Wednesday, October 28, 2009

quick comparison

In the comments section of my last post I was asked why I prefer digiscoping. The crux of my explanation was that I'm a birder first and photographer second, but I also alluded to the differences between the two set ups particularly as it relates to magnification.

The image of the Red-headed Woodpecker above was digiscoped through the Leica APO Televid 82 mm spotting scope with the D-Lux 4 camera at the equivalent of near 1800 mm lens. (ISO 100, 1/160th sec, f/2.8, +0.3 stop)

This is the same image with a bit of photoshop magic applied. I've assumed 400 mm is the most common length lens for bird photography, with a 1.5x crop factor on the DSLR body. What this means in lay terms is that the sensor in many common DSLR bodies is smaller than a 35 mm film frame so the subsequent captured image is magnified a bit to reach the size of a 35 mm film frame. The net effect is that a camera lens that is rated as a 400 mm on a film body, will offer 1.5x the magnification, or the subsequent subject size will be comparable to that of a 600 mm lens shot on 35 mm film.

At any rate, 600 mm is 1/3 rd the size of my 1800 mm so in the image above I've reduced the size of the original image to 1/3rd the size of the original. Then utilizing cut & paste techniques filled in to create a uniform sky and extended the pole to offer a the illusion of an accurate comparison of subject size difference between my image and that of someone shooting with a 400 mm lens right next to me.

I took my image of the bird from across the road on top of a phone pole. The DSLR photographer could naturally move closer, but the perspective would change dramatically and the subsequent image would be staring straight up the bird's back or side to accomodate a closer distance.

Wilson's Plover digiscoped w/ Leica APO Televid 77 & C-Lux 2 camera

The image above was taken 2 years ago on the "beach photo safari" at the Florida Bird & FotoFest in St. Augustine, FL. The walk is designed for long lens photogs to get images of gulls, terns, and shorebirds in late evening light. They are driven out to a distant point of a barrier island where these birds concentrate. When they arrive, they target a specific bird or group of birds, then drop to their bellies and slowly crawl across the sand toward their subjects.

I went along to bird and see what was out there as this point would normally require a VERY long trudge through sand taking a couple hours. As the happy photogs were slowly inching toward their subjects I happily snapped a few shots from the truck over their heads not even bothering to crouch let alone belly crawl.

Then I continued birding recording over 30 species of birds including other gems like Snowy Plover, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Northern Gannet, Red Knot, and 6 species of terns. I was the only one in the group carrying binoculars let alone a scope. About an hour later one happy photog returned to the truck wet and cold, and proudly showed me his best image. He didn't know what it was but was thrilled with the result he'd gotten and asked me what it was. I explained it was a Wilson's Plover and pulled my point & shoot out of my pocket and showed him near the exact image as seen above. So in this instance at least it seemed that digiscoping produced near the same exact result with much less effort with a lot of time left over to appreciate the many bird species out there.

Granted, if a Peregrine had winged up the beach, I would not have gotten an image likely by digiscoping, but I'd still have enjoyed the view of the mighty bird streaking past. If one of the beach bound photographers had even noticed the bird going by and knelt or stood up they might have gotten the image, but would still not have the appreciation for the powerful flight with wingtips arcing smoothly up and then rolling downward like a wave while peering through their small viewfinders.

As I said at the outset, it's just a matter of preference and perspective and under varying conditions each style of photography will outperform the other. If you are more likely to tuck the binoculars away and do without a scope, and are willing to creep or sneak in on birds to get within 20-30', then the DSLR with telephoto is likely the way for you. For me though, I prefer to simply setup the scope, mount the camera and take the shot to not miss too much of the wildlife activities around me.


  1. great post jeff. i think a lot of digiscopers feel this way. i dont think it is better or worse than traditional super-telephoto photography, just different.
    I love the extra reach the scope gives me and it is just another reason to get myself out there to look for birds.

    happy birding

  2. Is there a cable release adapadapter that can be used with the leica apo televid 82 scope, D-Lux 4 camera with d-lux 4 camera adapter?

  3. yes there is a great after market product available here. it's inexpensive and effective i purchased one to use myself.

    see it here:

  4. Jeff,
    Just discovered your wonderful blog. Thanks for sharing the stunning pictures. I am an amatuer photographer. I mostly take landscape/nature photo's. Have recently discovered the world of digiscoping and purchased a Kowa scope. I am using it with a Nikon D90. I'm thinking maybe a P&S would be better as my setup is quite bulky and heavy. Any suggestions on a P&S?

    Sally -

  5. Sally,

    I honestly haven't experimented with Kowa stuff but my buddy Paul Hackett in the UK is an absolute whiz with his. Try googling him or google "Kowa digiscoping" and see if you can find him.