Spotting Scopes

Many spotting scopes are capable of being used successfully for digiscoping.
An important feature of a spotting scope that will be used for digiscoping is the size of it's objective lens.

Light entering the camera lens will be severely reduced at the high magnifications achieved by a spotting scope......this restricts the shutter-speeds available to the camera and motion blur and camera-shake will become more of a problem. Spotting scopes with an objective lens of 77mm, 80mm, 82mm or greater are advisable. Smaller scopes may give acceptable results in bright conditions but when the weather isn't quite so good, you will have problems getting a shutter-speed fast enough to freeze movement.

Another key element of spotting scopes is the quality of the glass used. Most manufacturers produce two versions of each model, one with standard coated glass and another with high quality glass. These high quality glassed scopes offer far better image quality for digiscoping purposes, though the difference is less apparent when viewing through the scope with the naked-eye.

Various names are given to theses 'special' glasses: APO, Fluorite, ED and HD......They all offer slightly different properties, but the end result is a superior image in every respect.
In addition to each model being available in standard or high quality glass, every model is available with a straight eyepiece mount or an angled eyepiece mount. I don't think this is particularly relevant as far as digiscoping is concerned, and is a matter of personal preference.
Here's a brief look at the main spotting scopes available:

Kowa TSN 1,2,3,4.
This range has 77mm objective lenses. TSN 3,4 use Fluorite glass. No longer in production, but excellent value if purchased secondhand (many of my pics were taken with the TSN4).

Kowa TSN 821,822,823,824.
This range has 82mm objective lenses. TSN 823,824 use Fluorite glass. Had a recent face-lift and called the 'M' series. The Zoom eyepiece is one of the best around. Many birders would put the 823/4 and zoom eyepiece ahead of the Leica in terms of optical performance.

Leica Televid 77, APO77.
These scopes have an excellent reputation for colour accuracy and produce great results. The zoom eyepiece isn't the greatest around, though it's getting better with each new version. In some respects this scope is falling behind the latest offerings by competing manufacturers, a new 80mm+ Leica is being designed at the moment.

Nikon
Nikon produce a number of excellent spotting scopes. The new Nikon eyepieces may not be
Digiscoping-friendly with a number of commercial adapters. Very few digiscopers/birders seem to use Nikon scopes in the U.K?, so there's a lack of feedback on how they perform. I've seen pics taken with the ED78III and these were very good. Nikon now produce their own adapters for use with the new MC series e.p's .....seem to work perfectly, see photo at bottom of page. The Nikon 82mm ED is a good choice, more intersting because it's 35mm photo adapter (for using scope as a prime lens) allows full exposure and metering on a Nikon camera. Using a scope with a 35mm photo adapter is usually hit or miss but with metering and exposure control,things are far easier. With the new Nikon 'DS' eyepieces and Nikon's own adapter system, digiscoping is far better with Nikon scopes than ever before. I would recommend the Nikon P5000 with these eyepieces.

Swarovski 80, 80HD.
These scopes use 80mm objective lenses. One of the most popular spotting scopes for digiscoping, due to the excellent 20-60x zoom eyepiece.

Swarovski ATS/STS80 series.
An 80mm version of the ATS/STS65 scope. Lighter in weight and more compact in size than any of the competitors, smoothed out shape and green rubber armouring. Excellent optics, though it's hard to tell the difference between this and the previous model, maybe more contrast? Very expensive!

Swarovski ATS/STS65HD.
This new scope gives an amazing amount of light considering it's objective lens size. I've heard very good reports on it's performance for digiscoping. The size and weight are certainly a bonus.

Zeiss 85T*FL.
Courtesy of Zeiss U.K. I tested the Diascope 85fl with 20-60x and 40x eyepieces for 2 months from a digiscoping perspective. The 40x eyepiece was just a little too powerful for digiscoping use. My own preference is for the flexibility of a zoom eyepiece but the Zeiss 30x will be very suitable for those who prefer the fixed variety.
The twist-up/down eyecups were very efficient; in the lowered position they do not protrude above the eyepiece glass, therefore allowing the camera lens to get very close and minimise vignetting.
The scope uses a twin focus knob system; I'm not huge fan of twin focus designs with the view that a single well geared control is good enough and that a fine focus knob can encourage unnecessary fiddling. I know many that love their dual controls and no doubt Zeiss would have been criticised by many if they hadn't decided on that route.
In addition there is a nice long lens shade that pulls out over the objective lens, sitting upon the shade is a sighting device consisting of fore and rear sight posts so as not cause any parallax problems.

A major bonus was that the design of the zoom eyepiece is such that it can be rotated with the camera firmly attached via a typical digiscoping adapter. Digiscopers using other scopes are currently paying small fortunes on specialised adapters that have cutouts to allow zoom operation.

Vignetting was minimal @20x on the zoom eyepiece, disappearing completely when the camera zoom was increased to one third of it's range, even at higher magnifications on the eyepiece there was plenty of travel in the camera zoom before vignetting appeared.
There is some minor distortion around the edge of the image with the 20-60x at 20x, this caused by the extra wide field of view presented, but it's of no importance from a digiscoping perspective and disappears very quickly as the zoom is increased.
Performance was very good with the resolution from this scope at above 30x being exceptional (it's class leading above 40x). The image is indisputably brighter than any of its competitors, though I felt there was a slight price to pay for this in terms of contrast when compared to the other high-end scopes. Although contrast can be boosted in-computer/in-camera, it does aid focussing the scope via the camera monitor if a high contrast image is presented by the scope in the first place.

Chromatic aberration from the scope was not detected during my testing; the only colour fringing was the famous 'purple fringe' of the Nikon Coolpix camera.

I don't think anyone would be disappointed by the results from this scope and it's difficult to think of another lightweight and compact scope that delivers the performance of this scope for less money.


Pentax ED80.
This much talked about scope is interesting in that it uses large (monstrous) astro type eyepieces. There's little doubt about the quality of these eyepieces, but some questions raised about why some reviewers love the optical performance.....and others think it's rubbish. It has been said that quality control may be at fault, leading to rogues examples (are the rogue scopes the good ones or the bad ones?) To be released in the U.K. in Autumn 2002. Also the Pentax 100mm version is available.

                                                              Eyepieces                        
Zoom eyepieces have improved greatly over the last few years, but only the very best can compete on optical terms with a fixed one.
A greater field of view is available from fixed magnification eyepieces, but this doesn't have any benefit when the camera is up against the eyepiece. It's probably best to stick to the eyepiece you use for normal birding, you'll only have the camera against the scope for a small percentage of the time...birding first, digiscoping second. Having said that, the photographic results will be consistantly better if you use a lower magnification eyepiece, between 20x -30x.... this is purely down to the light allowing faster shutter-speeds at lower magnifications. DON'T BE GREEDY WITH MAGNIFICATION, and this applies to the amount of in-camera zoom you use as well, though you may have to zoom in to reduce vignetting.

Eagle-eye Opticzooms  Produce an eyepiece that will fit on most spotting scopes (via a small adapter). This eyepiece is 12x magnification (though that may change on different scopes) and aimed at the videocam user, but it will allow digital still cameras with large diameter lenses to be used with far less vignetting than with conventional eyepieces.  The results from this eyepiece can be amazingly good, well known U.K. rarity photographer Paul Hackett has taken some outstanding photos with this eyepiece and the Nikon cp4500, though obviously you do need to get closer to the subject.
                           Digital Cameras For The Task
Nikon:
Currrently, the Nikon best suited for digiscoping is the P5000. This has image stabilisation, a large monitor and, with the UR-E20 adapter, gives a very handy 28mm thread for use on many digiscoping adapters.

Many digiscopers use a camera from the old Nikon Coolpix range, either the 880, 885,950,990,995 and the 4500. The geometry of the lenses used seems ideal for digiscoping, partially due to the lens unit being so close to the front of the camera....therefore operating within the eye-relief range of most eyepieces. Another bonus of the cp950.990.995 and 4500 is that the monitor side of the camera can be positioned independently of the lens section, allowing easy viewing no-matter what height or angle the camera is.

I have a review of the Nikon cp4500 from a digiscopers point of view, as well as some comparison shots between the cp4500 and the cp990 HERE 

Coolpix cp4500 is no longer manufactured, though Warehouse Express in the U.K do have some limirted stock available (as of March 2006)

Coolpix 5400, 5700, 8700 are poor for digiscoping use, the latest cp8400 can produce excellent results but a long eye-relief eyepiece is recommended. You will need the UR-E16 to provide a 28mm thread in front of it's lens/

Other Nikon cameras can produce good results, these include the Nikon cp880/885/4300 and 5000. All of these camera require the UR-E4 add-on lens adapter to attach a digiscoping adapter.


Canon:
I have seen some very good digiscoped images from the Canon Powershot  'A' series, the latest A95 seems a very good choice. The  Canon 'G' series gives plenty of vignetting with most eyepieces. I certainly wouldn't advise anyone to purchase this camera with digiscoping in mind, if you already have one.... give it a try with a low magnification long eye-relief eyepiece. Canon produce an add-on lens adapter, this will be needed for adding a digiscoping adapter, though you may need step-down rings to attach to a digiscoping adapter. My Canon A95 Review Here 

The new Canon A610 & A620 use a different add-on lens adapter that gives a larger thread size, so it could be problematic for attaching a digiscoping adapter. The Canon S70 (+ LA-DC10 Adapter) & S80 ( + LA-DC20 Adapter) work.

Contax:
The digital cameras from Contax are used by a number of digiscopers around the world. Not disimilar in design from the legendary Nikon cp990/995/4500 but lightning fast in operation with a shooting rate of 3.5 photos per second (photos instantly wirtten to memory card, so no waiting at all), similarly rapid Auto Focus and minimal shutter-lag vs the Nikon coolpix cameras. These tiny digital cameras still have another major asset in that they are so easy to digiscope with, you very rarely have to go into menus.. you just take the shot. Read more on these digital cameras and see some reults HERE Plenty of Digiscoping accessories now available, notably the EagleEye Digiscoping Accessory Kit Unfortunately, Kyocera have ceased production of digital cameras but service and backup is available.

Leica: The new D-Lux 2 is an 8mp camera that Leica do promote as being able to digiscope with (they said that with their previous camera and it wasn't very good. This new and expensive camera does look very interesitng and may be a good choice. Update, seems as if it suffers from same problem as previous model, with vignetting increasing as you zoom in with the camera.

Olympus:
A number of Olympus digital cameras are o.k. for use with a spotting scope, these usually require an Olympus CLA lens adapter if you are to use a digiscoping adapter to attach to a scope eyepiece. Olympus 490Z, 2020,3030,4040, 5050,7070 can produce good results but vignetting can still be an issue unless a specialised eyepiece is used

Fuji:
Some of the Fuji digital cameras work quite well, notably the compact ones with very small lenses, not the ones with powerful in-built zoom lenses. A bracket type adapter will most likely be required.
Update; The Fuji F30 6.3mp camera looks very interesting for digiscoping. ISO up to 3200, which may give poor results but it bodes well for ISO800 or ISO1600 results. Should be some fast shutter-speeds available for this camera. Good battery by looks of it but this camera is pretty well restricted to handheld or bracket type adapters only.

Sony:
The Sony DSC W7 & the DSC W5 digital cameras can produce very good digiscoping results, VAD-WA Adapter gives a 30mm thread size, so a 30-37mm thread step ring will be required to get it on one of the popular digiscoping adapters. Have now used the W50 and even lacking aperture priority, it produced good and easy results.
                       
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