Digiscoping!
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What is Digiscoping?

Well in plain terms it is the art of attaching a digital camera to your telescope, to effectively achieve a very powerful camera lens. It is proving an excellent way to attempt bird and other wildlife photography; it is a lot cheaper than the Digital SLR alternative, although producing slightly less in terms of quality. There are a couple of closely related terms which you may come across - Digi-binning (using your Binoculars instead of telescope), and phone-scoping (substituting your camera for one of the latest camera phones!).

How do I Digiscope?

There are various ways in which this can be achieved and no end of equipment that can be used.
Firstly you will need a camera, and the make of choice, at present, seems to be a Nikon Coolpix type (990/995/4500) - they have swiveling bodies which aid positioning, as well as having an internal zoom, which means you can get the lens as close to the eyepiece of the telescope as possible, and not have to fiddle about adjusting the set up each time you want to change the zoom levels. The Contax SL300R T* has recently entered the frame as a possible Rival to he coolpix range, it has the same swivel body, but is under half the size and also cheaper (I have no experience with this camera so cannot offer any advice on settings etc.).
Secondly you need a telescope, any can be used and most are but the 80mm types tend to have the best light intake, and the high definition glass used in some modern scopes is a definite advantage (Swarovskis AT/ATS80 HD or Leicas APO77 are ideal for these reasons).
Thirdly you will need some way of attaching your chosen camera to the telescope. There are various ways to achieve this, from hand holding the lens to the eyepiece (usually with some form of step-up ring so as to avoid slipping; buying one of the numerous commercial designs, there are many of different styles (tubes to hinges) and manufacturers (eagle eye, LCE, Swarovski etc.); or try making one of your own (like me). I personally use tube type adapters (these are attached directly over the telescopes eyepiece) as I find them quicker to set up and break down, but everyone will tell you something different.
However you choose to connect Scope and camera, the important thing to remember is that stability is of the utmost importance and the closer you can get the two lenses together the better - this reduces vignetting which is getting a dark circle around the photo.
You may also choose to add optional extras, such as shutter releases (electric or manual), sighting devices (attached to the end of your scope to help line up the shot) or sun shades, to improve visibility on the imaging screen.

Whats next?

Once you have all the gear you need, then it is time to practice! Remember DO NOT be disappointed if you are not an expert from the off. I have been trying for around 2 years now and am still improving, although I have only this year (2004) upgraded my scope which has immensely improved the end product. My digiscoping set up can be found here, and the digital darkroom advice can be found here.
The one thing you will learn is that along with the joy of capturing that elusive rarity or common bird in a perfect pose, there is an awful lot of heartbreak involved, you would not believe the number of times a leaf crosses the bird just as you shoot, or the bird moves at the vital moment, or even that the light is too poor to capture the bird. What ever happens don`t lose heart, the next shot may be the one!
As a final tip, the best piece of advice I can give is shoot as many pictures as you can, there for increasing the chance of 1 shot being "a keeper". Remember this is digital photography, we only pay to print what we want, the rest we delete. From 100 photos I expect to print as few as 20!




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All images and website Ashley Beolens 2003.
Images may be available for use upon request.