Wikipedia’s opening sentence on Digiscoping is:
“Digiscoping is a neologism for afocal photography, using a (digital) camera to record distant images through the eyepiece of an optical telescope.”
Don’t let this put you off.
“Digiscoping” is just a term to describe taking a photograph through your spotting scope, binoculars or monocular using a digital camera or a smartphone. It’s a great way of capturing an image at high magnification, without the need to buy an expensive camera lens. It will never match the quality of that lens, but it will be a fraction of the cost and allows you to use your optics for general observation too.
In this blog, we'll try to give you all the information you need to get started.
CAMERA OR SMARTPHONE:
Traditionally, digiscoping has been associated with digital cameras attached to a spotting scope using an adaptor. As digital cameras are relatively big and bulky, it means the adaptor needs to be more substantial and specific to the spotting scope. This normally means it needs to be brand and product specific, such as the PA-202 Adaptor which is designed to fit the Endeavor HD Spotting Scope as shown below.
As the cameras on smartphones have improved, there has been a natural evolution towards digiscoping with these, using adaptors such as the VEO PA-65 for larger eyepieces on spotting scopes, or the VEO PA-62 for binocular/monocular eyepieces.
There are several advantages of digiscoping with a smartphone compared to a camera that include:
- More universal solutions available, rather than having to buy a specific brand’s adaptor;
- You can also use binoculars and monoculars for digiscoping, you’re not limited to a spotting scope;
- Less bulky kit to carry, and your adaptor can normally fit into a pocket;
- You don’t need to worry about any settings such as ISO, the smartphone does the work, though you can use an app for greater control;
- You can edit and upload your image to social media there and then.
WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED FOR DIGISCOPING:
Whether you choose to use a camera or a smartphone, the supporting kit you’ll need is pretty similar.
- The optics to digiscope through
- A support to hold your optics steady
- A digiscope adaptor to connect your camera/smartphone to your optics
- A means to attach your optics to the support
- A remote control
- A means of carrying your kit
A spotting scope is the traditional optic that is used for digiscoping as you can achieve extremely high magnifications, up to 60x on Vanguard spotting scopes, before you include the extra magnification you can achieve through your smartphone or camera. That magnification is the key benefit. The challenges of using a spotting scope are its portability (especially as you’ll definitely need a tripod too), the field of view is extremely narrow which can make it difficult to locate your subject (even at the lowest magnification) and it's generally the most expensive option.
As more people are using smartphones, it means you can also consider digiscoping through your binoculars. You can use either barrel, but it generally makes sense to use the left barrel without the dioptre. The most common binoculars will give you 8x or 10x magnification before using the magnification from your camera or smartphone, but you can get higher, such as our VEO ED 1250 binoculars which give you 12x magnification.
Alternatively, you can use a monocular. These are less than half the size and weight of a pair of binoculars and are easy to slip into a pocket or small bag, so they’re easier to always keep close for those unexpected shots. If you want to disgiscope by hand, then they’re also the easiest to control, and like binoculars, will normally give you 8x or 10x magnification before using the magnification from your camera or smartphone. Vanguard monoculars also include the smartphone digiscope adaptor as standard.
While you can digiscope by hand, any movement will be magnified, so there is more likely to be blurring in the final image. Image stabilisation in cameras and smartphones helps reduce this, but it won’t eliminate it.
Using a suitable support, such as a tripod or monopod, minimises the risk of movement to optimise the final image quality. This is especially important for wildlife, where there may only be one chance at a shot, and therefore the image needs to be right first time.
As spotting scopes can have 60x magnification or more, and weigh over 2kg before attaching your camera or smartphone, a suitable support is particularly important. In this case, we would always recommend a tripod with a suitable 2-way pan head, such as the VEO 2PRO or the premium VEO 3 Birdwatcher series. These both have a single handle that allows you to follow your subject on the move and controls all the movement.
While binoculars and monoculars are lighter and have lower magnification, we’d still recommend a tripod, but you can also use a monopod. If using a monopod, we’d recommend one from the VEO 2S series as the retractable tri-feet deliver that bit more stability than a traditional monopod. Whilst you can use the monopod without a head, it can limit your shot as you have to “aim” the monopod. Using a head gives you that bit more control in framing your shot. You can either choose a pre-made kit (such as the VEO 2s AM-234TB50T), or a monopod only with a separate head, from Vanguard or any other brand.
THE DIGISCOPE ADAPTOR:
Firstly, that the adaptor needs to fit onto your chosen optics.
If using a camera, then the adaptor will need to be brand/model specific to ensure a solid fit that will bear the weight of the camera.
If using a smartphone, you have more choice, but you do need to ensure that the adaptor will fit the diameter (or width) of the eyepiece. You can sometimes get dedicated adaptors, but you can also get “universal” adaptors. For example, the VEO PA-65 will fit any eyepiece between 34mm and 54mm wide making it suitable for all but the largest spotting scopes, as well as a huge range of binoculars or monoculars on the market.
As an example, the image below shows how the VEO PA-65 fits onto the eyepiece of any suitable spotting scope:
Secondly, that the adaptor also needs to fit the camera or smartphone.
On a camera, this will be onto the thread of your chosen lens, which is generally 52mm or 58mm, but check the size of your lens thread.
On a smartphone, the width of the clamp needs to be able to expand wide enough to allow you to fit your camera (with/without a case) and without impeding the buttons on the side. The eyepiece also needs to be adjustable so you can select the correct lens for your smartphone camera. For example, the VEO PA-65 will hold any smartphone up to 90mm wide, and has an adjustable eyepiece to centre on any lens.
As an example, the image below shows how the VEO PA-65 fits onto any suitable smartphone:
When attaching your smartphone, we would recommend removing it from the case for optimal performance. As you tighten the clamp, it means it is tightening the case first and may make the smartphone come loose. While theoretically possible, it’s unlikely to fall out of a case designed for the smartphone, but it may mean that it pushes the smartphone slightly off centre which may impact the framing of the final image. If the case has a transparent cover over the lenses, then it may also distort the light entering the lens and distort the final image.
Some cameras software may cause an issue in digiscoping with any digiscope adaptor. So far, the only example of this we’ve had across Europe since the launch of our VEO PA-65 in 2020 is with the iPhone 12, which seems to switch between lenses as the camera works out the optimal lens of the shot. This was be resolved using an app called Camera+.
ATTACHING YOUR OPTICS TO YOUR SUPPORT:
Attaching your spotting scope is generally straightforward. Traditionally, spotting scopes have a foot that can be attached to a suitable quick release plate and attached to your tripod head. We would recommend that the quick release plate has a second spring pin setup, such as on the Arca compatible QS-61P, as this ensures your spotting scope is always facing forward and reduces the risk of the quick release plate loosening over time.
More recently, many brands are making this spotting scope foot “Arca compatible”. This allows the foot of the spotting scope to be attached straight into the clamp on an Arca compatible head, eliminating the need for a quick release plate that can add movement.
On your binoculars you need an adaptor such as the BA-185. This has a ¼” thread that attaches to the front of your binoculars, and a second thread on the base that attaches to a suitable quick release plate,
On your monocular, there should be a ¼” thread hole on the base. This can then be attached to a quick release plate, or to a suitable tripod/monopod. If you’re looking to use a monocular for digiscoping, we recommend you check your preferred model includes this thread hole as not all brands do. All Vanguard monoculars include this feature.
THE REMOTE CONTROL:
It you’ve gone to all trouble to make the setup as stable as possible, you don’t want to introduce a bit of shake taking the shot. A remote control means that you don’t have to touch your camera or smartphone to trigger the shot, keeping it as stable as possible.
It’s worth checking if your preferred digiscope adaptor includes a remote control as standard. For example, both the VEO PA-65 and the VEO PA-62 include a Bluetooth remote control for IOS or Android smartphones as standard.
If not, you can use our VEO BT-11 Bluetooth remote control for IOS or Android smartphones.
CARRYING YOUR KIT:
This varies depending on your kit. If you’re looking to digiscope with a monocular, then you may be able to carry all but the support in your pockets. Clearly that’s not possible if you are digiscoping with a spotting scope and camera.
If you’re using a monocular or binoculars, there are a wide range of shoulder bags that would do the job of carrying your kit and a portable support, such as a VEO Range 21M. Just remember that you’ll probably want to take personal kit such as a jacket and snacks too, so it may be worth considering a larger VEO Range 32M or even a VEO Range 38 in the series. Or any bag that suits your needs.
If you’re using a spotting scope, especially with a camera, there are so many variables that it’s difficult to be too specific. How big is your spotting scope, mirrorless vs DSLR camera, how many lenses, how big is your tripod, how far are you planning to walk, etc?
With smaller kits and shorter distances, you may get away with a shoulder bag like the VEO Range 38, but we’d probably recommend a backpack as the spotting scope, camera and a light travel tripod alone are going to weigh from 4kg up. By the time you’ve chosen a full-sized tripod, 2-3 lenses, a bottle of water and personal kit, it’s easy to get to 10kg or more.
However, if you're planning on using your smartphone (or just want to carry a spotting scope and kit for the trip), then why not check out the VEO Active Birder 56?
Once you’re on site, and your kit is all set up, it’s time to compose your shot and take the photo. This varies by device and brand, but there are some common steps.
Using a camera on a spotting scope, take the spotting scope down to minimum zoom as this makes it easier to locate your subject, and focus the spotting scope. In general, wide to short tele kit type zooms work most effectively such as: 14-42mm on M43: 18-55mm on APS-C; 28-70mm on Full Frame. These are also likely to have the 52mmm or 58mm filter threads for the PA-202 to attach to, (if your thread is different you just need a freely available stepping ring with 58mm one side for the PA-202 and the appropriate size for your lens on the other. Focus the camera, and this may be easier with manual focus rather than automatic focus as the automatic focus may add movement and affect your composition. Then slowly increase the zoom to keep the correct composition, (fully zoomed back you will see a circular image), focussing both the spotting scope and camera as you go until you’re ready to take the shot. To get the best result, you may need to experiment with settings, and you may be able to add a little extra zoom from the camera, but this is likely to be limited due to the size of lens you would normally use for digiscoping.
Using a smartphone on a spotting scope (or binoculars or monocular) is a similar process, but the smartphone will do most of the work in focus and settings though you can get more involved if you wish using the smartphone controls or an app. As there is no noticeable movement as a smartphone focuses, you can let it do all the work while you concentrate on the composition and magnification. Once at maximum zoom on the spotting scope, you can zoom in even closer with the smartphone zoom.
Please note that while going to the maximum magnification possible will get you closer to the action, it will also impact picture quality as the quantity and quality of the light entering the sensor will reduced.
When looking through the optics, you will get a tunnel effect as illustrated below. As these optics are not specifically designed to be used with your camera or smartphone, it is a limitation of the technology. To minimise it, you can zoom in your camera or smartphone, and then you can crop the final image to make a more traditional photograph as illustrated below. Just remember to leave enough space for the crop when framing your shot.
It doesn’t just need to be a photograph. While you won’t capture sound, you can also shoot video to capture the behaviour of a bird or animal. In this short video you can see an example using an iPhone 11 paired with a VEO HD2 1042M on a herd of cows around 750m away (and it also shows how you can use zoom to minimise tunnelling).
While digiscoping will never replace the quality of image that you can get using a camera with a dedicated lens, it is a fraction of the price and allows you to use the optic for observation. It’s also a great way to capture an unexpected sighting or behaviour, and uploading the image or video in seconds. So why not have some fun and give it a go. Who know, if you love getting that close to the action and want to improve the quality of your images, then you can still upgrade to a suitable camera kit...