digital cameras have a 3x or higher optical zoom. Combining a 3x camera with a 30x scope results in 90x magnification. In general terms, this is the equivalent of a 35mm camera with more than a 4000 mm telephoto lens!


 
 

How do I determine the mm equivalent of my digital camera/spotting scope combination?

In binoculars and spotting scopes the "X" means times normal. 3X would be 3 times normal size.

It isn't as straightforward with digital cameras. That's because the times X does not mean the same thing in digital cameras as it does in spotting scopes or binoculars. And to make matters more confusing, different digital cameras have different actual levels of magnification, even if they are advertised as having the same level.

For example, two different digital cameras may both say they have a 10X zoom, so it sounds like they provide the same level of magnification. This is not necessarily the case, however.

In digital cameras, the "10X" means the longest focal length
is 10 times the shortest focal length, and the shortest focal length is not the same on all digital cameras, even if they have the same zoom rating.

Here's an example:

Camera one: The shortest focal length on camera one is 28 mm. At 3X, the effect is 28 x 3 or 84 mm. When converted to times normal, this is 1.68X. (50 mm is considered 1 times normal)

Camera two: The shortest focal length on camera two is 35 mm, at 3X the effect is 35 x 3 or 105 mm. When converted to times normal, this is equivalent to 2.1X.

With a 20x spotting scope and a 3x digital camera with a shortest focal length of 35 mm, we have 20 x 2.1 or 42X times actual, or the equivalent of 2100 mm.

 
 

For years, the capability has existed to attach 35mm cameras to spotting scopes. Why the sudden jump in popularity of using a spotting scope as a camera lens? A combination of factors has contributed.

1. The optics quality of spotting scopes improved substantially as they became a more important tool to bird watchers.

2. Digital cameras have multiple advantages over cameras that use film, including:

  • Immediate feedback on the quality of the image.
  • Bad images can be erased immediately.
  • Images can be transferred directly to a computer for cropping or other adjustments.
  • Advanced users can adjust exposure levels as they shoot.
  • Eliminating film greatly reduce both the cost of taking photographs and the inconvenience of film development.

When did digiscoping begin?

Laurence Poh of Malaysia is often credited with the invention/popularization of digiscoping. In 1999, Laurence combined a Nikon CoolPix 950 camera with his birding spotting scope and took his first “digiscoped” photograph. Early adaptors of the technology often used modified bottle or milk carton caps to prevent direct contact between the camera lens and the spotting scope. As the popularity of digiscoping has grown, more sophisticated mounting designs have been developed, though the lowly bottle cap with the center cut out continues to be popular with many digiscopers.

Digiscoping is an effective tool for documenting unusual bird sightings. If you already have a spotting scope and digital camera, or are considering their purchase, you are well on your way to the world of successful digiscoping.


All images in the digiscoping section are digiscoped images.