Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Digiscoping Today

Swarovski 80HD & UCA Adapter

Addendum: Make sure you read this!

It's increasingly difficult for me to recommend a particular camera model for digiscoping. Gone are the days of 'digiscoping simplicity' with with Nikon's Coolpix point & shoot digital cameras like the 990, 995, 4500, 8400, P5100, and P6000. The 900 series (including the 4500) had an internal zoom lens with a convenient 28mm filter thread where a DCA style digiscoping adapter could connect directly to the camera. The 8400, P5100, and P6000 had inexpensive UR-Enn accessory adapters that gave the camera a filter thread to facilitate a DCA connection. There were also digital cameras by Canon and Sony that offered similar configurations. Back in those days it was easy to recommend a camera for digiscoping.

It's a different story today. Point & shoot digital cameras with simple thread-based features are virtually non-existent, rendering DCAs somewhat obsolete for this type of digiscoping. (There might still be an accessory adapter option available for a point & shoot digital camera from BugEyeDigital, but selection is pretty limited.) This doesn't mean you can no longer use a point & shoot digital camera for digiscoping, but your best option at the present time is to go with a spotting scope that has a proprietary bracket adapter like the Swarovski UCA, Kowa's DA-4, or the Zeiss Quick Adapter II – all work extremely well. If you choose to digiscope with a DSLR, either a DCA or photo-adapter can be used; this is the most 'universality' you're likely to obtain in the realm of digiscoping.

While I really can't recommend a particular camera model for digiscoping, I can tell you what basic specifications it should have. For point & shoot digital cameras, make sure the optical zoom is 5x or less to eliminate problems with vignetting. Also, it's beneficial if the camera has a large LCD monitor (most do) so you can comfortably view what you're photographing. For DSLR to DCA configurations, you'll need a short focal length fixed lens like a 35mm, 40mm, or 50mm. Any DSLR will work with a photo-adapter provided you have the correct T-ring to complete the connection.

There is a free on-line forum where you can find what's on the cutting edge in terms of digital cameras for digiscoping, including newer 4/3's format. A few veteran digiscopers are constantly experimenting, especially Neil Fifer and Clay Taylor. So, if you're interested in digiscoping and are unsure of how to go about it, I recommend subscribing to the tech group so you can view their test results and follow the conversation. These are the individuals whose opinions I seek when I'm in the market for a new digiscoping camera.

For now, I'm a retro-digiscoper. I still use the discontinued Nikon Coolpix 8400 and probably won't upgrade to a different camera until it either dies or something better comes along. You can still find the 8400 on, but last time I checked they were priced around $800.00. Do your homework before you buy a scope, adapter, or digital camera. It's a very sad email or phone call when I have to tell someone what they've purchased isn't going to work.


  1. I gave up on my attempts to digiscope; I really can't afford the high-end scope, and my low-end scope has a tiny objective lens that just doesn't work with any of the cameras I've tried. I now use a point-and-shoot with 18X zoom and try to get as close as I can. I don't get world-class photos, but I enjoy the process and I've lowered my expectations.

    Still, someday....

  2. Mike-

    Much of the great summary remains relevant today, although it might be time for a more up-to-date version, since it addresses the questions digiscopers are most often asked by those wishing to get started. By the way, the CP8400, which Neil Fifer called one of the best digiscoping cameras ever made, can now be found on eBay for about $75!

    Cheers, Len

  3. Hi Len,

    You're right. Perhaps you should write one!