• The concept of "digiscoping"...
After years of hesitating between the 35mm and digital formats, I also decided to go fully digital, and since August 2000 most (if not all) of my photographs have been taken with a Nikon CoolPix 990. The novelty of this approach lies in the fact that by combining the magnifications of the telescope (20x to 60x), the camera (3x optical zoom) and cropping on the computer (0% to 50%), one ends up with a total magnification of approximately 80x, which is equivalent to either looking through a telescope equipped with an 80x eyepiece, or shooting in 35mm with a 4000 mm telephoto lens! (See illustrative pictures here

I coupled my camera and my telescope with a home-made aluminium bracket holding the Coolpix 990 in front of the scope eyepiece. This attachment system remains sufficiently loose to allow easy access to the telescope (in particular with the swiveling body of the Kowa TSN-1) for finding the bird and focusing on it. I currently use a simple plastic ring attached to the camera which fits easily around the telescope's 20X or 30X eyepieces so I can get the camera out of the way at any time to relocate a lost target or retune a soft focus. My intention is to test the Nikon telescomicro 8x20D telephoto lens, mainly for shooting birds in flight (practically impossible with the telescope), but also for shooting at distances of less than 20 feet, when the telescope is useless. This type of photography through a telescope is spreading around the world since 2000. In Malaysia, Canada, Australia, Japan, Belgium, USA and the Netherlands, many people now use approximately the same kind of equipment that I have. Among these, the most experienced, my friend Laurence Poh, from Malaysia, has been using his CoolPix 950 and 990 cameras with his Leica Apo-Televid 77 mm since February 1999; his website contains almost a thousand spectacular photographs. I encourage you to spend hours browsing through these albums; it's much more than exotic birds; it's great art ! 

With the development of the technique, a specific e-group -digiscopingbirds- has been launched to discuss the various issues of digiscoping. I warmly recommend you to scan the archives of the group if you consider to experiment digiscoping. The original listing of pionners in the field , together with their prefered equipment is available here
 

  • Advantages and disadvantages of digiscoping...
Digital birding photography offers multiple other advantages: 
- many birders already own a spotting scope 
- lightweight camera equipment compared with the 35mm heavy equivalent 
- 80x magnification power, which allows for non-intrusive picture-taking from long distances 
- the chance to visually document rare species 
- the ability to take hundreds of pictures, without any additional cost 
- the possibility of shooting in continuous mode 
- instant results on the camera's LCD can be immediately discarded if not satisfactory 
- with current technology (12 Megapixels), it is possible to print quality pictures larger than A4. Prints larger than A4 (two-page presentation in magazine, for instance or a mural enlargement) are not an exclusive territory of 35 mm. 
- display of the pictures on the Internet or by printing in only a few hours. 
- picture processing, with a full range of photographic possibilities, such as sizing, cropping, etc. with appropriate software. I use Adobe Photoshop version 5.5. 

To be fair, one must also list the disadvantages: 
- rather long set-up time (the bird must cooperate and stay put for at least a few seconds) 
- depth-of-field is always minimal 
- does not work under the lower focusing limit of the telescope 
- limited film sensitivity (100-400 ASA) almost always requires sunlight for quality pictures 
- a writing delay between each shot of 2 to 8 seconds (depending on your CF card and camera model) 
- the LCD screen is difficult to view in bright sunlight, necessitating sometimes some sort of shading system 
- one has to have a computer (or equivalent) to download, manipulate and print files 
- as with all computer technology, equipment bought today will be obsolete tomorrow 
- Digital photography also raises the question of the authenticity of the pictures. But of course, it is just as easy today to fake a silver photograph as it is a digital one. It all depends on the integrity of the photographer. 
 

  • The equipment needed
A list of digital equipment is short and is limited to three essential elements: 

- a digital camera with a 3x/4x zoom, capable of functioning in completely manual mode. 
- Compact Flash memory cards (enough  to enable one to take all the needed pictures; I recommend 128 Mb). 
- four sets of NiMh batteries, with the appropriate charger. 

Of course, one has to already have the telescope, a lightweight tripod and the computer. 

As for my personal choices (Swarovski AT-80 HD and Kowa TSN-1 / Nikon Coolpix 990/995/4500), they offer three clear additional advantages: 

- The combination of the 45 degree viewing angle of the telescopes, and the swiveling head of the CoolPix 990/995/4500 camera makes it possible to shoot upwards or downwards with the telescope and always keep an eye on the tilted LCD screen of the camera. 
- The zoom of the CoolPix moves "inside" the body of the camera, facilitating its coupling to the telescope. 
- There is no mirror movement in the CoolPix. In its June edition, the renowned French magazine "Chasseur d'Images" already noted that "with its 2048x1536 pixels, the Coolpix 990 (3.3 Mpixels) offered a larger pixel surface than its big brother, the Nikon D1 (2012x1324 pixels) and concludes: "In exterior or classic situations, or in macro mode, the 990 produces better images than its big brother, the D1, a conclusion we really did not expect! " Naturally the D1 will always offer advantages with respect to a chromatic fidelity that's hard to beat, but for approximately ($700 USD), the CoolPix 4500 looks like a nice solution for those who want to get the best of digital photography without bankrupting themselves and remain lightweight." A D1 body alone costs approximately $6000 USD! 

The storage media is another factor to look into. Currently there are 3 types -Smartmedia as used by Olympus, Compact Flash (Nikon and Canon) and Sony's Memory stick. The highest capacity currently is Compact Flash, up to 1 GB (1000 full-sized photos at Normal compression; fewer high quality pictures can be taken for the highest quality pictures). 
 

  • Acknowledgments
This section reflects my personal opinion but has been greatly inspired by an original text written by my friend Yves Leduc from Canada (See his wonderful website "Feathered Memories") and by informal discussions with the greatest pioneer ever in this field, Laurence Poh, from Malaysia.  I'm also deeply indebted to Ann Cook and Kees Bakker who early contributed to the 'Articles' chapter, to Jean-Yves Piel, Alain Fossé and Lucien Guès who participated in the preparation of the french manuscript on digiscoping and to Barbara Passmore for the review of this english manuscript. A complete list of contributors and detailed contact information are available under the 'contact' section.