Digiscoping - more info 


Digiscoping is the technique of pointing a digital camera down the eyepiece of a scope [or binoculars]. You need: a digital camera with at least 2 megapixels; a scope; something to connect the camera and scope together; a tripod with a solid head; remote/cable release. With digiscoping you get lots of magnification [typically equivalent to a 2000-3000 mm SLR lens] and the other side of that coin is vibration/camera shake. Almost all the early disappointments you have with digiscoping are because of "uncontrolled" vibrations.

I've included more details and links if you click HERE

1st rule take lots of shots - after all they're free!

Click to see what it looks like!

Nth  rule take loads of shots – if you get a good or co-operative bird keep shooting until you run out of memory or the bird dies of old age! [Note: have extra memory]

Incredibly you can take several shots of the same bird, under the same conditions, with the same settings and you can have one sharp, well-focused shot and the other 20 out-of-focus-blurs. So … take loads of shots.

I read that you should take lots of pix when I first started with the 995 but it took me about a year to really appreciate it.

Other things I was told and now believe:

  • Get a good tripod with a solid head - carbon fibre have good steady/weight ratio but even then the head is as important
  • Set the ISO to 100 and leave it there [don’t be tempted to go to 400/800 to get that extra bit of speed – it’s never worth it]
  • Get/make an adaptor to fix the camera to the eyepiece [EagleEye/LCE make them for £70-90]
  • Get/make a cable release adaptor [Jessops make one for about £20 without cable! The Nikon electronic one has a couple of drawbacks and has a poor reliability reputation [on BirdPix]
  • Get/make an LCD shade – it can be impossible to see the LCD with sunlight on it [the EagleEye one has a magnifier, which shows the pixel, but is better than nothing in sunlight – in a hide or in “non-direct-sunlight-conditions” I don’t use it]

Settings

  • In our light conditions [UK] I think the best setting is Aperture priority [set at the lowest Coolpix value ie 5.1 at full zoom]. That way you get the fastest shutter speed possible.
  • If the bird is dark against a light background you can use the “exposure compensation” function – [for Coolpix press the Funct2 button on the top of the camera and turn the dial - +0.3 to +1.0 can work - disadvantage of this is, however, that you get colour fringing around the outline of the bird and a lower shutter speed ie more chance of blurring]
  • If the light is very good and/or the bird is very static [eg owl/raptor or asleep!] it can help to decrease the aperture [bigger number] to get more depth of field [more things in focus] – but you need to be sure of negligible vibration – if it’s at all windy – leave the whole kit at home!
  • I use “Fine” quality and “Full” size – that way you get 40 shots from a 64 Meg card. All the experts use those quality settings so I mindlessly follow. “ Normal ” gets you 78 shots but the jpeg has twice the compression. If it looks as though I’m going to run out of memory I’ll go to “Normal”.

Focussing

There are two popular ways to do this:

Focus on the bird with the scope and then, in the macro [flower on the Coolpix] position, allow the camera to autofocus for you – I suggest this method is good if: you have to take a grab shot [quickly], the bird is moving position a lot, there is good light [autofocus doesn't work well if the contrast is poor] and the bird is away from any twigs or bits of grass which might fool the autofocus

Focus on the bird with the scope with the focus set to infinity [INF] – this method is good in low contrast conditions when the autofocus doesn’t always work reliably; when there is something between you and the bird [eg twig, grass] which will fool the autofocus. This method needs more time as a good way to get sharp focus is to zoom in [with the digital zoom as well] focus on some part of the bird [typically, the eye] and then zoom out before taking the picture.

On BirdPix there was a  poll of members and the split was about even between the two methods!

What is it worthwhile shooting?

For record purposes – shoot anything [even at ISO 800!]. But for the rest – unless the bird occupies at least 25% of the LCD it won’t look very good on a screen [it should fill the scope at 60x zoom]. No detail in the feathers, no sharpness in the eye. Lots of the “players” on BirdPix claim not to crop images at all ie bird filling the LCD. I can’t say I stick to this but to get really sharp, crisp images you have to fill the viewing screen [which means quite close for a small bird].  

The order of events ...

Exactly what & when you do depends on lots of things but what I generally do is:

  • Get the bird in the scope [at low magnification]

  • Focus [and if you have to, zoom in]

  • Attach camera

  • Zoom the camera in until the vignette disappears

  • Auto focus and, using a remote/cable or timer, click - several times!

If the bird is calm and stays still:

  • Set camera to manual [to INFinity]

  • Focus through the viewfinder [you can use the digital zoom for this - it can help but remember to zoom out again before you click!]

  • Use the remote/cable or timer, click - several times!

Another method of focusing has been described on Birds-Pix:

  • Get the bird in the scope [at the magnification you're going to use]

  • Use one barrel of your binoculars to look down the eyepiece and focus the scope

  • Set camera to  INFinity

  • Attach camera

  • Zoom in until the vignette disappears

  • Use the remote/cable or timer, click.

  • Please email  me if you want a longer/clearer description of this

And finally

Don’t be disappointed at the start – as I’m fond of saying “It was 3 months before I got a picture that was sharp”. It does take practice. I was a keen 35mm photographer for over 20 years and I’m still  getting the hang of “digiscoping”.

Click the picture below to see how Photoshop can be used to improve the results of digiscoping

Click here to go to the Photoshop help page 

References:
These web sites are a mine of information:

http://www.birdsofmanitoba.com/

http://www.md.ucl.ac.be/peca/test/a.html

http://www.digibird.com./primerdir/primer1.htm

http://www.digi-sight.com/digi-sight.html

http://www.angelfire.com/

http://www.vdn.ca/~ledy

And do join:

The BirdPix Yahoo group run by Laurence Pou – Mr Digiscoping [he “invented it”] to see what can be done.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/birds-pix

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/digiscopingbirds