Thursday, March 2, 2017

Digiscoping on the Deck


Clay Taylor was in town for an impromptu digiscoping demo, so after deciding to have it at Estero Llano Grande SP, Keith asked me to attend, and I was happy to do so!  My own attempts at digiscoping had been pretty dismal, so I was eager to learn some tricks!

The very best way, of course, is to have the type of setup Clay had!  As a rep for Swarovski Optiks, he had use of a top of the line STX scope with an eyepiece adapter to which he could attach his SLR camera body!  Some of the photos he showed us were stupendous, and the equivalent telephoto lens you’d have to drag around would be prohibitive to say the least!  He also had an adapter for his IPhone, which was provided by Apple; apparently all you have to do is give them the diameter of your scope eyepiece, and they’ll provide one that will fit perfectly!  There are also multi-use smart-phone adapters on the market that come with a holder that will adjust to any size smart-phone, plus various rings that will fit any size scope (I tried one that Keith had and it worked like a charm)!

Cute little Brown Anole we enjoyed while Clay was setting up

Clay Taylor showing us how it's done!

But in the absence of any fancy gadgets, Clay showed me how to get the best you can with what you have:  with the camera function on your IPhone on, hold it up and away from the scope eyepiece, and look for the little dot of light in the scope (like the light at the end of a tunnel).  Then slowly close in on that to the point where you have the sharpest image.  Ideally, you’d probably have to have the eyecup extended, as that will allow you to rest your phone on the scope without the phone’s camera being right up on the eyepiece lens (which you don’t want; there needs to be a bit of space between the two).  Enlarging the image on your phone will do away with the vignetting, and by pressing your finger on the image so that it locks, you can adjust the exposure, which was a big issue with my previous attempts at digiscoping as the subject tended to be over-exposed.

Digiscoped image of a Green-winged Teal (above) and Northern Shoveler (using my IPhone 6 and Nikon scope)

The same birds taken with my Canon PowerShot XS50 (what really needs to be posted here are some of Clay's shots...)

The people who seemed most interested in Clay’s setup were those who already had “big guns” and were convinced that his results were much better than anything they had achieved with just the lens!  Indeed, I have a friend in the Houston area who takes all his pictures through his scope with a similar setup, and his photos are truly astounding!

Apparently you can use a mirrorless camera (like the point-and-shoot Canon SX50 Powershot that I use), but you need an adapter for that as well – you can’t just stick the camera up to the eyepiece like I used to be able to do with some older PAS’s.  The irony is that the Powershot itself has the equivalent of a 1200mm zoom on it, so the pictures I can get with the camera are actually better than what I try to digiscope with my IPhone!  (Plus my scope is not a Swarovski… J)  But you get what you pay for, and Clay explained that the more expensive SLR cameras (as opposed to my affordable Powershot) has better sensors, which results in a sharper image and less graininess at high ISO levels (and I can attest to that, comparing side-by-side photos of a lost Northern Jacana at the same park under the same conditions, one taken by my friend  with a Canon 70D and Sigma 50-500mm lens which was crystal clear, and my own photo that looked like an impressionist painting…)!  But there’s no question about it: if you want to get knock-your-socks-off photos without breaking the bank (or your back), digiscoping with a quality setup is the way to go!

More birds shot off the deck with the Powershot:

Green-winged Teal

Snoozing Gadwall

Sunning Great Blue Heron

Cinnamon Teal

Adult and immature White Ibis

Snowy Egret

Clay pointed out a subtle trick to help tell a female Blue-winged Teal (left) from a female Green-winged (center and right): the breast speckling on the Greenwing is a bit more crisp than on the Bluewing!
The afternoon light brings out the brilliance on this male Green-winged Teal!
At a different angle, the "green wing" actually looks more blue!

Here are the birds logged while shooting off the deck:

  Mottled Duck                         
  Blue-winged Teal                     
  Cinnamon Teal                        
  Northern Shoveler                    
  Northern Pintail                     
  Green-winged Teal                    
  Plain Chachalaca                     
  Least Grebe                          
  Pied-billed Grebe                    
  American White Pelican               
  Great Blue Heron                     
  Snowy Egret                          
  White Ibis                           
  American Coot                        
  Wilson's Snipe                       
  Buff-bellied Hummingbird             
  Green Kingfisher                     
  Golden-fronted Woodpecker            
  Ladder-backed Woodpecker             
  Vermilion Flycatcher                 
  Great Kiskadee                       
  Black-crested Titmouse                
  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                
  Northern Mockingbird                 
  Orange-crowned Warbler               
  Common Yellowthroat                  
  Lincoln's Sparrow                    
  Northern Cardinal                    
  Red-winged Blackbird                 
  Lesser Goldfinch                     


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