For decades, birdwatchers, and wildlife photographers have been straddling the line between getting close enough to their subjects to see them clearly, but far enough away to not disturb them or scare them away. Wildlife photography enthusiasts tend to opt for cameras with telephoto lenses to get the photos in the high level of detail they required. But did you know that you could use a spotting scope to get incredible photographs with just a smart phone? The technique is called digiscoping - and it has turned wildlife and aviation photography into an affordable activity that allows an extraordinary connection to the natural world, or any distant subject. Read on to find out about spotting scopes, and how you can use them to zoom in on wildlife and more, to capture your subject in its natural habitat.
What are spotting scopes?
Like telescopes, spotting scopes are high-magnification instruments designed to see objects from a distance, but they are specifically designed for use on land. This makes them a great choice for birdwatchers, aviation spotters and marksmen alike. Their small size and waterproof rubber armoured housing lend themselves excellently to spending hours in rainy, possibly muddy fields prone to splashes and drops, far better than a heavy, more fragile telescope. But their benefits don’t stop there. With magnification equivalent to a lens of 1,250 to 3,000mm, they outshine binoculars or even a 500mm telephoto lens in a big way.
What does that mean for birdwatchers?
Imagine spotting a nest in the distance with a pair of binoculars, completely invisible to the naked eye. You could easily focus your spotting scope onto it whilst being far enough away to be no threat to the birds and watch as their parents bring food to their nestlings. Because of its wide objective lens of generally at least 65mm, the spotting scope is great at gathering light making it superb in low light – far better than binoculars. So, even if your nestlings don’t reveal themselves until twilight, you’ll still be able to see them eating their supper. If being able to shoot in low light is a priority for you, the Celestron Ultima 100 Angled Spotting Scope has a large aperture allowing for 50% brighter images than the 80mm variants.
A bird in the hand…
When you finally get to see your lesser-spotted woodpecker or capercaillie, a souvenir of the sighting is essential if you are going to believe your eyes or your memory when you get back to the lodge / cabin / your house. That’s where digiscoping comes in. In a nutshell, digiscoping is a type of afocal photography - it involves taking images through a spotting scope rather than a camera lens. You can do digiscoping for anything you would use a spotting scope for; including sea and sky observations as well as nature studies.
This isn’t a new technology, people have been digiscoping for decades, however, advances in optics and camera technology mean that it is accessible to anyone with a camera or even a smartphone. They produce amazing details, and in with forced depth of field they are capable of producing extraordinary images.
Image: Golden-bellied starfrontlet by Oswaldo Cortes Birding Tours on Instagram @oswaldobirdingandnaturetours
What spotting scope should I get?
Start with your spotting scope that works for you. Depending on what you want to use your spotting scope for, you can select your eyepiece variants. The angled (45 degree) one is the choice for standing up in the field, and the straight (90 degree) one is better for when you’re sitting down with a tripod for prolonged periods of time, eg in a bird hide. In terms of lens size, the bigger the objective lens diameter, the more superior the image (when all other elements are the same). But the wider the lens the heavier and bigger the scope, so it can depend on what you are willing to carry. At the other end of the scale, lighter small scopes are great for extra portability and can slot into a backpack or pocket with ease, such as the very small Celestron Hummingbird Micro Spotting Scope.
Pictured: Celestron Trailseeker 100 Straight Spotting Scope
Get the kit
The great thing about digiscoping is you can use your smart phone, or existing mirrorless or DSLR camera to capture your picture, turning the kit you already own into an affordable and durable telephoto lens, and even just use the screen to see your subject more comfortably.
If you’re using a smart phone, you’ll just need a smartphone adapter, whereas using a DSLR or Mirrorless camera requires a brand specific ring and Universal T-Adapter. Celestron spotting scopes already come with a T-Adapter, leaving just the T-ring to be purchased for your specific brand of camera, but these are readily available from us.
With higher magnifications the slightest vibration can cause image shake resulting in a blurry photo, so when using the spotting scope, you’ll need a tripod to make sure you get the clarity and detail they are known for. Although we supply smartphone adapters that reduce image shake, when using a DSLR or mirrorless adapter we would advise setting the timer to allow the vibrations to settle down after clicking the button, or even investing in a remote shutter controller.
Image: Snowy Egret taken by @digiscopingog on Instagram
Capture your Wild Side
Once you’ve got your adapter, tripod and camera of choice, you can be free to start digiscoping and experiencing the highly detailed imagery it can provide. Capturing images with this technique results in un-matched sharpness, clarity and closeness to nature or any subject. So, if you’re interested in wildlife, sea or aviation photography, we would highly recommend this as way to get incredible close-ups, for less.
You can start digiscoping today when you buy from Jessops. With our current offers on, you can get the Celestron NeXYZ smartphone adapter worth £49.99 free with selected Celestron Spotting scopes. Click here to see the selection. As always, if you share your images on social media, we would love to see them, so tag @jessops on Instagram so we don’t miss them, and #jessopsmoment for a chance to have your image featured.
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