Digiscoping tips and tricks for novices and experts

Digiscoping is an activity that young and old, inexperienced and experienced can take part in. There are however some digiscoping tips that will make your experience much more enjoyable. Here are some of the tips I have come across.

Preventing vignetting

A spotting scope has the basic function of bringing a magnified image to the observer’s eye. Light enters the large objective lens at the end of the scope and comes out through the eyepiece as a round column of light known as the exit pupil. It is this column of light that the camera will be photographing so it must be centred accurately over the light column to prevent a condition known as vignetting or shadowing.

Try zooming the camera’s zoom lens (if it has a zoom lens – most do) to see if you can eliminate the black areas.

Very important: Please do not use the digital zoom feature to accomplish this! Stay in the optical zoom range because if you use the digital zoom, your image will suffer a loss of quality!

Preventing blurring

There may be several causes for blurred digiscoping images. The following points are important when digiscoping:

– Adjust the spotting scope’s focus correctly (focussing)
– Select the right camera settings (exposure time, ISO)
– Use the camera’s self-timer or a remote timer
– Create a steady position for the equipment (tripod)
– Take up a position out of the wind and
– Practice, practice, practice…

Adjust the scope’s focus correctly

Basically the camera captures every image reproduced through the scope. The more accurately the scope’s focus is adjusted (focussing) to the subject, the better the result.

Select the right camera settings

Aperture size, exposure time or shutter speed and ISO sensitivity have a major effect on the sharpness of the image in digiscoping. The risk of blurred images is much greater due to the high magnification of the scope combined with the camera.

The aperture is the opening which lets the light in to get to the CCD. By using a lower aperture number (i.e. f2.4), the aperture size is increased and allows more light into the camera. To achieve the correct exposure of the image, it is necessary to increase the exposure time when the aperture is small, or to increase the aperture if the exposure time is short.

Basically: The shorter the exposure time, the lower the risk of camera shake and of ending up with a blurred image.

Hence it is advisable to use the camera’s automatic exposure setting for “Speed” or “Sport” or “S”. This means: the setting with the fastest permissible time at the moment when the shutter release is pressed. A short exposure time must be selected manually if none of the settings mentioned are offered as standard in the camera’s programs.

The camera automatically selects the most favourable ISO sensitivity for the prevailing light conditions although this may also be adjusted manually.

A low ISO number, e.g. ISO 100 or 200 is suitable for good light conditions. The poorer and darker the environment, the higher the ISO number should be set to, e.g. to ISO 400 or 800.

So if the most suitable ISO sensitivity is selected (usually the sensitivity pre-selected automatically is exactly right), along with the “Speed” program setting, then nothing should go wrong. At most, one can alter the ISO number if the light fades or if one wishes to photograph subjects in motion.

Use the self-timer or a remote timer

The motto is: avoid all unnecessary movement. Literally holding one’s breath when photographing or taking a moment to relax beforehand can have a decisive effect.

Often, just the pressure of the finger on the shutter release button is enough to cause camera shake. Therefore the self-timer offers an excellent opportunity for overcoming this problem. There are two ways of doing this. One can use the camera’s built-in self-timer or a remote control (not available for all cameras). The camera itself provides the first option; the second allows the shutter release to be operated without having to touch the camera at all (and the camera, therefore, remains perfectly still).

Create a steady position

Ensure that at the time of taking the photograph the spotting scope combined with the camera is in a very steady position and not exposed to any shaking.

The tripod is an important requirement for sharp, contrast-rich images when taking photographs, much more so than when simply observing. Optimum stability is a significant factor in image quality.

Keep the tripod legs and centre column as low as possible when shooting to absorb vibrations more efficiently. A wooden or carbon-fibre tripod will absorb vibrations more efficiently than an aluminium tripod but the two drawbacks here are weight and cost respectively. Another alternative is a weight bag – an accessory that hangs below the centre column and may be filled with rocks, sand, etc. to provide additional cushioning of vibrations.

Related reading: Digiscoping 101 | Equipment for Digiscoping | Digiscoping Cameras