What is digiscoping?

If you spend any amount of time around nature enthusiasts and passionate photographers, you will inevitably hear ‘digiscoping’ mentioned. As its name suggests, digiscoping is a photography method that involves using a pair of binoculars, spotting scope or a telescope with a digital camera to capture images from a great distance.

What are the benefits of digiscoping?

By combining a smart phone, GoPro, or Tablet camera with a powerful scope, you can capture images that are inaccessible from a short distance. Nature photographers often use digiscoping to capture images of skittish or dangerous animals from a safe area. Digiscoping may also be useful for taking photographs of specific landscape scenes from an overlook. Birders commonly use scope-camera combinations that have magnifications of 20X to 80X, so digiscoping can capture images beyond the reach of normal digital cameras zoom with clarity and focus.  

While this method certainly has a wide range of applications for nature photography, some skilled photographers use digiscoping for astrophotography, and even microbiology. With the magnification and light absorption capabilities of high-quality scopes, astrophotographers can use digital cameras to capture images of asteroids, planets, star clusters, and distant galaxies. Some of the most popular digiscoping photos are of the super moons as of late.

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Equipment basics

Tripods

With proper digiscoping equipment, you can capture images of rare birds, wildlife and objects that are thousands of light-years away from Earth. Poor equipment can result in images that are blurry and unpleasant, so take some time to consider the factors that can affect your photography experience.

If you are planning to capture images with digiscoping methods on a remote mountain or other wilderness areas, you need to account for wind, rain, and other weather conditions. Without a sturdy tripod, your camera will be unable to focus on the image that is magnified with the scope. For digiscoping photography, do not use a light tripod. Lightweight tripods often respond to even tiny movements and vibrations. This can make simple images difficult to capture.

During extreme weather events, your photography skills may be challenged by wind buffeting. To compensate for wind, lower your tripod to the lowest possible setting for your situation. The stability of the tripod increases as its center of gravity nears the ground. If you still need more stability, extend your tripod’s legs to the widest setting.

The steps above can help you stabilize any tripod, but a lightweight tripod may continue to present difficulties during rough conditions. Most birders use an 11-pound tripod, but you can minimize wind risks with a 22-pound option. These heavy tripods are expensive and cumbersome to carry, but they create a stable platform for digiscoping.

If you plan to regularly capture images in drastic weather conditions, you should also upgrade your tripod’s default head to a ball head or a gimbal-mount head. Ball heads allow photographers to make a large number of adjustments to get the proper angle for an image. A ball head allows you to pivot your camera and scope on a 360-degree axis.

A gimbal-mount head does not have the wide range of motion of a ball head, but it offers a superior level of stability. The gimbal-mount head is compensates for the effects of gravity, so heavy cameras can rest on the head without dipping towards to ground. This head also rests the camera’s center of gravity on the center of the tripod. Many avid digiscopers argue that this is one of the best head-types for countering the effects of vibrations.

To recap, you can optimize the stability of your smart phone camera and scope by:

  • Purchase a heavy-weight tripod
  • Install a better tripod head
  • Extending the tripod legs as far as possible
  • Lowering the tripod to its lowest suitable setting
  • Knowing your camera’s functions, features and capabilities

Scopes and Cameras

Proper digiscoping photography depends on a high-quality scope that you can trust. After all, the entire point of digiscoping is to capture faraway images with a magnifying device. Before you select a scope for your camera, there a few things that you should consider.

First, choose a device (Smart phones, GoPro, Tablet)  that you will use for digiscoping. DSLR, point-and-shoot cameras, and smartphones can all be used for digiscoping. If you are a beginner, your iPhone can be paired with a scope for astrophotography and nature photography. Smartphones are cost-effective options. If you have a decent DSLR or point-and-shoot camera, you can pair one with a scope after installing an adapter.

When selecting a digital camera, do not concern yourself with options that offer impressive magnification specifications. The scope should perform all the heavy lifting for magnification, so a camera with 3X to 5X optical zoom is suitable. This zooming range will ensure that the black ring around the lenses of your scope is not visible in photographs. Cameras with high-magnification features will simply blur your images, so a zoom greater than 5X is unnecessary. High-magnification cameras are also more expensive than the better point-and-shoot cameras or smartphones.

You should also examine each camera’s settings before you make a decision. Make sure the camera has the ideal focus modes of digiscoping photography. Auto-mode frequently provides poor images, so you should keep an eye out for:

  • Program mode
  • Aperture priority mode
  • Manual mode

After you select your camera for digiscoping, purchase a scope. Some photographers prefer using binoculars and telescopes, but a spotting scope is often a better choice. Spend as much as you can manage on a spotting scope. You can use a spotting scope throughout your entire digiscoping career, and cameras are not nearly as important as a great scope.

Adapters

If you did not buy a scope specifically for your camera, you will need to find an adapter that allows you to attach the scope to the device (camera). Galaxies and iPhones have special adapters on the market, but you may also purchase universal adapters for the size of your phone. Our scope builder offers several high-quality optical adapters, and they are automatically paired with your scope and phone of choice when you create a digiscoping kit. These adapters will allow you to connect the lens of your phone to most spotting scopes.

An adapter is not required to digiscope properly, but you will quickly notice that a camera-scope combination with an adapter produces crisper images. Digiscoping applies extreme magnification to images, so tiny vibrations and aberrations are noticeable. To prevent these problems, you should use an adapter to create a tight and stable connection between the scope and the camera.

When you are browsing a shop’s selection of adapters, bring your phone or camera with you. Many vendors allow in-store testing.

Shutters

Many phones and digital cameras do not have shutters to improve the clarity and quality of images. You may benefit from installing a Bluetooth camera shutter. A Bluetooth camera can be used for most phones and digital cameras. With a remote shutter, you can leave your digiscoping camera in a hidden location while you wait for the perfect scene. This is an effective way to track sunsets and shy wildlife. Bluetooth shutters can be added to compatible digiscoping kits in our store. Our Bluetooth Shutter is compatible with most Iphones and Android devices.

In addition to the element of surprise, shutters can also grant you the ability to reduce shaking. Manually pressing the shutter button can cause your camera and scope to shake, so a hands-off shutter can help you capture consistently great images.

If Bluetooth camera shutters do not suit your needs, you may be able to use cable shutters. Unfortunately, cable shutter systems are not compatible with many popular digital cameras. You can alter your digital camera with a wing bracket and a cable-release arm. This will allow you to install a cable shutter for your camera. If this seems like too much work for you, you can always purchase a remote for your digital camera.

Photographers who do not plan to capture images of moving objects like birds can simply use the timer on their camera. With a three-second delay, the camera will have enough time to stabilize after you press the shutter button. This method is ideal for landscape scenes and astrophotography.

Applications

Some phones do not have high-grade camera software, so you can benefit from using an application in the Google Play or Apple stores. Photopills is often regarded as a top photography app for iPhones, and The Photographer’s Ephemeris is suitable for android devices.

With appropriate digiscoping equipment, you can capture images at nearly every distance.

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Digiscoping tips

Finding the Correct Balance

Balancing the scope and camera properly on top of the tripod is a critical part of capturing the perfect image. When you first attach a spotting scope to your camera, you will likely notice that the combination is heavier near the camera. This can cause the camera to tilt away from the ideal angle for your photographs.

You can correct balancing problems with several strategies. If you are looking for a quick and simple fix, craft a counterweight, and hang it from the end of the scope. This is a low-tech method, and you may need to test several weights before you find the right balance.

If you are willing to spend some money to correct your balancing issues, purchase a quick-release plate system that will balance your camera and scope on the tripod when you are shooting. The best balancing solution is the gimbal-mount tripod head that we discussed earlier.

Minimizing Vibrations

Since the shutter itself moves when you take a photograph, you may experience some image blurring. To minimize shutter vibrations, increase the shutter speed. For moving targets, a shutter speed of 1/500 second is suitable. 1/250 second is an ideal shutter speed for other situations. Operating your camera in Aperture Priority mode can also reduce the blurring from shutter movements and other factors.

In addition to Aperture Priority mode, you can reduce blurring by increasing ISO values in your camera’s settings. Be careful when you adjust ISO values; low values can cause blurring, and high values can make images appear grainy.

Improving Light Levels

Many digiscopers have trouble with finding enough light to capture perfectly clear images. While shooting on a sunny day is a tried and tested method that will give you the results you are looking for, you can also alter some of your camera’s settings.

Zoom your eyepiece out as far as possible. This will increase the amount of available light. With digital cameras, you can crop and magnify your images later. For a high-tech solution to light problems, purchase and install a specialized LER digiscoping eyepiece. LER eyepieces allow photographers to zoom eyepieces out much further than traditional eyepieces, and they still hide the black rings on the edge of lenses.

Improving Focus

After you have minimized vibrations and corrected lighting issues, you may still have trouble with focusing images. Fortunately, focusing problems are simple to correct.

When you encounter a focusing issue, your first response should be to turn on your camera’s auto-focus mode. This setting causes your camera to focus on the object in the center of the scene. While auto-focus features are usually quite effective, you may have trouble aiming your scope at the center of your intended scene. This can be corrected with an image-locating sight.

An image-locating sight is similar to the iron sights of rifles. This sight can be mounted to the top of your scope with Velcro. Digiscopers find that these sights can be used to help them quickly and accurately locate the center of their images. This completely removes the guesswork from focusing images.

Considering Environmental Factors

On some days, you will not be able to adjust your settings or use technology to improve your images. Humidity, heat waves, and other problems with the air between your camera and the target can blur images, so be mindful of daily conditions. If the weather forecast calls for extreme heat, try to go digiscoping in the morning.

Taking Plenty of Photos

You can delete bad photographs, but you can never restore missed opportunities. When you are digiscoping, take as many photos of your scene as possible. It can be difficult to choose your next award-winning photograph in the field, so try your best, and save any judgments for when you are at home.