Category Archives: Digiscoping

Why I chose a GX7 for digiscoping

By Steve Blain

Although I was generally happy with my Nikon V1 for digiscoping, I was looking for a step up in image quality.  The new wave of micro four-thirds cameras and high end compacts are giving excellent results, but which one to go for?  A bit of a crunch point came when my Nikon V1 lens started to malfunction, so I took the oportunity to get a new camera.

My Nikon V1 on my Swarovski ATS 80 HD and some Pine Warblers. Florida, January 2015

I was looking at a range of options.  My short-list included the Panasonic GH4, GH3, GX7, Sony NEX 6, A6000, RX100 mk2 and RX100 mk3, and Nikon V3.  For a handy side-by-side comparison of them all on DPreview.com click here.

They all seemed to have fantastic image quality but the ergonomics varied.  The questions I asked myself were these

  • Electronic View Finder – How much do I want or need an electronic view finder (EVF)? Some models had one as standard, others they were optional, and the quality of the EVF’s also varied.
  • Video quality and function – as I turn to this medium regularly to capture behaviour, good video capability was necessary.
  • Cost – Always a factor, with the highest value being the Panasonic GH4 (over £1200) down to the ‘cheapest’ being the Sony RX100 mk2 (at around £350).
  • Connectivity to my scope – will I have to purchase a new digiscoping adapter to make any new camera fit to my scopes eyepieces? A new adapter would add to the total cost.
  • Track record – how many other digiscopers use each camera?
  • How old are the cameras – were the manufacturers just about to bring out a new model with better specs?

 

Which camera?

Almost all the digiscoping ‘names’ online are now using a Panasonic GH4 for their digiscoping.  There are still a few who favour the Sony RX100 compact line but these are very much in the minority.  However, that option was certainly the least expensive out of those I’ve listed, and when I tested an RX100 in Cyprus the other year it produced lovely results, but I found the focus hard to acheive while only using the back screen to focus (no EVF).  The Mk2 version has an optional EVF, but this bumps up the price considerably and the Mk3 version has a built-in EVF but the resolution of it isn’t terribly high (in fact it is the same as my V1).  These are the only true compact cameras I considered looking at.  However, if I chose any of them I would need a new digiscoping adapter too.

The Nikon V3 looked an interesting option but the two digiscopers I knew had used one were not terribly impressed with the image quality (still a bit noisey), so that was out.  The two Sony’s were interesting too, but again the couple of digiscopers I know who had used them weren’t terribly impressed with their images either and had soon swapped cameras.

This brought be right back round to the tried and tested Panasonic micro 4/3’s line up – the GH4, GH3, and the GX7.  Out of the three the GH3 was the oldest – and the one Justin Carr uses.  Obviously this is a brilliant camera and produces great results but it has slightly older technology than in the GH4 and GX7.  So was the decision down to the GH4 and GX7?  There are three main differences between them – video quality, EVF quiality and price.  The video on the GH4 is 4K and on the GX7 it is standard HD – the price of the GX7 is around half that of the GH4 – and the EVF of the GH4 is bigger and brighter (although the resolution is similar).  Was the 4K video and nicer EVF really worth an extra £500?

I’d done some reading up around 4K video and what it really meant.  There is no doubt the quality of the video is far higher than anything else out there – each video frame is the equivilent of an 8 megapixel stills image!  However, it really eats your memory (they are huge files!) and you need a very powerful computer to work with the files too.  That said, the ability to take 30 frames a second of 8 megapixel images for almost half an hour means you could capture some fantastic images!  Very appealing indeed, however, we’re really at the birth of this type of technology in consumer cameras and the GH4 was the first to bring it to a mass market.  Working with such huge file sizes frame by frame also takes a totally different working approach and my computer would probably stuggle with them too.  I was leaning away from a GH4 on this factor alone.  However, given a couple more years, I suspect 4K video will become the norm, and certainly for birding and digiscoping it will open up a whole new world for capturing birds in incredible detail.

So where did that leave me?  It appeared we had a winner – the Panasonic GX7.  The other advantage this camera had over both the GH4 and the GH3 was size.  This is a much smaller range-finder type of camera and fits far better in a small shoulder bag than either of its bigger brothers would.

 

Lenses

The Panasonic 20mm f1.7 is widely regarded as one of the best lenses available for digiscoping on micro four-thirds cameras.  Unfortunately you are limited to manual focusing with it but with ‘focus peaking’ (dancing coloured pixels that show up around anything that is in focus) and a good EVF this process is fairly straight forward.  It is a also a short ‘pancake’ lens and in-keeping with my desire for a compact digiscoping set-up.

However, I was keen for more reach and the ability to use auto-focus.  After much research one lens stood out – the Olympus 14-42mm.  This compact zoom lenses construction made it vignette much less than the Panasonic equivalent and as it has all internal focusing, auto-focus works well too.  However, on using this lens for a while it is clear the coatings aren’t as good as the 20mm f1.7 – the colours aren’t as vivid and the contrast is lower with the zoom.  I am now wondering whether a fixed 30mm or 45mm lens will give me the boost I’m after for distant birds?  Another option is to use a conversion adapter with my Canon 50mm f1.8 lens – I am currently testing this out.

 

Which eyepiece to use?

Of course more reach could be achieved with the zoom on the scopes eyepiece – as I use a Swarovski ATS 80 HD the 25-50x would be the best to use.  However, thank’s to a chat to Justin Carr, the fixed 30x eyepiece seemed to be the one to use for quality – and so it has proven.

Spotted Flycatcher taken with the Panasonic GX7, 20mm f.1.7 lens, Swarovski ATS 80 HD and 30x eyepiece – quality.

Connectivity to my scope

Once I’d decided which camera to go for this became much simpler.  The GX7 being a rangefinder style camera is much lighter than the GH series, and which most digiscopers use with a platform type of adapter, connecting to the tripod bush below the camera.  I wanted to use my current gear which includes one of the very first adapters Swarovski made – the DCA.  It is still a very effective ‘bucket’ design which screws on to the lens of your camera and simply slots over the top of your eyepiece.  I like it a lot – it is quick, simple and has never let me down.

Don’t get me wrong, a platform adapter is probably the best all round design – it doesn’t put a strain on the filter thread of your lenses like the DCA does and it makes for a very secure fit to your scope.  However it also makes your whole set up more bulky and heavier too.  I’m still very much a birder first and digiscoper second so these last two points are important to consider when looking at the overall picture.

Now, all I need to do is make sure I could connect my lenses to one of my various DCA front plates.  The Olympus has a 37mm filter thread so that was easy – it went straight on the 37mm front plate.  The Panasonic 20mm was a bit more difficult as it has a 46mm filter thread.  This needed a stepping ring to match it to my 52mm front plate (very simply ordered off the internet).

Panasonic GX7, 46mm-52mm stepping ring, and Swarovski DCA adapter

 

So the next big question was – is there going to be any vignetting when using the lenses with my eyepieces?  Well, yes and no.  The Olympus does vignette, as expected, at the low end of its zoom range.  But this disappears at around 18mm – so very usable indeed.  The 20mm was just as good on the 30x eyepiece with no vignetting, and the same on the 25-50x.  However there was significant vignetting with the 20x eyepiece.  This was a bit disappointing as I really love using this eyepiece for close stuff.  I managed to work around this issue with a different digiscoping adapter I have though, so all was not lost.

The last thing to do was to test each eyepiece and lens combination to see which produced the best results.  I am still running through these, but I did have a tip-off from Justin Carr about what his favorite was – the fixed 30x eyepiece and 20mm f1.7 lens.  And he was absolutely right, in the few brief tests I’ve done this combo has been excellent and is currently my ‘go to’ set up for quality shots.

So, there you have it – my process for deciding on which camera to get for digiscoping, and how I resolved attaching it to my scope.

My new digiscoping set-up. Just what I’m after – compact, light, quick to attach and takes fantastic images and video.

A Rather confiding Red Footed Falcon Digiscoped

Posted by Justin Carr

A very showy  Red footed Falcon had been present in Deepest Staffordshire for nearly a week, luckily it decided to stick around for my next free day. Red foots are a cracking small falcon which drift over from Eastern Europe in Varying numbers mostly associating with South Easterly winds in May. When we arrived on site, i was surprised  to to see such a large crowd gathered i shouldn’t have been really with how amazingly close the bird showed, i should just say everyone stood behind a fence, it was the bird that came close to us not vice versa.         these are just a few of my favorite shots of the Stunning first Summer male.

All images Digiscoped on a Swarovski ATX 85                                                                                            Good Digiscoping!!

Digiscoping Swifts and phonescoping Whinchats.

Posted by Justin Carr.

I recently took a trip to the Old Moor RSPB reserve for an American wigeon, after getting good but distant scope views my attention turned to the many hundreds of common swift over the reserve, there had earlier been an Alpine swift pass through spurn earlier in the day, so after a scan through the flock in the hope of picking up the rare visitor from the Med, i thought i would have a go at photographing its common relative. below is the best of my efforts.

feeding swift

feeding swift

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I have to admit the top image was a pure fluke but thats how it works sometimes.

The next two images were taken on a trip into the Peak district, they where both phonescoped with an LG G4 handheld to the scope.

Whinchat

Whinchat

Whinchat

Whinchat

All images taken on a Swarovski ATX 85.

Good Digiscoping.

 

Time for a change

By Steve Blain

It was time for a new digiscoping camera earlier in the year, but which one to go for? I couldn’t decide whether to go for another compact camera, or to move up to a micro four-thirds.  A lot of research later and talking to a few friends for advice I made the leap and purchased a Panasonic GX7 and 20mm f1.7 lens.

I will follow this post up soon with one about my current set up and how it connects to my scope – it’s very straight forward.  Needless to say I am very pleased with it and how it performs.  Below are some of the shots I’ve taken during the last couple of months – all of them link through to larger images so please click on them and take a closer look.

All shot using a Swarovski ATS 80 HD with either the 30x fixed eyepiece or the 25-50x zoom.

Yellowhammer, Broom GP

Robin, Biggleswade

Corn Bunting, Biggleswade Common (shot at ISO 2000)

Dartford Warbler

Little Gull, Broom GP

Grasshopper Warbler, Willington GP

Meadow Pipit, Biggleswade

Meadow Pipit, Biggleswade

Meadow Pipit, Biggleswade

A Quiet Spring so Far? Not if You’re a Photographer.

posted by Justin Carr.

As a birder it may have been a quiet spring for birders here in the UK the lack of a prolonged spell of easterly winds has meant a lack of rare and scarce birds reaching our shores. But being a Photographer/Digiscoper I always have something to keep me occupied when the birding is a little steady. Over the last few weeks I have enjoy some local birding as well as a couple of trips to my favorite migrant hotspot Spurn. Here are a few shots, Digiscoped as always.

Arctic tern

Arctic tern

This Arctic Tern was at Lakeside Doncaster, note the grey markings on its forewing making it possibly a 2nd summer bird a rarely seen plumage in the UK as immature birds tend to stay on their wintering grounds.

Swallow

Swallow

Red necked Grebe

Red necked Grebe

This Red necked Grebe had a good stay at Hornsea mere.  Thanks must go to Garry Taylor who rang me up to say he had really close views that morning.

Mallard also Hornsea mere

Mallard also Hornsea mere.

This shot of this Mallard demonstrates the shallow depth of field Digiscoping creates giving an interesting look to the image.

Redshank Old moor RSPB.

Redshank Old moor RSPB.

Tundra Ringed Plover Hatfield Moors

Tundra Ringed Plover Hatfield Moors.

Well Spring isn’t over yet so lets pray for easterlies over the next couple of weeks.

All shots Digiscoped on a Swarovski ATX 85.

World Digiscopers Meeting, part 3

posted by Justin Carr.

This posting is my final post on my amazing experience my friends and I had in Florida back in January. For those who didn’t see the last 2 posts let me briefly explain what the meeting was.

This get-together was for Digiscopers from all over the world. A lot of us sort of knew each other through social media so it was a great opportunity for us to meet face to face. And of course,  a spot of scoping along the way. :) Here are the last of my favourite  shots from the trip.

Anhinga

Anhinga

Logger head shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

Great blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

American Bittern

American Bitttern

Ring necked Duck

Ring-necked Duck.

phpeZAPdAPM

the butterfly above was digiscoped through a pair of Swarovski 8.5 x 42 els

Red shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

 Dunlin

Dunlin: subspecies hudsonia

Sunrise over Merrit Island

Sunrise over Merrit Island

The above shows Digiscoping doesn’t always have to be birds.

Wood ibis

Wood ibis

No I haven’t  messed up posting upside down this is a reflection as you have probably guessed.

Green Heron

Green Heron

I would like to give special thanks to Danny Porter (Danny’s Digiscoping) for being my partner in crime, and also Mr Robert Wilson for being the brainchild of this Amazing event.

I hope it will be the first of many world Digiscopers meetings!

 

 

How Digiscoping has brought back my youthful way of looking at birds

Justin Carr

Recently I was privileged to do my first one-on-one Digiscoping workshop at the Old Moor RSPB reserve.

The facilities there have been designed specifically for photographers with a small hide sunk into the ground so as you look out of the hide your eyes are at ground level. It’s ideal for photographing feeding birds at point-blank range. Birds such as Bullfinches, Greenfinches, and various Buntings. Most of these birds, experienced birder’s (me included) take for granted. Seeing and  photographing these birds at only a few feet in front of me and my client gave us both a real buzz  bringing back that felling I had when I started out birding in my early teens.

My local patch ‘Back in the Day’ was my grandparents back garden which had numerous feeders hung up. Many an exiting hour was spent watching and recording the bird that visited. A chart was kept, with the species and numbers recorded month by month. My rarities were Reed Buntings and Siskin. These two birds really got the juices flowing. The point I am trying to make is the more experience we get the more we forget how exciting our common birds can be.

We all like finding and seeing Rarities but don’t forget to enjoy the common ones too before they become Rarities. Here are a few images to inspire you!!

A stunning male Bullfinch

A stunning male Bullfinch

Male yellowhammer another stunning bird

Male Yellowhammer. Another stunning bird

Redwing

How often do we really look at Redwings.

Redwing

Redwing

Pheasant

Pheasant

and it’s not just male Pheasants that are attractive.

And from the Old Moor to Harpham East Yorks for the long staying Black-bellied Dipper, one of my favorite birds.

Black Bellied Dipper

Black Bellied Dipper

One more thing.

Being a photographer by spending time looking through a lens you see different aspects of a birds behavior. This Wren below was on Kelk beck with the Dipper it worked its way along the river edge gleaning insects from the water and at on point dipped its head into the water to pick food from below the surface. How many of you have seen this behavior before?

Wren

Wren

all images Digiscoped on a Swarovski 80.