Camera tips for Digiscoping

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Maximum Light, Maximum Speed, Minimum Touch

by Steve Blain 

Improving…

So, what’s the easiest thing you can do to improve your digiscoping? Get to know your camera. I know it sounds obvious, but most people don’t really understand what their camera settings do and how it affects their images. Understanding your camera settings will definitely improve your images.

Assuming you know how to work your camera, do you know how to set it up for digiscoping? Usually, best results for digscoping rely on your camera being set to accept the maximum amount of light available. Your ‘scope defines the amount of light available so all you need to do is set your camera up so it accepts as much of it as possible and converts it to a fast shutter-speed.

“What if I want to change the depth-of-field in my image?” (the amount of the image in focus) I hear you cry. You can forget about trying to alter the depth-of-field when digiscoping. Again, this is totally dependent on the apature of your ‘scope (how big your objective lens is and the magnification of the eyepiece you’re using). So with this in mind, all you need to do is set up your camera so it shoots at the maximum shutter-speed.

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……………………………………The view through my Nikon V1

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Why at the maximum shutter-speed?

The biggest enemy of digiscoping is vibration. The higher the shutter-speed you can achieve, the better chance you have of getting a sharp image. You have to remember that you probably have something like a camera, attached to digiscoping adapter, attached to a telescope eyepiece, attached to a ‘scope, attached to a quick-release plate, attached to a tripod head, attached to a tripod. All of these things are weak points which could induce shake or wobble. Even if the shake is tiny this could make your images blurred. Do not forget that you are also working at extremely high magnifications, so a very small movement on your tripod head could translate in to your whole image shaking around by the time it reaches your camera. A tip is to make your tripod as solid as possible – even hang a weight from the bottom of it to dampen any vibrations, or even put a bean-bag on top of your scope to try to keep things steady, especially if it’s windy. The tripod is an important ingredient to top-class digiscoping images.

Camera settings

Finding the best settings on your camera could be a bit of trial and error. There are actually so many cameras these days which take a good digiscoped image that giving settings for all could take forever. When you look at your settings you are ideally looking at setting it up in ‘Aperture priority’ mode, and setting the lens aperture at its widest (its smallest number – eg f.2.0 or f.3.6, rather than f.10 or f.16 etc). If you don’t have an Aperture Priorty mode try using something like ‘Sports’ mode which aims to freeze action – this will set your camera up in a similar way in that it will maximise the amount of light and translate it to fast shutter-speeds.

Traditionally, your ISO number (your ISO setting controls how sensitive your camera is to light) had to be at its lowest to achieve good quality images. These days the handling of ISO in newer cameras is outstanding so there’s no need to go for the lowest possible any more. It still affects how good the image is, but if you’re faced with darkening skies and slow shutter speeds, bump it up!

Redstart_Broom_11Oct10aThis Redstart image was taken at dusk using ISO 1000 and at 1/15th of a second. Don’t be afraid to up your ISO. Imagine if you’d just found a Sibe Blue Robin!

Don’t touch it!

Tripping the shutter often introduces shake. There are several ways to minimise this. The first is to use the timer. Many cameras have the ability to set a timer which takes a shot after several seconds. If you have a co-operative bird this can be an excellent way of getting good, shake-free images. Some of the better cameras have the ability to set a custom timer, where you can set the length of time it takes to take the first shot, then set how many shots it takes. I usually have mine set to take three shots after one second. A second is just enough time for any vibrations mostly settle down, and three shots is a good burst. Often the first shot will be slightly blurred with the second or third sharper.

Another option for tripping the shutter with minumal vibration is to use a remote or mechanical shutter-release. New cameras often have the ability to use either a wired or infra-red remote to trip the shutter. These can be better than a timer as you have more control over when you capture an image. The down-side to some of this is their ability to break down unexpectedly, or the battery die just as the bird performs. A perhaps more reliable option is to use a mechanical (wired) shutter release which can be fitted over the shutter-release button and depressed when you need to. These of course aren’t completely free of problems, but for many a much more reliable option for capturing ‘the moment’ with minimal fuss and vibration.

RemoteForV1Vibrations are digiscoping’s enemy. Try using a remote to reduce them as much as possible.

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