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Pastimes: Scope to improve

12 March 2012

WHEN, as a child, I was told by my best friend that he was joining the Young Ornithologists’ Club, I fol­lowed suit, and so began a lifelong interest in birdwatching. My father and I built some nest boxes, and put them up in the garden. It was fascinating to watch the birds flying in and out as they built nests and raised their young.

I tried to capture the moment on camera as the bird flew up to the nest box. Invariably, the result was a photo­graph with the bird featured in the centre as a tiny dot.

Encouraged a couple of years ago to think about taking up photo­graphy a little more seriously, I decided to look into the possibility of photographing birds. I had never owned a single-lens-reflex camera; so I was confused by the language of focal lengths and fields of view. I wondered if I would be able to use all the different lenses.

Until then, I had always used binoculars for birdwatching, but I noticed that all the serious birders appeared to have telescopes.

I discovered that you can mount a small compact digital camera on a spotting scope. The scope becomes, in effect, a telephoto, or zoom lens. I visited a couple of suppliers for demonstrations and advice, before deciding what to buy. Shops at the busier bird-reserves often have “optical” demonstrations, where you can handle and try the various things on offer.

Photography magazines some­times include articles on digiscoping, and there are dedicated groups online on Facebook and Flickr.

In theory, you can take a compact digital camera, and a length of plastic pipe from a DIY store, and put the camera on to the eyepiece of the scope, and it will work if the dia­meter of the plastic pipe is correct, and it is cut to the right length. Someone I spoke to had done this successfully — but I don’t know how many attempts it took.

Far better, I decided, to buy a kit that is purpose-built for digiscop­ing, for about £800. The con­nectors are engineered so that an adapter screws on to the front of the camera, around the lens, and attaches securely to the eyepiece of the scope. It is, of course, at just the right dis­tance from the lens. The camera, once in position, can then remain mounted on the scope.

It is important that the assembly fits tightly together, so that no move­ment is possible when a photograph is being taken. Professionals recom­mend removing any loose straps and fabric lens-covers, which may flap about in the breeze and cause the whole assembly to shake.

Another useful item is a cable re­lease for the shutter, so that a photo­graph can be taken without pressing the shutter button on the camera.

Of course, I can use the camera separately as an ordinary digital camera — or, indeed, the scope on its own for birdwatching. I am still a beginner, but I have had some very pleasing results from digiscop­ing. The combination of a digital camera and a telescope allows me to take close-up shots of the birds.

My photos won’t win any prizes, but then I’m not entering any competitions.

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