Digiscoping Basics

Digiscoping is a photography technique that occurs when a camera and a spotting scope are used in tandem to capture long-distance pictures. This method involves placing the lens of a digital camera or smartphone to the eyepiece of a spotting scope in order to take pictures at a greater distance than the camera allows. It is especially popular among bird watchers and other nature enthusiasts because it allows for close up pictures to be taken without disturbing the animal. Digiscoping is also becoming popular with backyard astronomers to get photographs of the moon. Malaysian photographer Lawrence Poh pioneered the technique and is considered the father of digiscoping, while French birdwatcher Alain Fossè is credited with coining the term ‘digiscoping.’

The surge in popularity can be attributed to the fact that the equipment is generally inexpensive and the technique can be self-learned even by novice photographers. The coupling of the spotting scope and camera allows for distance photography to be possible without the necessity of long, heavy and often expensive telephoto lenses. It also allows users to use affordable cameras to achieve high-quality results. As a bonus, the gear needed is light-weight and easy to set up.

Equipment Needed

The basic equipment setup consists of a camera, a spotting scope, a tripod and of course a subject. The camera can either be a traditional point-and-click or can simply be the standard feature of a smartphone. When choosing a point-and-click camera, there are still a few features to consider for superior outcomes. Cameras with shorter lens extensions tend to perform better than models with longer lenses. Optical zooms should fall in x4 or x5. The camera should also have a good sensor and manually adjustable settings such as aperture and ISO. Keep in mind that the greater number of megapixels a camera has and the higher quality the optics, the better the pictures will be.

While most standard scopes can be used, those with high quality optical systems will produce the best results. Consider models with high definition optical and extra-low dispersions. The extra magnification used in digiscoping pulls in not only the object of the picture, it also pulls in small movements of the equipment caused by the photographer’s shaking or from the wind. This makes a quality tripod an important tool. The tripod should be designed to work with the spotting scope and should be sturdy. Weights can be used on the tripod to keep it balanced.

Once all the gear is in order all that is left is to find a subject to shoot. Gardens make a great starting point when learning the craft. Novices may find it helpful to start by shooting objects such as flowers or shrubbery first, then move on to animals once comfortable with the process.

The Technique

Digiscoping is achieved by connecting the camera lens to the spotting scope eyepiece. This can be done in a variety of ways. Smartphones can be held in place simply by placing a finger between the phone and the spotting scope eyepiece. This will help to keep the camera lens steady and at the correct distance from the eyepiece. This technique needs a steady hand. Users should also be careful of the alignment of the lenses and the distance between them in order to keep out shadows.

There are a few options with traditional point-and-click cameras. One possibility is to manually hold the camera lens up to the spotting scope eyepiece. Just like with a smartphone, this method takes a steady hand and a lot of practice to find the optimal distance between camera and scope. For those who have difficulty with this technique, there are adapters available that will connect the camera to the scope. These adapters come in both a universal model and in models specially made to work with the different cameras available. Those specifically designed to fit the camera being used will tend to work better and will result in higher quality pictures than those taken with a universal adapter. The most important thing to look at when choosing an adapter is whether or not the camera that will be mounted has a filter thread on the lens. Adapters for these types of cameras consist of a collar that attached to the spotting scope eyepiece and an adapter plate that screws onto the filter thread on the camera. If the camera does not have a filter thread or if using a camcorder, the adapter will still have the collar to attach to the spotting scope, but instead of an adapter plate, it will have a bracket designed to support the weight of the camera or camcorder. This plate can adjust to align the axis of both eyepieces at the appropriate location. After the camera and spotting scope are lined up, it’s time to snap away.

Tips and Tricks

The only way to perfect the art of digiscoping is to log hours of practice. Some will pick it up easily; others may need some time to master the techniques involved. Here are some tips and tricks to help make that practice useful.

  • When working with new equipment, pack the user’s manual with the rest of the gear. This way, if any questions arise about usage, the answer can be found while still out in the field.
  • Bring along extra batteries, power packs and memory cards. Phones and cameras tend to use battery life up quickly and the last thing a photographer wants is to run out of storage space when the perfect shot appears.
  • Remember that the shot does not need to be centered to be great. Consider placing the subject off to the side of the shot to allow for the inclusion of scenery.
  • When zooming in on a subject, leave the scope at the minimum zoom and zoom in using the camera. This will let in the most natural light.
  • Invest in good imaging software to edit pictures after they are taken. This allows for corrections with lighting and focus.