Bird Photos Made Easy
Grab your binoculars and digital camera to discover the photo technique called digiscoping.
It was my very first morning in Panama City, and I was munching fresh papaya and sipping coffee. As I relaxed on the deck, I saw a rainbow of birds like tanagers and orioles flock to feeders filled with bananas.
I dashed back to my room, grabbed my spotting scope and camera and returned to the deck to settle into a chair. Then I spent the morning digiscoping some souvenir shots of those amazing birds.
So what is digiscoping, anyway? It’s really just a fancy word for using a digital camera with a pair of binoculars or spotting scope to take a photo of birds or wildlife.
Digiscoping started as a method for documenting unusual birds in a pinch, but now it’s a big hobby for bird-watchers everywhere.
You don’t have to be a hard-core birder to enjoy this photo technique. It’s just another way to get to know the birds visiting your backyard or to capture photos when traveling.
The most basic method of digiscoping is simply to hold a point-and-shoot camera up to the eyepiece of a pair of binoculars or scope and take photos. However, it’s virtually impossible to hold the camera steady. This is where special equipment can come in. Many manufacturers make adapters that slide over eyepieces to hold the camera firmly in place, minimizing the chance of blurry shots.
You don’t need a fancy camera to digiscope. A variety of cameras will work, from the basic point-and-shoot ones to the professional single-lens reflex ones. Even BlackBerry phones and iPhones can be used.
The key is to buy the best scope you can afford. The current selection is a bit overwhelming, but I find that a large objective lens (meaning there’s a large lens at one end of the scope) is best. To put it simply, the bigger the objective lens, the brighter the image will be through your scope.
Many scope manufacturers design camera adapters specifically for their scopes and keep a list of cameras that work best with each setup. So another method is to work backward: First choose a scope and then find out what camera options you have from there.
If your scope is older or if the company doesn’t make an adapter, look for a universal adapter. These work with almost all scopes and cameras, though they tend to require last-minute adjustments to line up the camera with the eyepiece. Keep in mind that this can be frustrating when you’re in the field; you might want a little more practice before you use a universal adapter.
Many people make their own adapters. I’ve seen homemade models that use everything from vitamin bottles and pesto jars to empty toilet paper tubes—recycling at its finest!
A Whole New World
The rule of thumb is that when you have a better-quality scope and camera, you’re going to get better photos. But even with a midprice scope and cheap digital camera, you can get some memorable shots. Nowadays, most digital cameras you can buy even have a video option, so digiscoping can also come in handy for backyard bird movies.
Like anything else, digiscoping takes a little practice and patience until you master it. But it’s a fun and easy hobby. Just take as many photos as you can. You’ll get better every day, and you just might discover a few surprise visitors at your feeder, too!