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Photography with spotting scopes and binoculars - Digiscoping
Reading time: 10 minutes - May 08, 2024 - by Markus Igel

Photography with spotting scopes & binoculars - Digiscoping

Maybe you've never heard of digiscoping, but perhaps this is exactly what you need to save money and still produce very good image results. Are you a bird photographer? Then read this article carefully!

Digiscoping with binoculars from Swarovski ? SWAROVSKI OPTIK

What does digiscoping mean?

The word digiscoping probably doesn't mean much to most people, which is why we want to start with a brief explanation of the term. Digiscoping or digiscoping is the term used to describe photography using a spotting scope. This technology emerged in the 1990s, when the optical quality of telescopes and in particular the larger exit pupils of the eyepieces were improved. On the other hand, the 1990s also saw a reduction in the size of imaging devices, which meant that compact cameras could achieve good image quality on a spotting scope - at a low upgrade price (for the mount / connection for the camera or cell phone).

With the help of digiscoping technology, nature and bird photographers / observers in particular can bridge or even achieve very long focal lengths at low cost.

Disadvantages of photography through a spotting scope

The disadvantages of this technology are vignetting and a shallower depth of field or blurring, because the spotting scope itself usually has no image stabilization. Due to the manual focusing, digiscoping is not suitable for every fast-moving animal, but rather for animals that like to linger in one place.

Hand-held digiscoping with a spotting scope using a smartphone ? SWAROVSKI OPTIK
Setting up a spotting scope for photography with a system camera ? SWAROVSKI OPTIK

Advantages of photography and videography through digiscoping

Digiscoping does, of course, have a number of advantages, which we would like to briefly list here:

  • Inexpensive telephoto lens
  • A spotting scope with 20x magnification corresponds to approx. 2000mm in lens focal length
  • High focal range if zoom is available
  • High-quality spotting scopes offer good image quality
  • Comparatively light and therefore weight-saving
Optical image quality thanks to the use of high-quality glass elements ? SWAROVSKI OPTIK

What requirements does photography place on the spotting scope?

System cameras, for example, are very well suited to using spotting scopes for photography because they cause less vibration than SLR cameras do when the mirror is raised. The larger the front element of the spotting scope, the greater the reduction in vignetting at the edges of the image. Which image section is visible depends on the sensor size.

The spotting scope requires a suitable adaptation for every device, whether smartphone or camera. Digiscoping with a smartphone makes particular sense with binoculars, as the image section is much smaller due to the sensor size of the smartphone.

The sharpness of the spotting scope is characterized by good edge sharpness. Many cheaper spotting scopes have a sharp drop in sharpness towards the edge, which is still acceptable for observation, but is very quickly perceived as a disturbing image error when taking pictures.

Optical image quality thanks to the use of high-quality glass elements ? SWAROVSKI OPTIK
Photography with binoculars, high-quality telephoto shots with a smartphone ? SWAROVSKI OPTIK

Focusing

Here it is important to rely more on manual focusing and to use the functions of the system cameras, such as focus peaking, in which the focal plane is made visible by a colored border. This makes it very easy to take sharp pictures of birds thanks to edge enhancement.

Photography with binoculars, high-quality telephoto shots with a smartphone ? SWAROVSKI OPTIK

Tips for digiscoping

  1. Only use the spotting scope on a tripod or bean bag
  2. Check all connections and make sure they are securely connected
  3. Use a shutter speed of less than 1/250th - e.g. 800mm focal length = 1/800th
  4. Use a remote shutter release, if necessary the smartphone app
  5. Switch on focus peaking / edge enhancement on your camera
  6. Make sure that you don't go too high with the ISO
  7. Switch your camera to RAW / raw format

The following video is part of a series from Swarovski Optiks on how to find the right settings. The videos are certainly not the latest, but they will help you develop a better understanding of exposure time and the like.

Optical glass quality from Swarovski - for high standards ? SWAROVSKI OPTIK

The quality plays the music

A good pair of binoculars or spotting scope should be characterized by its build quality and the glass used. After all, the better the components in the spotting scope, the better the imaging performance of the glass and the final result on your camera's memory card.

Swarovski attaches great importance to craftsmanship and the use of particularly high-quality and robust materials to ensure that the optical devices from Swarovski Optiks reliably accompany you on your journey in all weathers and conditions.

Digiscoping with spotting scopes from Swarovski ? SWAROVSKI OPTIK

Conclusion

Very long telephoto lenses can be very expensive and are usually in the upper five-digit euro range. Certainly you get some functions, such as autofocus and perhaps better image quality, but the combination of spotting scope and binoculars makes for a lighter, always-on combination at an affordable price.

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