Friday, June 26, 2009

Digiscoping - yet another review of basics!

Glassing distant Frigatebirds in Trinidad

For years as a birder, I've always thought , "Wow, if only I could get a picture of that!" when seeing some great view of wildlife through a scope. Fortunately, over the past decade or so digiscoping pioneers have been perfecting a practice of coupling a small digital camera in front of a scope eyepiece to take images. The practice has been dubbed "digiscoping" and it is gaining popularity in the birding and other communities every day.

Leica C-Lux 3 camera

Sometimes the process of placing a camera with a lens behind a telescope or spotting scope is referred to as "image projection" and some digiscopers will also use the term "afocal coupling" two describe the marrying of the circle of light exiting the scope (exit pupil) to the center of the seperate camera lens.

digiscoper at work

In theory, the process is simple enough, you simply mount or hold the camera behind the eyepiece and push the shutter release button to capture your image. However, as you'd expect (or know if you've experimented with this in the past), there is a whole host of variables to control, and field craft tricks that will effect the overall quality of the resultant image. A few of the most logical are as follows:

1) Your image quality will only be as good as the weakest link of your system, so good glass in the camera and scope lenses is essential.

2) not all cameras lend themselves to digiscoping: compact point & shoot cameras with a 4x (sometimes 5x) optical zoom or less seem to be necessary to insure success. It also seems that in most cases, cameras with shorter lens extension perform better than longer-lensed models.

3) while digiscoping allows you to reach incredible levels of magnification, it is safe to say your image quality will generally be better when you are closer to your subject. A lot of atmosphere between you and a distant subject can be full of moisture, dust particles, etc. that will refract light and cause distortion.

Leica APO Televid 82 mm scope, digital adapter 3, and C-Lux camera

Centering the camera on the scope is not necessarily an easy task either, as it requires trying to line up a circle of light at the eyepiece that ranges from ~3.3 mm to 1.6 mm wide only (on the set up above). Scopes with smaller objective lenses will offer even smaller exit pupils . To make matters more complicated, you also need to find the ideal distance between the eyepiece and the camera lens for best results. Due to this, use of an adapter to hold the camera in the proper location is highly recommended.

Leica D-Lux 4 camera

Small digital p&s cameras typical default to a wide-angle view at start up - often near 20-28 mm equivalent. As such, when mounted behind any manufacturers' zoom eyepiece you will see vignetting, a darkened circle around the subject as shown below.

Green-winged Teal, digiscoped with Leica APO Televid 82 mm, showing vignetting

To eliminate vignetting, most digiscopers will run the zoom on the camera up to until the dark circular frame disappears and they get a full-frame rectangular image. With Leica's revolutionary wide-angle 25-50x zoom, this typically requires running the camera zoom up to near the 1x mark (on most cameras I've tried), while other eyepieces with narrower fields of view typical require near 2x magnification on the camera zoom.

With the right camera, you can actually utilize the entire range of magnification on both camera & scope zoom to reach incredible magnifications not typically available in other photographic systems. For example look at the dramatic "before & after" examples provided below. The first image shows how the subject appeared to the unaided eye (e.g. taken at ~50mm lens equivalent).

adult White Ibis as seen with the naked eye
The image below shows the same subject from the same location, with the camera lens and spotting scope zoomed to maximum power.
adult White Ibis digiscoped w/ APO Televid 82 mm scope and Leica D-Lux 4 camera

The image above was taken with the Leica D-Lux camera at full zoom (telephoto) which is the equivalent of a 60 mm lens. Not a lot of power by itself, but when mounted behind the scope this level of magnification is multiplied by the power of magnification on the scope. In this case the scope eyepiece was set to 50x, meaning this image was taken at the equivalent of a 3,000 mm lens (50x 60 mm)! This is amazing since the largest telephoto lens commercially available in most cases is an 800 mm! This digiscoping setup offers nearly 4x the magnification of a very long, heavy, and expensive lens!

I will provide more digiscoping topics in the near future and will try to get increasingly sophisticated to help users of all levels. Just remember, as with anything, practice makes perfect, best to simply have fun and be patient. Feel free to utilize the comment section with questions and perhaps we can get some good information flowing here!


  1. Thank you for starting at the beginning. As a beginner, I am very appreciative and hopeful this will help improve my digiscoped images.

  2. happily!... simple is what I do best. ;p

    Stay tuned there will be more and feel free to ask questions.



  3. Great start Jeff, happy birding, digiscoping and enjoy your latest venture. Paul Whalen

  4. great post, Jeff. lots of great tips put in a simple and easy to integrate/use way. I am sure lots of people will find it very useful.

    Happy birding
    Dale Forbes

  5. thanks Dale, that is certainly the hope.

  6. I am a beginner to Digiscoping, and have a Leica C-Lux 3 camera with the new Leica APO 82mm Scope. I wondered if you can tell me if there is a Leica Shutter release cable / bracket, that you could recommend?

    I was not even sure if one is available, or an alternative brand which is compatible?

    Thanks in advance

  7. it would depend which adapter you are using. If staying with Leica then the digital adapter 3 comes equipped with a swing-style cable release adapter. See here:

    - J

  8. Nice post. Everything is well and completely explained. Its very useful to me. Great content.

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  9. Nice web site Jeff.
    I have a Leica APO Televid 77 and 2 Canon P&S cameras, both with wide angle and 3x zoom, the SD 800 IS and S 90. I do not want to purchase another camera for digiscoping, as it is only a hobby and $ is tight. Is there an adapter set-up for this combo?

  10. Hey Chuck,

    both of these cameras lend themselves well to digiscoping and the best adapter to get for the older Televids is the Leica digital adapter 2 (part# 42303, unfortunately it was discontinued with the old style televids back in fall 2007 and they can be difficult to find in the marketplace.

    I have a link showing one below:

    As you will see the adapter uses unique rubber padded "clamp jaws" to support the camera on top and bottom.

    The only limiting factor for this adapter is the breadth of the clamp jaws. They will accomodate a camera up to ~3" tall. This is never an issue with any modern point & shoot camera. Since the tubular opening is cenetered between these two jaws this also means that the center of the lens has to be within 1.5" from the top or bottom of the camera. Once in a while cameras with view finders are just a tiny bit too tall to get the lens centered. As such, I'm certain this will work fine with the S 90, and it should work with SD 800 IS but I can't say whether I've tried this exact camera in there.

    If you cannot find a digital adapter 2, then the digital adapter 3 works as well. The digital adapter 3, is a bit bulkier because the breadth of the jaws is greater. Also, since it is designed to accomodate all of the older eypiece designs as well as the new zoom eyepieces (wider & longer) the adapter has a uniquetwist clamp at the base. This unique design is ideal for quickly centering on eyepieces of differing diameters, but the additional adjustments mean the digital adapter 3 is both larger/heavier and more expensive the its predecessor.

  11. Jeff,
    Read each of your 5 DigiScoping training sessions (and will probably re-read them following some field practice; if the weather ever warms up! ) and gained great insight on "How to" digiscope. After some research, comparing Leica and Nikon spotting scopes and available adapters and cameras, I purchased a Leica Televid 82, a Leica D-Lux 4 camera, and adapter last month, just before Christmas. After reading your tutorials, I've had four field practices and got some 100+ photos (about 90% throwaway). Anyway, your tutorials are terrific - at just the right level, and very helpful. I do appreciate folks that are willing to share knowledge. I've been taking digital photos since I retired two years ago and have established a website where I post some of my photos: I've recently posted several of my DigiScoping examples. Keep up the tutorials, they are very worth while. Don Casavecchia; Warrenton, Va.

  12. Thanks so much Donald! I'll keep them coming then, I appreciate you taking the time to comment! Let me know if you have any questions regarding use of the equipment.


  13. Jeff,
    thanks for the great set of "how to's". I have a question. I have just received a Leica D-Lux 4 adapter and am now trying it out on a 82 Televid. Unfortunately I am not able to get the camera close enough in 2.5 zoom mode to fill the view. I think that this is by design as the instructions claim that one must screw out the eyecups when using the adapter in order to avoid the contact between the camera and the scope's eyepiece when the camera is in wide angle mode. I have done some simple measurements and confirmed that this would be a problem, especially since the camera starts up in wide angle mode. I did some bench tests with the camera and scope without the adapter and also found that when the camera is in full zoom that I can occupy the full viewing screen if the camera is placed closer than the Leica adapter will allow. Is there a simple fix or do I need to look at the digital adapter 3 setup. I really would like to have maximum magnification. cheers
    Chris, Hayward CA

  14. Wow. I have a Canon PowerShot S5 IS digital camera. It's relatively new, a birthday present from my son. I took those immature Bald Eagle shots. Your equipment is exciting and overwhelming to me. I can't get thru the advanced booklet that came with my camera, but will. Maybe when I improve, I can go on to this scope. Thanks for befriending me on Facebook. Catherine Czubacki

  15. Catherine, 99%+ of the superzoom cameras like the S5 with 12x optical zoom, do not lend themselves (mechanically) to afocal coupling behind a scope eyepiece unfortunately. Of course you can always test to se eif this is one of the 1 in thousands that is an exception by simply hand-holding the camera behind the eyepiece and seeing if you can eliminate the vignetting. However, it is typically the smaller point & shoots with 3x to 5x zoom people are using effectively for digiscoping. You can find fantastic models starting as low as $150 these days. Particularly with the large Consumer Electronic Show (CES) last month and the Photo Marketing Association (PMA) show impending. All of the new camera models will be introduced and dealers will be closing out last year's "state of the art" to make room for the new lines.

  16. Jeff
    Are you still blogging?
    I have a Leica Televid 77, angled eyepiece, 20 x 60 variable power, and a Televid camera adaptor (bearing the markings 1:10.4/800 Leica camera).
    Can I use this "stuff" to digiscope, and digiscope easily and well?
    I appreciate your help.

  17. Steve,

    to answer your questions - barely (blogging) and yes you can.

    The adapter in question is a DSLR adapter that converts the 77 to a fixed power 800 mm telephoto lens at f/10.4 when you place the adapter in place of the eyepiece and attach the DSLR body of your choice. It produces wonderful results but is a bit different from digiscoping where you have an afocal coupling of a camera with a lens behind an eyepiece. In this instance the eyepiece is removed and the camera body is attached directly as with any long telephoto lens.