Monday, July 6, 2009

Digiscoping basics 3 - selecting an adapter

crazed digiscoper lines up on a distant subject! ;p

No spotting scope has ever been developed with use of a digital point & shoot camera in mind. Conversely, no small p&s camera has ever been designed to couple with a spotting scope; these smaller p&s are generally designed for the masses with close range portraiture and scenic shots in mind (perhaps even a bit of macro for fun). However, through trial & error we've discovered that these two items can indeed be used together to achieve amazing images!

Since neither piece was designed with the other in mind, it has been left to inventive individuals to craft devices to couple cameras & scopes effectively. In the early days of digiscoping experimentation this was done with soda bottles, PVC plumbing fittings, balsa wood, & lots of duct tape. Some designs worked quite well, while others.... well...

Today, digiscoping is a bit more user friendly as major optics manufacturers have recognized digiscoping potential and popularity and most have added at least one branded adapter for use with their products (often more). You can also find a wide array of aftermarket products designed for universal application on many camera and scope models.

generic platform style adapter
The piece above is representative of a fairly standard example of aftermarket, universal digiscoping adapter. It utilizes a vice clamp that tightens onto the spotting scope eyepiece, so it can be used on nearly any scope. The plastic platform accommodates nearly any digiscoping cameras via the 1/4"x20 threaded tripod mount (found on the bottom of the camera). The mounting platform is slotted on two sides so cameras with center, left, or right side tripod mounts can be used. It has separate controls to adjust the height of the platform, and another that moves from side to side allowing you to get the camera properly centered behind the scope. The slots also allow you to adjust for the proper distance between the eyepiece and the camera lens as well.

These adapters are a great alternative for older scope models, or scopes without a manufacturer's branded solution. They are also great for digiscoping experimentation due to their comparatively inexpensive price points. However, as with any design there are drawbacks as well. Generally speaking, a more universal (versatile) adapter that accommodates many scopes and cameras, requires a greater range of adjustment making the piece more complex, and larger in size & weight.
These "platform-style" universal adapters generally suffer from repeatability issues as well, because they have so many moving parts, they often aren't mounted in the same spot on the eyepiece, and because (as with all platform style adapters) the camera is prone to turning on its axis. Their larger comparative size make these more difficult to carry. While I would rate these as the least user friendly option available, sometimes with off-brand or old model scopes they may be the only option.
generic "screw-thread" universal adapter
Most early cameras had filter thread rings (or threaded accessory adapters) on the end of the camera lens. As such, one of the most common early adapter styles (and still one of the most popular) is the threaded tubular mount adapter. The model above is an example of the earliest style, which was designed for all scopes. To accommodate many eyepiece widths the tube was over sized to fit over even the widest of eyepieces. Here again, the universal application led to difficulties in use. You were required to use three different set screws to fill the gap left between the eyepiece and the inner wall of the over sized adapter. While a great idea in theory, in practice this was time consuming and it was difficult to get the camera centered as tightening one screw often moved the camera back out of center. For stationary subjects where time was no issue this is not a huge disadvantage, but many wildlife images were missed while still fighting to get the camera centered.

Driven by consumer demand, the next generation of tubular adapters were machined to fit specific eyepiece widths. Unlike their universal predecessors, these improved tubular designs (similar to the NEW Leica digital adapter 4 at bottom) fit a specific eyepiece perfectly, slipped on quickly, and the camera was always centered. These adapters have been the choice of many digiscoper in the years since due to their simplicity, compact size, and mounting speed.

Unfortunately, in recent years most digital p&s camera models have discontinued offering accessories, and now there are almost no p&s cameras offer filter threads (maybe 2 or 3 in a field of hundreds). As such, individuals wanting to digiscope with these adapters were forced to seek out a single specific camera model or two. They are now very restrictive as a result. This design can also offer problems as you stack adapters and threaded bushings to connect the camera to the threaded adapter, because the camera lens can be too far from the eyepiece to work to its full potential (see effects of this in post "digiscoping basics 2 - lining up the camera").

Leica digital adapter 2 adapter

In 2006 Leica introduced its unique digital adapter 2. This design took advantage of the mounting speed of the popular tubular design, but featured a revolutionary clamp design allowing use of nearly any digiscoping p&s camera! Two rubber-padded clamp jaws could be adjusted to hold a smaller digital p&s, camera phone and even some smaller video cams in place without dependence on threads. This opened the field to hundreds of camera models.

As with other designs though this increased versatility and compatibility does make the piece a bit larger. The Leica digital adapter 2 (DA2) was machined exclusively to the diameter of the Leica 20-60x zoom, 20x wide-angle, and 32x wide-angle eyepieces, but not other brands. Some of the "tinkerers" in the market were able to adapt this to some other eyepieces with smaller diameters, but again this took a bit of creativity to shim the excess space evenly.
revolutionary Leica digital adapter 2 with unique clamp design
In January 2009, Leica brought the new 82 mm Televid spotting scope to the marketplace featuring the first wide-angle zoom eyepiece ever developed. The wide-angle 25-50x zoom eyepiece was both taller and wider than Leica's previous eyepiece models so the digital adapter 2 would not fit over this.

Leica digital adapter3, APO Televid 82 mm spotting scope, & C-Lux camera

Leica introduced the new digital adapter 3 in January of this year. This piece is similar in design to the DA2, but utilizes a unique twist-lock connector at it's base and increased adjustment to accommodate all of the Leica eyepieces from the shorter, thinner former 20x to the largest of the line the new 25-50x wide angle. As such it also will mount to other brand spotting scopes to include many Kowa, Swarovski, Zeiss, & other models with an eyepiece diameter between 53 - 68mm.

Leica digital adapter 3
The digital adapter 3's unique twist-lock, tightens evenly from all sides insuring the camera is instantly centered on many eyepieces, and it incorporates a mechanical cable release arm (see second image up). Since this versatile adapter can be adjusted to accommodate so many eyepieces and cameras, it also appears somewhat complex and is larger (and more expensive) than its predecessor.

Leica digital adapter 4 prototype

However, never fear, for those who prefer simplicity there are options as well. In late summer 2009, Leica will introduce a VERY simplistic option when they introduce the new digital adapter 4. The new DA4 will be machined precisely to the diameter of the 25-50x wide angle eyepiece and will mount directly to only one camera model - the Leica D-Lux 4. By making this piece an exclusive mount for only one camera on a single eyepiece model, you have no need for additional adjustments resulting in a very compact and simplistic adapter.

So if you are wanting to mount a variety of cameras on varying eyepieces or if you simply want to slide the camera on and push the button, the new Leica line-up will offer solutions for all.


  1. I bought the adapter 3 to use on the Leica D-LUx4 but this was a waste of money. I have doubts that the camera and scope divisions within Leica ever had any joint discussion on this product. It is a good product but not for their d-lux 4 camera.

    I hope that Leica will have the Digital Adapter 4 in stores before the d-lux4/LX3 replacements come to the market. The adapter 4 should be an excellent mate for the D-Lux4. I have had a pre-paid order for this "simple" adapter with B&H for a couple of month. As Leica has already missed their June date, it now appears that it is targeted for late summer.

    Gerry Abbott

  2. Gerry,
    Sorry you feel that way. I've taken some good shots with this combo. Regarding - the communications issue. The DA3 was never intended to be built for the D-Lux 4 exclusively but to accommodate a wide range of cameras. So no surprise if it doesn't seem as though it were. It would be nice if this were machined exclusively to fit the outer ring of the D-Lux 4, but still I've had good success.

    With all new products I long ago learned to not hold my breath until the release date. These are ballpark guesstimates and more often than not, these are not on the mark! :(


  3. Hi Jeff,

    I suppose that I was too pessimistic on the delivery date for the Digital Adapter 4. I received mine yesterday and I just returned from testing it. As expected the Adapter 4 is a perfect mate for the 82 APO and D-Lux 4. This scope, camera and adapter combo will greatly simplify and improve the quality of my digiscoping efforts.
    Well done Leica!

    Gerry Abbott

  4. Gerry,

    Great news, glad you are enjoying the product. It is definitely quick and easy to mount. Should simplify digiscoping for individuals who want a "no fuss, no muss.." approach.


  5. I am own a d-lux 4 camera. And may I know where can get a DA4 in Asia region? I am from malaysia.

  6. Will the DA4 be compatible with the old Televid eyepieces?


  7. Jeff, I have just bought a Leica APO Televid 82 scope and the DA4 adapter to go with my Leica D-LUX4 so I have the kit but now I need to get the experience. my first couple of days provided me with great opportunities and a number of problems which you may be able to resolve for me. I find you have to turn the eyepiece cup (as though you were wearing spectacles right up (three clicks)to avoid the camera lens banging into the scope eyepiece when the camera is turned on or zooms this correct: I then have to zoom in with the camera so that at 25x there is no black around the image. If I then zoom in using the scope I get almost total vinigette. How do you set up your rig to avoid this? Both products are SUPERB, I just want them to work together now.

  8. Anonymous - unfortunately I can't say off hand where there might be a dealer in Malaysia. I do work for Leica USA but even then in the field and often have a hard time figuring out the closest dealer here! ;p

    Best bet if you haven't done it already would be to contact Leica in Germany directly through the company website here:

  9. Miles,

    Unfortunately no. These are presently machined to fit only the new eyepieces. Apparently there is an aftermarket solution though. I believe SRB Griturn has (will?) turn sleeves to adapt the digital adapter 4 to the narrower older televid eyepieces.
    worth contacting them as at BirdFair they indicated they were going to make some up as there had been interest.

  10. Hi Jeff, Very much enjoyed your digiscoping article.Do you think or know wether the panasonic lumix ZX1 will work with a kowa scope.I see they have a 25mm ultra wide leica lens. Better or worse for d scoping . Kevin

  11. Kevin,

    The ZX1 will likely NOT lend itself to digiscoping. Overall any camera with an optical zoom greater than about 4x has not worked well mechanically behind spotting scopes. Even when trying to not use the zoom the characteristics of the lens length tend to be prohibitive and it seems 95% of the tests on all scopes these cameras are unable to eliminate the vignetted circular framing. There have been very few exceptions to this in the thousands of varying camera models folks are experimenting with out there. The interesting thing is all that I have seen have been Panasonics so there is a chance.

    You need to test this by hand holding the camera behind your spotting scope eyepiece and manipulate the camera zoom to see if you can ever achieve a vignette free image. If not then it is likely easier to not bother going further but to look to a new camera.

    I would also need to know which scope model and eyepiece you have to be helpful on an adapter. - J

  12. Will the Leica Digital Adapter 4 fit a Swarovski 25-50x wide angle eyepeice?

  13. Bruce sadly, I don't believe it will, but honestly haven't tried. The DA4 is machined not only to the exact diameter of the Leica eyepiece but is also mated to provide the proper distance between the lenses when seated so it is truly "foolproof".

  14. Jeff, I really want to get into this digiscoping. I'm outdoors weekly and see the benefit. I've got an older straight-line Televid 77. I'm I understanding the digital adapter #2 will work ok? Just want to make sure it is the right one. I enjoy your columns. Take care.

  15. Yes, this is your best bet if you can find one. they were discontinued a while back now and are few and far between in the marketplace.

  16. Hi there

    I have never tried digiscoping, but would love to give it a go. I have an Apo-Televid 77 scope (angled) and a Canon 50D camera -can they be connected and if so with what?


  17. I have a D-Lux 4 camera and am about to purchase a Televid straight 77. Question: which adapter will I work? I would prefer the new simpler DA #4. Will it work with the Televid 77 and the D-Lux 4? Conversely, if not, will the 77 and the D-Lux 4 work with the older DA #2?

    I simply want the three parts to make it all happen. Any help, thanks. Lori

  18. Lori,

    You've offered a few questions here so I will attempt to cover each briefly. Hit me again if not clear on anything below!..

    The D-Lux 4 matched adapter or DA #4 is machined to fit the newer, wider 25-50x wide-angle zoom eyepiece that comes with our brand new APO Televid 82 & 65 mm scopes. The eyepiece will not work on the older scope bodies and the DA 4 will not fit the older, narrower eyepieces as is.

    I qualify this above because when at the British Bird Fair last August, I was talking with folks from SRB Griturn, an aftermarket manufacturer of custom digiscoping products in the UK and they were talking a bout machining a shim that would fit into the DA 4 that would take it down to the size of the old Televid eyepieces. So while there may be no way for these to be coupled using Leica products alone a simple shim like this from an aftermarket source could work fine!

    Within the branded Leica solutions though, you would look to the Digital adapter 2 if you can find one as this is machined to fit the older eyepieces precisely.



  19. Er....yes. I did post this comment (request) some months ago and have now read the instructions as to the position of the eyepiece when using the DLUX4 adapter. The zoom factor on the camera depends on the zoom factor on the eyepiece to avoid vinigette issues. The weather has been so bad in Aragon that low light has meant rater poor shots on my part but the kit is absolutely first rate. Any tips would be more than welcome and as Spring approaches opportunities will blossom.

  20. Sorry about the delay in posting. This was all my fault for not noting and approving your comments months ago when it appeared!

    At any rate, the kit is designed to work flawlessly and be fool proof for anyone, even with no digiscoping experience.

    It should work equally with eye cup twisted up or down. However, since the D-Lux 4 lens retracts as the magnification/zoom is increased. It can indeed still come in contact with th esurface of th eeyepiece. As such, I reccommend the following field craft tip get in the habit of running the camera zoom out to full as or before you slide the adapter on to the eyepiece. The adapter was machined to have the camera lens perfectly centered and at the perfect distance from the eyepiece when camera zoom is at full and eyepiece at 25x.

    At this magnification NO additional adjustment is necessary making this kit the ultimate in simplicity. Just run the camera zoom up as you slide on the adapter and the camera is set perfectly!

  21. A more honest answer I couldn't ask for, especially as it was me who hadn't read the bit in the Leica instructions as to the eyepiece needing to be fully out. Many thanks for the zoom tip, that is really useful. Hopefully you'll see an improvement in my photos as time goes on! Keep posting your great photos meanwhile.

  22. Hi Jeff,
    Since late 2006, I've been taking birding photos using Nikon's D70s, D700, (both with the Nikkor 70-200 lens and 2X doubler), and since December 2009, Leica's angled APO Televid 82mm spotting scope, Leica's D-Lux4 point-and-shoot camera, and the Leica D-Lux4 Digiscoping-adapter. During the 10 weeks I've had the Leica digiscoping equipment, I've managed to get as many outings as possible with the bad winter we've been having here in Virginia. Anyway, I've grown fond of the Leica equipment and have had some very good results (see my website). I do have a couple of questions and opinions I'm looking for confirmation on, or some good advise, as appropriate. I'm finding that ISO selections above 200 produce marginal images as compared to ISO 80 or 100. Is this typical? Although the zoom eyepiece goes from 25X-50X, selections beyond approximately 35X causes near complete vignetting. Do you agree?
    Does Leica (or a 3rd party vendor) make a shutter release cable (or remote) for the Leica D-Lux4 camera?
    I've been using the 16:9 aspect ration, would the 4:3 or 3:2 settings produce acceptable results (in your opinion)?