Saturday, April 8, 2017

Sony RM-SPR1 Remote Commander - 08 Apr 2017

With the newly-acquired Swarovski STX 20-60x85 Spotting Scope and Digidapter™ setup producing amazing results, it was now time to decide which tripod head I would use in the field. The Manfrotto 501HDV Video Head is perfect for the scope and digiscoping adapter, especially when using the Manfrotto 501PLONG slide plate, which balances the scope nicely on the video head (I mounted the scope  at the front end of the plate, then slid it forward as far as it could go on the video head before locking down).

The only issue I have w/ the setup, which pans and tilts smoothly, is that 3 hands are needed to operate the setup: one for the scope (focusing/zooming), one for the tripod videohead handle, and one for the camera. I could pan and tilt w/ the camera / digidapter attached to the scope, but it puts undo stress on the scope/camera setup. And it would require loosening the tension on the videohead, which  results in the scope tilting forward w/o the camera attached.

My other option is to mount the scope on the Jobu Jr. Gimbal Head, which allows panning/tilting smoothly and effortlessly, but then requires repositioning the scope w/ and w/o the camera to balance it. With the camera/adapter attached, the scope is back-heavy, even with the scope moved forward as far as it could go. I attempted to stabilize the rig with a bungee cord attached to the front of the scope that would prevent it from tilting back completely, but I found it ungainly. And, without a handle, it is awkward to scope birds.

The solution? Find a remote to trigger the camera.

Several options are possible. A wireless remote can be used to trigger the shutter, and costs only a few dollars, but work best when directed toward the 'front' of the camera. From what I could find, however, is that they only allow a single shutter to be captured at a time. This means no continuous shooting at 12 fps.

Sony has a neat little remote App, which can be downloaded from the Sony website. With the Sony a6300 my iPhone 7 can be used to operate the camera remotely. Its actually pretty cool; I can view the scene through the scope from the iPhone monitor, can adjust exposure compensation, f-stop, and with a touch of the screen, can focus and take an image that is now automatically saved to the iPhone. However, I'm once again forced to a single, autofocus capture and can't shoot continuously.

I would ultimately return to using the scope on the 501HDV Video Head, which is more stable for scoping. To overcome the need for 3 hands, I purchased the Sony RM-SPR1 Remote Commander.

The Sony RM-SPR1 Remote Commander is a wired shutter cable that plugs into the charging port of the a6300. When plugged in the remote allows me to trigger the shutter off-camera, and allows me to shoot continuously! With the shutter half-depressed, I can even focus. If I hold the RM-SPR1 with my right finger and thumb I can use the rest of the hand to pan/tilt the video head while operating focus/zoom on the scope w/ my left hand. With the camera / Digidapter™ attached to the scope the entire rig is stable.

Below are some shots from this morning using the rig.

The Sony RM-SPR1 is a winner.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Seriously Sharp! No Foolin' - 01 Apr 2017

With clearing skies I have the opportunity to test the new Swarovski STX 25-60x85 Spotting Scope and Digidapter™. This morning, I mounted the scope on my Jobu Jr. Gimbal Head - this would allow me to use the camera to pan/follow moving birds.

The only issue I found with this setup was that the wimberly slide plate was not long enough balance the scope w/ the camera/Digidapter™ attached; thus the combination is a bit back-heavy. To counter this I'm setting up a bungy-cord system that will balance the scope w/ and w/o the camera attached. It will allow me to pan / swivel the scope and camera setup to photograph birds smoothly and swiftly.
Its a bit awkward to handle the scope w/o a handle, though, so I'll have to decide which system (501HDV or Jobu Jr.) is the best for me...

The Sony Alpha a6300 doesn't care, though. The images coming from this scope are amazing! Tack-sharp images with tons of feather detail. No chromatic aberration at 25X and only a trace at 60X! Images are also sharp edge-to-edge.  This scope is a winner!

New Chapter in Digiscoping - 31 Mar 2017

I couldn't get home fast enough from work. Waiting for me was the Digidapter™ that I ordered from Paul Sayegh (Thanks, Paul!). I was also expecting the UPS man w/ my new Swarovski STX 25-60x85 Spotting Scope, but it hadn't arrived yet, or so I assumed. Robin wanted to go to dinner, and wanted to leave now, but I had to wait to sign for the package!!!! She asked me if I had looked in the laundry room... Woo-hoo!

In the box was 2 packages: the Swarovski STX 85mm Objective, and the STX 20-60X Ocular. With a simple twist the two pieces were together to form a brand new spotting scope and the beginning of a new chapter in my life as a digiscoper.

The Digidapter™ package included the camera adapter to fit the STX 20-60X Ocular and the Swarovski DRX Sleeve Kit that includes the sleeve that slides over the scope to receive the adapter, and a new eyecup that has a metal lip that acts as a stop for the Digidapter™when installed. Danny's Digiscoping website has a nice video that shows the Digidatper setup for the STX scope. The Sony Alpha a6300 and Sigma 20mm f/2.8 could be butted directly against the eyepiece as the lens is internally focusing, so there's no worry about lens-eyepiece crashing.

With the scope mounted on the tripod I was anxious to give it quick test. The focusing sleeve turns smoothly and effortlessly with just the right tension. The magnification sleeve turns a bit more stiffly, which is good and helps keep the magnification from slipping. There was no internal vignetting when zooming from 25 - 60X so I was doubly pleased.

Even though it was overcast and drizzly, I took it out onto the deck to scope the Song Sparrows and American Tree Sparrows under the feeder 20' away. Feather detail was crisp! No evidence of chromatic aberration (that test would come w/ sunny weather and high contrast objects). I have some muscle memory training to do as it takes some getting used to a straight scope, as well as focusing rings (as opposed to the small knobs on the Zeiss Diascopes). But, with the Sony Alpha a6300 and Sigma 28 mm f/2.8 attached to the Digidapter, there is no shift in apparent field of view (the Zeiss showed just a slight shift downward when looking through the angled eyepiece). The view through the camera was sharp and easy to manually focus.

I did a quick comparison of both scopes: The Zeiss 85T*Fl Diascope and 20-75X Zoom eyepiece (ca. 2007) versus the Swarovski STX 25-60x85 (new). I focused on the hummingbird feeder as the birds scattered. The obvious difference between the two is the lack of vignette circle on the Swaro scope (I forgot to zoom the Zeiss to 25X). But, more importantly, the field-flattener in the Swarovski eyepiece eliminates edge-softness that is apparent in the Zeiss eyepiece (note the sharpness of the perches between the two scopes).

Zeiss 85T*Fl, 20-75X eyepiece at 20x
Swarovski STX 25-60x85 at 25X
The birds? I turned the Swarovski scope on the Song Sparrows, American Tree Sparrows, House Finches and Black-capped Chickadees that had since returned to feeding 20' away. At 25X the bird appears sharp and crisp. At 60X you can see the feather detail wonderfully! Images are a bit grainy, but given that it was dark and drizzly I'm extremely pleased.

The sun's supposed to come out tomorrow, so I'll continue to experiment.  

Note: these images were taken w/ the scope mounted on the Manfrotto 501HDV Videohead, which provides a stable platform for the scope and smooth panning. However, three hands are needed handle the fluid-head, camera and scope at the same time. I can pan using the camera, but am nervous about the strain on the Digidapter™ and scope. Tomorrow, I'll try using the Jobu Jr. Gimbal Head.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Free Agency in the Optics Dept. - 31 Mar 2017

"This is the toughest job a manager has...But, the Organization has decided to make a change."
 - Bull Durham

After almost 15 years together, I'm sad to announce that I'm selling my Zeiss 85T*Fl Diascope Spotting Scope. This was the scope that introduced me to the art of Digiscoping, and this is the scope that has given me thousands of memorable views and photographs. We've logged many hours together, have traveled many miles, but never has a weight been more joyously carried. I will miss  you, you treasured jewel.

Today, I'm taking delivery of a brand new Swarovski STX 20-60X85 Spotting Scope. As such, I'll be joining the ranks of many talented Digiscopers who call Swarovski their scope of choice*. With heartfelt thanks to Paul Sayegh, I'll also be taking delivery of a new Digidapter specially fitted for the ATX/STX line of Swarovski scopes.

The ATX/STX line of scopes has been around for a few years now. It is a modular system that allows the user to swap 65mm, 85mm or 95mm objectives between angled or straight oculars. The seal is waterproof and allows the user the ability to break down the scope into a kit for easier transport (especially airplanes).

Digiscopers have the option of purchasing the DCB II Adapter for smaller P&S cameras, or the TLS APO Adapter for larger mirrorless or DSLR cameras.  I've always been a fan of Paul's Digidapters so it was an easy decision to call him up and order one for the scope (the Digidapter requires the DRX Sleeve that comes w/ the Swarovski adapters, or  you can order one through Paul's website). There are plenty of online videos showing how to attach the adapters to the scope, so check out the Digidapter website, or Swarovski's website, or YouTube for quick and easy instruction.

Please contact me if you're interested in a Zeiss 85T*Fl Diascope digiscoping system:

Zeiss 85T*Fl Diascope Spotting Scope (older, green version; newer black version is $3400)
25-75X Zoom Eyepiece (with free Digidapter)
40X W Eyepiece (with free Digidapter)
Manfrotto 3120BPRO tripod
Manfrotto 3130 tripod head
Sony Cybershot DSC-RX100 III Digital Camera
    (extra battery, 16 GB Scandisk Extreme Pro III SD card)
Zeiss Cleaning Kit
$2000.00 OBO

- Zeiss scope SOLD! (less than 24 hrs...)

April 7th will mark the 10th Anniversary of my digiscoping blog, so everything posted has been w/ the Zeiss 85T*Fl Diascope. The photos speak for the quality of the scope.

* - For the record, I have no affiliation with either Zeiss or Swarovski

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

End of March Sparrows - 29 Mar 2017

I played with the Sigma 19mm f/2.8 this evening while digiscoping sparrows through the back window. Dark-eyed Juncos are still around by the dozen. A second Song Sparrow has finally appeared. And, a Fox Sparrow has been kicking around the dirt for the past 3 days! Tree Sparrows continue, as well. I had two birds this evening.

With the 40X W eyepiece the 19mm Sigma shows just the very edges of a vignette circle, so its a nice option for digiscoping. However, I wasn't all that thrilled w/ the sharpness of the images compared w/ the Sigma 28mm f/2.8 that provides a bit more magnification and a bit more punch. Still, these are nice images.

It will be tough to let this digiscoping kit go... Stay tuned.

Ring-necked Ducks! - 25-26 Mar 2017

Radar maps showed bigly numbers of migrating birds last night. This afternoon I drove by the Meijer store on Telegraph Rd. in Brownstown, MI (Wayne Co.) and found 3 Lesser Scaup in the pond next to the gas station. Then, while driving into the Del Webb on Arsenal Rd. I spotted 3 Ring-necked Ducks in the pond in front of the community!

I dropped off dinner, grabbed the scope and camera, and ran back to get some digiscoped images. A new bird for the Bridgewater complex, and a new yard bird for me!

I spent some digiscoping them from the cover of the spruce trees overlooking the west side of the pond. I also swapped out eyepieces on my Zeiss 85T*Fl Diascope; the 40X W returned and the 25-75X Zoom Eyepiece got benched. The reason? These Ring-necks showed me just how bad the chromatic aberration is on the 25-75X. Their brilliant white bills next to their dark-purple heads and bright yellow eyes really show the yellow-blue CA bands that appear when the optics are just not up to par. The 40X W eyepiece has significantly-improved sharpness and only a trace CA under similar-lighting conditions.

Ivory Gull! - 12 Mar 2017

Lauren LaFave is probably the most popular woman in Michigan today. Yesterday, she reported seeing what looked like an Ivory Gull on the Flint River in the middle of the University of Michigan - Flint Campus in Flint, MI. This morning, Adam Byrne, and a whole slew of other birders, refound the  bird near the dam in the middle of campus. This bird of the Arctic Circle represents Michigan's 2nd record of this species.

Epilogue: Sadly, today (3/13/2017) the Ivory Gull was found dead next to the riverbank just hours after several people saw it for the last time. The body was collected and taken to UofM Ann Arbor Zoology Dept. where they will do a necropsy and tissue samples, and add the bird to their collection.
This evening I got the opportunity to meet Lauren at Kensington Metropark, where I gave a shorebird talk to the Huron Valley Audubon Society. She told me she was invited to see the bird in Ann Arbor and is planning to go there tomorrow. Lauren, the bird was delightful, but you were moreso. Congratulation on your find!