Friday, March 7, 2008

Digiscoping: Cameras - Classics vs. Today's (Updated 2017)



Since much of what's been written below is still of value I'll keep it for archival purposes. This newer information is intended to bring up to speed latest developments in cameras that are preferred by top digiscopers around the world.

Serious digiscopers are now using Mirrorless or Micro 4/3 Cameras for digiscoping. While there are several more affordable Point and Shoot Models available today, the Mirrorless cameras tend to offer Larger 1" sensors, 4K Video and Electronic Viewfinders that permit shooting even in bright sunlight. Add 10 - 20 fps capabilities for Continuous Shooting and you have 20-24 MPx resolution and High ISO capabilities for the most demanding situations. Which ones are the best?

I'll start with my camera: the Sony Alpha a6300 E-Mount Camera w/ APS-C Sensor. I purchased this camera in 2016 and absolutely love the image quality I'm getting from it. Rather than rehash a lot of information I've already covered, please check out my blog posts reviewing and comparing it w/ my older Nikon 1 V3 Mirrorless Camera. I am currently using it with a Sigma 30mm f/2.8 lens, electronic shutter release, and Digidapter™. Mounted to my Swarovski STX85 Scope and 20-60X Eyepiece it is an excellent digiscoping rig. By early 2017 this camera has already been replaced by the newer Sony a6500! I haven't heard anyone using it, but if offers a few more video capabilities that could be preferable to someone considering the a6xxx lineup.

Perhaps even more desired by digiscopers is the Panasonic line of Micro 4/3 cameras. The LUMIX GH5 is the latest installment of a classic and offers perhaps the best 4K Video capabilities of any digital camera (without actually buying a videocamera) on the market today. The GH5 is the successor to the highly-successful GH4 that seems to dominate the Digiscoper of the Year Competition sponsored by Swarovski Optik. Matched with the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 Pancake Lens it is the preferred combo by recent DOY Winners like Tara Tanaka.

Panasonic also offers the LUMIX GX8, a 20MPx Mirrorless camera that offers 4K Video and 10 fps shooting.

For tighter budgets consider some of the following cameras:

Sony RX100 III, IV, or V
Nikon 1 V1 to V3

I've used both of these cameras and have produced some very nice images. I've written a blog post comparing the Nikon V3 to the RX100 III.


There are many more cameras out there that are suitable for digiscoping. Best bet is to check the BirdForum.net digiscoping forums for user reviews and questions, and check out DPreview.com reviews of potential cameras before buying.

image courtes of PhoneSkope.com
I would be remiss at this point if I didn't mention the whole new ballgame of digiscoping using cell phones like the iPhone 4 to iPhone 7 or the Samsung Galaxy Android Phones. People like Robert Wilson and Clay Taylor have gotten excellent photos digiscoping using their cell phones. With adapters like Kowa's iPhone adapters or PhoneSkope adapters, it is now very easy for birders to capture great images and videos using their cell phones.



(from 2008 to 2011)

First Classics: - Nikon Coolpix 990, 995, 4500 – 8400 - Contax U4R The CP990 and 995 provided the key ingredients for a digiscoper. The Coolpix 8400 was perhaps the best of the early classics. Unfortunately, they were discontinued and replaced with newer lines of cameras that did not cater to the needs of digiscoping. The Contax U4R came along and provided a 'faster' camera in a smaller, simpler profile. It too was discontinued.




Later Classics: - Canon Powershot ‘A’ Series – A95, 540, 620, 640 - Leica D-Lux 2 - Olympus C7070 - Fuji Finepix F30 - Sony DSC W5, W7, W100 - Nikon Coolpix, P1, P5000 - Zeiss DC4 My second camera (after the CP990) was a Canon A620. I loved the camera for its customizable menus and good noise properties, continuous shooting, and fast read/write. The LADC-58F plastic adapter fit nicely over the zoom eyepiece of the Zeiss and made for a simple and cheap adapter. However, vignetting was present at all zooms (it is a 4X zoom camera) so cropping was required of all images. The Fuji F30 was considered one of the top digiscoping cameras available due to its low noise properties and fast operations. However, it lacked a rotatable screen, and was much slower at read/writes than I cared. The camera also required menu setting when turned on. The Sony W series is highly regarded because of the Zeiss lenses, large viewfinders, and low vignette properties. The Nikon Coolpix P5000 was the latest Nikon camera at this original writing and got a lot of attention. I have since purchased it to replace my F30 that fell apart after 6 months. I have used it for more than a year and have had wonderful luck with it despite its criticism of being slow. The Virginia Rail pictured at left was taken w/ a P5000 and won 1st Place in the Digiscoping Category of WildBird Magazine's 2008 Reader's Photo Contest. The Coolpix P5100 is currently at the top of many's choice for digiscoping cameras, and is about to be replaced w/ the P6000. Check out Andy Bright's Digiscoping forum .

The Zeiss DC4 is a new concept that combines a 40X eyepiece with built-in 4Mp camera for attaching directly to the Diascope. It's expensive, however, and in limited supply, but results have been very good.

Newer cameras to check out: Nikon Coolpix P5100 Sony W300, W100 Canon 720IS, 590IS Canon A640 Fuji F100 Ricoh GX100 Samsung NV3 Of these the P5100 has had the most written about it. The Canon A640 and 590IS have also gotten positive reviews. The advise? - Don't be tempted by megapixels - look at noise, ergonomics, price and whether you can marry it to your scope. Read the extensive user reviews at Birdforum.net and take your scope w/ you when you look at cameras. How much zoom is necessary to remove vignetting, and can you store menu settings? If you're interested in trying to connect a DSLR to the scope then check out the discussions at Yahoo's Digiscoping Forum. Small DSLR's like the Canon 450D or Olympus E420 w/ a 50mm pancake lens have received recent attention from users, and could be an option.

--- added 2013 ---

Today's camera options are changing at a dizzying pace, with replacements occurring at almost 6 month intervals.  But a number of cameras have stood out for their image quality and their faster frames-per-second capabilities.  Cameras like the Nikon P300 and Canon S95 provide very nice image quality for a price of a few hundred dollars.

Micro 4/3 cameras are fast taking over the digiscoping world.  These are compact cameras with an electronic shutter that have replaced mirrors.  Thus, they are able to provide very fast shutter speeds for capturing fast-moving birds.  Some models have electronic viewfinders (EVF) that allow you to see the camera viewfinder on bright sunny days.  Models that have been very successfully used for digiscoping include the Nikon V1, Panasonic G1, GH1, G3, GH3, the Sony NEX 5N, 6N, Fuji RX100, and others.  Check out Andy Bright's Digiscoping Forum for the latest discussions / results from these and other cameras. Finding the proper adapter and lens combination, however, tend to be the biggest obstacle to taking wonderful images.

1 comment:

blubird said...

Great summary, Jerry. Hope you can do an update for 2011. I'm keeping my CP8400 for close birds, but use the Nikon P6000 more often these days.

Cheers, Len Blumin