by Justin Carr
A digiscoping journey
I started taking video in 1996 with my first camcorder – an impulse buy. I realised sometime in 1998 I could get reasonable video through my spotting scope. My first real rare bird video- scoped was the Druridge Slender-billed Curlew (video now on youtube). Over the next few years I became quite accomplished. I was contacted by Birdguides who wanted to use my video in their DVD and CD-rom identification guides.
In 2007 I wanted a new challenge so I bought my first digital camera, a Sony P200. This was a very good camera at the time for digiscoping. The first few months of snapping away was a very hit and miss affair; getting a decent image more miss than hit, but with practice I gradually improved. My next camera a couple of years later was a Sony N1 which was a major let down due to several factors, e.g. lots of noise, dull colours of the image and the inability to get a sharp image. That camera lasted only months before I upgraded to the tried and tested (in digiscoping terms) Nikon P5100 and a great camera it was too. With this camera coupled to my Swarovski scope I improved a lot. I used this kit until about 2009 when a friend told me about some images he had seen on-line, digiscoped with a new type of camera.
Micro four thirds
Panasonic had produced it along with a few other companies using what is called micro four thirds. Panasonics’ first was the G1 and the images on this website blew me away. To me this was the way forward!! I had to have this camera but by the time I had scraped the money together the G2 was out so that was my new acquisition. But, and there was a big BUT. It didn’t work! The vignetting was terrible. It was August and the Birdfair was coming up so I went armed with camera to ask advice from Swarovski as I suspected the lens was the problem: It could potentially be rectified with using Panasonic’s 20mm lens; £330 at the time GULP!!!
Going for it
So I bit the bullet and purchased this cracking little super fast lens that has transformed my digiscoping. I used this camera, still on my swaro scope, for prob the next two years ’till a friend asked if I was interested in buying his Panasonic GH2 which had 16 mega pixel up from the 12 of the G2.
This is now my current set up: Panasonic GH2 with 20mm lens on a Swarovski 80mm HD with 30x wide angle lens using Swarovski’s DCB1 bracket plus hahnel combi tf wireless remote.
Getting flight shots
The remote is very important for two reasons, first it stops camera shake, but as important to me allows you to get flight shots. You hold the remote and panning handle on the tripod in one hand with you other hand focusing the scope as in the pic to the right >>>>
Quick low down on my camera settings: camera always set on aperture priority, focus set to manual most of the time, iso set manually ( this gives you some control over shutter speed I set the iso up to 1250 if I need a fast shutter for something like a flight shot). I also shoot in burst mode which gives me roughly 5 frames per sec. I always have the aperture set at f1.7 (gives fast shutter).
Bird activity and better pictures
When shooting I try to get something different from a bird just sitting on a branch the trick is to anticipate when a bird is going to do something i.e. when a bird is preening they very often finish with a stretch of its wings always looks good. Stand there with finger on trigger ready for that moment.
I always if possible try to give the bird uncluttered surroundings, backgrounds are important to try to give some distance between the bird and say for instance bushes behind this gives a pleasant blurred background.
I use Lightroom to edit but do only a few things to enhance: crop,levels,saturation, and last sharpen.
Justin Carr, South Yorkshire
N.B. more of Justin’s digiscoped photos coming soon in part 2.