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There is now such a massive range of Cameras, adapters and accessories available that this page cannot possibly cover everything. Below I'll try to cover the basic technique and requirements and offer some helpful advice.


Digiscoping setup
What is Digiscoping?

Digiscoping is combining a bird watchers spotting scope with a digital camera to allow images to be taken at high magnifications enabling good quality pictures without disturbing the birds.

Digiscoping essentials

Scope
Suitable digital camera
Adapter to connect the two together
Sturdy tripod
Cable release
PC

Other useful accessories

Monitor shade or magnifier
Spare batteries or a battery pack
Spare memory cards
A good imaging software package

Scopes

Most birders own a scope so this expense in most case will already be taken care of.
If you own a high definition scope so much the better. As usual you get what you pay for and scopes with high definition glass will ultimately produce better images. That is not to say the mid range scopes cannot produce good results.


Spotted Flycatcher - Digiscoped

The Camera

Many cameras are suitable for digiscoping and many are not, it would be impossible to list them all here but I currently use a Sony RX100.

Several years ago I regarded the now dated Canon Powershot A95 as tuff to beat and the Powershot S90 was good along with many cameras in the Nikon Coolpix range that are well known and well used.

Tripod

A matter of personal choice but the more ridged the better with ideally a nice fluid movement for following moving subjects and something you can move and adjust with one hand, leaving the other free to click the shutter and or focus.



Adapter and Cable release

Essential if you want to minimise camera shake, remember the magnifications involved when Digiscoping are very large so any amount of movement is magnified also, camera shake is the main cause of blurred images so anything that helps to minimise this is a god send. These days mind you many cameras have some kind of built in stabilisation technology and are therefore easier to use handheld against the scope eyepiece. I still prefer to use an adapter but for convenience I can see why many birders choose not to.

Adapters to fit a variety of scopes are available, these fix the camera lens and scope eyepiece within millimetres of each other keeping vignetting to a minimum. More recently more universal style of adapter have become available that can be used with any camera.

Some camera manufacturers make a remote release for use with their cameras. A far cheaper and sometimes more reliable option is to use a bracket which enables the use of the standard mechanical cable release.


Batteries and Memory cards

Before long you will probably find that the standard package supplied with the Camera is not enough, Digital cameras consume power quickly and it is sometimes necessary to have the LCD on for much of the time. It's no fun running out of battery power just at the wrong moment, if you get a few spare batteries you will not regret it.

These cameras are usually supplied with a small capacity memory card which will hold only a few good-sized pictures. If you can purchase or get the retailer to throw in a larger memory card with the camera you will be able to store many more pictures. Personally I use a few different medium capacity cards which I would only be likely to fill when away on Holiday.

Monitor shade of magnifier

A useful addition to the Digiscoping kit, it's often difficult particularly on a sunny day to see the LCD screen clearly which inevitably makes focusing difficult. A simple home made shade is useful but another option is to use a magnifier which gets your eye right up to the lens helping you to achieve a crisp focus the budget version is to convert a plastic slide viewer which costs just a few pounds and sit it over the LCD with some velcro.




Digiscoping:
Technique and camera settings

The below information should be treated as suggestions and guidelines only as I am sure you will develop your own techniques in time and on occasions different settings may be useful for different subjects or situations. Much of what I have learned has come from trial and error. The aim is to touch upon the main points to help you get better digiscoping results.

You may have the necessary equipment and are hopefully out in the field on a nice bright windless day. Preferably you want the sun behind you to illuminate the bird and if you are lucky produce a catch light in the eye, particularly important in birds where the eye colour blends with the surrounding plumage. You will be aware by now that Digiscoping has its limitations, there are not many digiscoped shots of birds in flight for example though to some extent it is possible! What you want is a perched bird within range of your equipment and in good light. One of the best places to start would be your garden.

Finding the bird in the monitor is the first step and as anyone who has Digiscoped will know it's not always as easy as it sounds. At these magnifications you can be working in a very small area and particularly in the case of smaller passerines they are not going to stay still for long, birds like Herons for example are much easier. Singing birds make things a little easier as this is often the only time they stick to the same perch for any length of time. I often find myself looking at the location of the bird with the naked eye, trying to pinpoint features to make finding it easier, follow the trunk up to the second right fork etc. If all else fails and the subject is still there, zoom out with the camera, find it and zoom back in again. Some people use a form of locating site to help with this problem, there are always exceptions but you may find your hand-eye co-ordination is good enough in most circumstances and as with everything it takes practice.


Shooting Modes

My preference is continuous shooting mode, you can hold down the shutter to shot several images in quick succession or just click it to take one. This can be useful for fidgety subjects as you have a good chance of getting one nice pose from a burst of shots. The down side is that the camera may take a while to write these images to the memory card a few seconds that seems like minutes if the bird is still posing beautifully.


Image size

Keep the resolution at its maximum and the image quality at its highest; why not use the camera to its full potential all the time! This way you will also give yourself more options when editing later.


Exposure

The main aim when Digiscoping is to freeze the movement, both any movements of the subject and camera shake which is inevitable to an extent in almost all conditions. As you will know to freeze any movement you will need a high shutter speed, which can only be obtained in good light condition. The beauty of digital however is that to some extent an underexposed picture (one which appears dark due to the high shutter speed) can be brightened in computer once you have it on the pc/laptop at home. Obviously you can only push this so far but it does allow you a little leeway when it comes to the correct exposure.

Generally I use aperture priority mode. The aperture priority setting means that you control the aperture setting and the camera chooses what it thinks is the appropriate shutter speed; the reverse is true of the shutter priority setting. Shutter speed is far more important than aperture when digiscoping since depth of field (The depth of focus, front to back) is limited when taking pictures through a scope. Aperture priority is perhaps the best place to start, keep the aperture setting as low/wide as possible to enable the highest shutter speeds.


Focus Settings

I tend to set the camera to 'Single AF' (Auto Focus) mode, this way it will only try to find a focus lock when you halve press the button, before a full press to take the shot, rather than continually searching for focus. You can focus the scope first, then the camera and take the shot. It may sometimes be useful to refocus the scope to fine-tune the focus while holding the cameras focus lock. The macro setting is considered by most to produce the crispest focus though this is not necessarily an option on all models.

Spot AF area, for Exposure Metering and Focus

Spot metering takes the exposure reading from a spot in the centre of the image which is fine if that's where the subject is. Centre waited exposes for the centre spot but dosn't completely ignore everything else and Matrix exposes for the whole image and is rarely ideal when Digiscoping.

With some cameras you can manually move the area from which the camera takes the exposure reading, which is a useful feature, similar to spot metering except that you select the spot. You may also be able to select the area from which the camera takes its point of focus. Due to the limited depth of field it's often preferable to pick a particular point such as the head or eye of the subject for the sharpest part of the image.

Most of the other settings can be left on their default values but it is useful to play with the different setting and familiarise yourself with what the camera is capable of rather than leave the camera to shoot at full auto mode.



The Picture above shows a scene over some pools near Budds farm sewage works in Hampshire. Some Swans and a few ducks are just about visible at some distance. The photo also shows a SonyRX100 Digital camera mounted on a Swarovski Telescope.

The photo gives some idea of how far away the ducks are from the camera.

The below photo was taken from this exact position and it shows a pair of Gadwall on the pools, it is un-cropped and demonstrates what can be achieved with the kind magnifications involved.



The photo below is a cropped version of the above image and it has be processed a little with a few minor adjustments in Photoshop. It demonstrates that with digiscoping it is fairly straightforward to get a good detailed looking image at some distance.




Moulting Male Gadwall a cropped version of the previouse image.
It has also been processed and sharpened in Photoshop.


Imaging Software - PhotoShop

Do not be fooled by the pin sharp images you see on the web, they did not look like that when they came off the camera. Familiarising yourself with the basic techniques used to enhance and sharpen digital images is probably as useful as knowing what to do with the camera itself.

Of course it all depends where your priorities lie, personally I want to produce the best images I can for my own pleasure, prints and hopefully publication by others. However many people need nothing more than an identifiable record shot. Many packages exist and some form of software was probably included with the digital camera at the point of purchase. It is often possible to turn good images into excellent ones with a few mouse clicks. If you own a copy of PhotoShop, Photoshop Elements of similar software some of the most important features are Levels and Brightness / Contrast adjustments. An image that is dark i.e. slightly under exposed can often be corrected to become a brighter more acceptable image very quickly.

Sharpening tools can be very useful and in Photoshop this is referred to as 'Unsharp mask'. Most images will benefit from a little sharpening but it is important not to over do it resulting in very false looking images. As always good pictures will come with practice and with some luck and trial and error you will learn a little more about what you can get away with each time you try.

It's sometimes hard to stop shooting if a bird is unusual or posing beautifully but if you are happy you have good shots, why not step back and really look at the birds themselves in the flesh, after all you can look at the photographs forever.

Richard Ford
www.digitalwildlife.co.uk