The concept of "digiscoping"
Maintained by Stéphane
Moniotte with a Foreword
by Laurence Poh
(See french version here)
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 contributed to the 'tips
and tricks' 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.
After years of hesitating between the 35mm and digital formats, I also
decided to go fully digital, and since August 2000 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
(See illustrative pictures here)
The concept of "digiscoping"...
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. In Malaysia, Canada, Australia, Japan, Belgium, USA and the
Netherlands, at least a dozen people 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
internet albums contain 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 !
An up-to-date listing of active members of
the Birds-pix eGroup is available here.
Advantages and disadvantages...
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
- the possibility of shooting in continuous mode
- instant results on the camera's LCD can be immediately discarded
if not satisfactory
- display of the pictures on the Internet or by printing in only a
- 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
a few minutes)
- 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)
- the LCD screen is difficult to view in bright sunlight, necessitating
some sort of shading system
- one has to have a computer to download, manipulate and print files
- as with all computer technology, equipment bought today will be obsolete
- with current technology (3.3 Megapixels), it is impossible to print
quality pictures larger than A4. Prints larger than A4 (two-page presentation
in magazine, for instance or a mural enlargement) will remain, but for
how long, an exclusive territory of traditional 35 mm.
- 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
A list of digital equipment is short and is limited to three essential
- a digital camera with a 3x zoom, capable of functioning in completely
- Compact Flash memory cards (enough to enable one to take all
the needed pictures)
- two sets of NiMh batteries with a charger
Of course, one has to already have the telescope, a lightweight tripod
and the computer.
As for my personal choices (Swarovski AT-80 or Kowa
TSN-1 / Nikon Coolpix 990), 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 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. A final argument in favor
of the CoolPix 990: In its June edition, the renowned French magazine "Chasseur
d'Images" notes that "with its 2048x1536 pixels, the 990 offers 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 TTL viewing, its unique velocity, superior sensitivity and a chromatic
fidelity that's hard to beat, but for approximately ($1000 USD), the CoolPix
990 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 196 MB (256 full-sized photos
at Normal compression; fewer high quality pictures can be taken for the
highest quality pictures).
One will notice that my documents on the Internet are compressed at
low resolution (Jpeg format, approximately 100 K) and obviously give poor
results when printed. I encourage their electronic reproduction without
restriction, as long as the photo is accompanied by a suitable mention
of the photographer.
However, the original, high resolution files of these photographs (Photoshop
PSD, 250-300 dpi, 1 to 40 Mb), allow for quality printing on inkjet home
photo printers in sizes of A5 to A4, depending on the cropping applied
on the original picture. For hard copies, or for access to the original
files, I should be contacted directly. This access might, of course, be
subject to licensing.