Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Quick Comparison: Digiscoping vs. D-SLR

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Taking pictures in the rainforest—any rainforest or jungle or woods—is a challenge particularly due to the lack of light. On the recent digiscoping trip we took to Trinidad and Tobago, sponsored by Leica Sport Optics, I got to compare the relative difficulty and success/failure rate of taking photographs with a digiscoping set-up versus taking photographs with a professional-grade digital SLR camera.

My loaner digiscoping rig consisted of a Leica APO-Televid HD-65mm spotting scope, a Leica D-Lux 4 digital camera, and a bayonet-mount digiscoping adaptor.

My big-rig digital SLR camera is a Canon 30D with a 300mm fixed, image-stabilized, lens.

One of the images above (a female rufous-tailed jacamar) was taken with each set-up. I took these shots moments apart from one another on a trail in Gilpin Trace rainforest on Tobago.

Both images are just as they were taken, no adjustments to color, sharpness, or cropping. Both were exported as jpegs for use in Blogspot.

Can you guess which one was taken with which rig?

Canon 30D Digital SLR image.

Leica digiscoping rig image.

I know from other attempts at digital SLR photography in the deep, dark jungle, that it can be really hard to get good "keeper" photos, especially without the use of a tripod and a bracket-mounted flash unit. When I returned from the Philippines last spring, I was crushed to see how few of my D-SLR images were good enough to keep. Some of this was the result of low-light conditions, some of it was due to "operator error" and some of it was just plain old bad luck.

This is where digiscoping can really pay big dividends for the bird watcher who also likes to snap a few images of birds that happen to cooperate. If a bird sits still for more than a few seconds, it's a candidate for digiscoping. The only downside is that you do need to haul a spotting scope with you in order to digiscope most effectively.

The Leica scopes we were using are the new, top-of-the-line models. Mine was the APO-Televid 65. The coatings and lenses on these scopes gather an incredible amount of light. The focus on them is super-fine. Combining this with the high-end compact Leica cameras we were using, and we had a nearly perfect set-up for digiscoping.

And the images? Well, I can't resist showing off one more digiscoped image from that same day.

Male collared trogon, Gilpin Trace, Tobago, WI.

I'll go deeper into the digi-details in future posts. If you're interested in learning more about digiscoping, there are a number of fine websites and blogs online with all the information you need to get started. If you're more of a hands-on learner, the Midwest Birding Symposium is offering two separate two-hour sessions with many of birding's best digiscopers, including pros from Leica, Zeiss, Swarovski, Nikon, and Eagle Optics. We're calling it The Digiscoping All-stars, and it's free to all registered attendees. Details about the Digiscoping All-stars can be found here.


On August 4, 2009 at 8:28 PM Patrick B. said...

Two comments:
1. Glad to know we have exactly the same DSLR setup. Do you use a 1.4X converter? Your results seem to be superior to mine.

2. Maybe I should have just bought a digiscoping rig for my scope and not the lens!

On August 5, 2009 at 12:29 AM Carole said...

What a great comparison! Thank you for sharing it. I'm always in a quandary whether to lug the scope or the SLR/lenses. I cannot do both. Like you, I have found that the scope always wins out. I love digiscoping.

On August 5, 2009 at 7:01 AM Dan Huber said...

great information on the comparison.

Love the Trogon - wow what a beauty


On August 5, 2009 at 11:35 AM Ben Lizdas said...

Nice post Bill. I've been digiscoping with the 82mm Leica for 6 months or so and just love it. The scope is truly amazing. I'm using a Pentax DSLR with the Swarovski Adapter. It's a nice combo and would recommend it to any discerning digiscoper.


On August 5, 2009 at 12:22 PM Mike McDowell said...


Resistance is futile.


Mike M.

On August 6, 2009 at 5:10 PM Pat O'Donnell said...

Thanks for posting that. I've been considering buying a digital SLR because my digiscoping set-up works so poorly in the low light conditions so typical of forests in Costa Rica. Maybe my set-up just doesn't let in as much light? At least your results give me hope.

On August 6, 2009 at 11:17 PM Rondeau Ric said...

That's a great photo of the trogon Bill.
You get to play with all the neat toys.

On August 8, 2009 at 11:33 AM Anonymous said...

I've merged the two names some time ago and call it "DSLRScoping"

On August 22, 2009 at 2:41 AM Jack said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
On October 27, 2009 at 9:08 PM Anonymous said...


I don't know. Looks like you picked a good example of an underexposed, motion blurred example for the DSLR sample. Hand held? Stabilization off? Take her out of auto.

You made it sound overly simple to your audience. In a dark jungle you'd pick a scope camera combo with an maximum aperture of F8 compared to your DSLR lens at F4? In a dark jungle? That's a knife in a gun fight.

For those who think this is a fair comparison... it's not really.

On October 28, 2009 at 10:00 AM Bill of the Birds said...

Dear Anonymous:

I've got no axe to grind here. That's why I called it a "Quick Comparison."

I was simply relating my experience and not pretending to know more about the subject than I do, which is not much.

If you want to add constructively to the conversation, please do! Posting anonymous criticism is like sniping from deep cover.

On October 29, 2009 at 9:17 AM Anonymous said...

Hi Bill,

Sorry to ruffle your feathers. Sniping was not my intention (I didn't think a different or opposing opinion was sniping). I don't have a blogger or google account.

But, I do like reading your mag and blog and appreciate the great info you provide.

I'd just hate to see someone trade in their expensive camera rig for a digiscopping rig just to find out it's still a whole heck of a lot of work to make good photos. And on top of it... you've lost the ability to photo birds in flight (for all but the most talented digibangers)

Bill... I was just pointing something out. Just trying to be honest.


On December 15, 2009 at 8:27 AM Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
On December 15, 2009 at 12:32 PM Bill of the Birds said...

Dear Anon:

Thanks for the clarification. I hear you! Always appreciate constructive comments.