Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Digiscoping: Introduction (Updated 2017)

I began birding as an undergrad at the University of Michigan-Dearborn back in 1980. A Field Biology class got me hooked. Not only on birds, but on nature photography, as well. I had become obsessed with the desire to photograph birds. Problem was, like every other college student, I was broke and couldn't even afford the $35 Bushnell binoculars I was using for the Field Biology Class and the subsequent hours as a Natural Area Patroller. I would live with a cracked eyepiece until purchasing my first real pair of binoculars in 2002. 

The best I could do during the 80's and 90's was to purchase a Vivitar 70-210mm f/5.6 lens that I attached to a Pentax ME Super. I remember taking photos of a White-throated Sparrow up north and being thrilled that I was close enough to see its white throat. A trip to Pt. Pelee yielded a photo of some Dunlin that peaked my interest in shorebirds. But, serious photography would have to wait for another 10 years. I had to finish graduate school, pay a mortgage, and get married. Spending big $$ on even a Nikon 300mm f/4, my dream lens at the time, was out of the question. Sadly it, and a Bausch & Lomb telescope I had just bought, was stolen and I would give up photography (and birds) for the next several years.

In 1998 Nikon released the Coolpix 900s. It was the company's first digital camera for the consumer; a whopping 1MPx camera that was later updated in 2000 to the famous Coolpix 990. At 3MPx it was the most popular camera of its time. At $1000.00, though, it was quite expensive and outside the budget of most households (including mine). But, I had the opportunity to buy one for the Analytical Department at work, so I got to play with it big time. The days of film were starting to end.

After a fun-but-frustrating trip to the Grand Canyon in 2002, I had had it with my lack of optics. A Canyon Wren was singing loudly from nearby rocks and I couldn't find it. I vowed never to go on another trip without good binoculars in tow. I begged permission to get a good pair of binoculars, and Management (Robin) agreed. So late 2002 I was the proud owner of a pair of Nikon Venturer LX 10x42 Binocular. I could finally chase my returning obsession with birds.

While on vacation in the Caribbean in early 2003 I was playing with the bins and Robin's new digital camera: a Fuji FinePix P4800 4MP camera with video capabilities. I found that by holding them against the eyepiece of my binoculars I could take telephoto images of far-away objects! I would spend the next several months playing with this combo, and getting some decent pics. Check out the Cooper's Hawk taken w/ my first digibinning setup.

By the end of 2003 I was dreaming of purchasing my first spotting scope. Birding was now my obsession and the desire to get better views was now front and center. Oddly enough, a site run by beloved optics expert and future Zeiss Sport Optics Rep, Steven Ingraham, was called Better View Desired. It was here that I discovered his expert and respected reviews of top binoculars and spotting scopes. At the time the top two spotting scopes in the world were the Zeiss 85T*Fl Diascope and the Swarovski AT80HD. Every review ranked these two scopes as virtual equals in all respects, so I had to decide which one to choose. With Management's approval I purchased the Zeiss Diascope (it was $100 cheaper).

It was also during this time that I started coming across the term "Digiscoping". Since I was also wanting to photograph birds the thought of using my new spotting scope as a telephoto lens was most intriguing. People like Mike McDowell, Ann Cook, and others were taking stunning photographs of birds. I also learned that the Coolpix CP990 was the perfect camera for this new and growing hobby. It would turn out that my digibinning discovery was nothing new.

With a new spotting scope and the (borrowed, alot) CP990 I began to finally get the kinds of bird photos I had always dreamed of getting. The challenge for the next few years would be trying to build an effective adapter to make the.

What is Digiscoping?

Spotting Scope + Adapter + Compact Digital Camera = Super telephotography

It is simply using your spotting scope as a telephoto lens. Place a compact digital camera against the eyepiece and fire away. An adapter allows you to 'connect' the camera for more stability and centering the camera lens with the scope eyepiece.

Originated: 1999 Laurence Poh, Malaysia – Grandfather of Digiscoping Mr. Poh is credited with developing the technique and presenting the first of many impressive images taken using his new Nikon Coolpix CP990 and Swarovski HD80 Scope. Sadly, Mr. Poh passed away a few years ago, but his memory and images are still the standard by which we are all compared. Please check out his site at:

Why Digiscope?

Poor man’s bird photography - $ vs. $$ The appeal of digiscoping is that it is significantly cheaper than traditional SLR/Telephoto Lens photography. A 'good' digiscoping setup can be had for a few thousand dollars as opposed to the $5K - 10K  you might spend on a Canon/Nikon DSLR and Prime 400 to 600mm lens. Records of unusual or rare birds There is nothing better than seeing a rare or unusual bird on an outing and being able to prove it. Documentation of rare species is made easier because more and more digiscopers are able to provide photographic evidence that is now almost required by most State Rare Bird Committees. Michigan's first Sharp-tailed Sandpiper was discovered last year (2016) and good digiscoped images were necessary to see the diagnostic features for verification.

Chance to study plumage variations not shown in FG’s Today's field guides are great and wonderful. Unfortunately size and space of most field guides tend to limit the number of views of plumage aspects that are typically encountered by birders. We tend not to see many birds in basic or molting/worn plumage. Shorebirds can be especially difficult to ID. Digiscoping has helped me improve my ID skills by allowing me to look for the details lacking in today's field guides, and to record postures and behaviors not easily represented by books. Luckily, the explosion of photo-sharing websites (Flickr, Google, etc.) has made bird photography and identification much more accessible today.

Less Intrusive Photography By 2017 the prices of camera equipment and telephoto lenses have made bird photography affordable for many more people. Its gotten to the point that almost everyone has a camera and a telephoto lens these days. This can spell trouble for rare birds, as attempts to get "That Shot" can put undo stress on the birds (many of which are well out of their range and typically under physical stress or starvation). Digiscoping allows us to maintain safe distances, yet allow wonderful captures that reduce potentially negative effects on the subject.

1 comment:

Boon Eu said...

thanks for sharing.