Computer-assisted Digiscoping.





Introduction: Computer-assisted Digiscoping.

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A rapidly-growing part of the birdwatch hobby is "digiscoping" - combining the clarity and detail of a spotting scope with the recording ability of digital cameras.

Typically, there are two options:

  • Combining a spotting scope with a digital SLR camera body. This costs thousands of pounds, and sometimes means you can't use the spotting scope alone.
  • Combining a spotting scope with a standard digital camera via a dedicated adaptor. Again, there is cost involved - most adapters cost several tens of relevant currency units.

There is now a third way...

Step 1: What You Need

If you are already a birder, you may already have everything you need - you don't get much greener than a project with no new materials.

Myself, I am using an old Opticron HR80 straight-through spotting scope (second hand, after my dad updated to Swarovski optics, flash devil), and a "Trust" webcam, which I bought because I thought I ought, and never used.

The attachment is merely a pair of rubber bands, knotted in a particular way, with an optional modifier made of a piece of card.

Step 2: The Highly Technical Mounting Step.

The webcam is mounted with a simple arrangement of two rubber bands.

One band goes around the eye-piece, far enough back to be out of the way, and behind something that will stop it sliding towards the webcam. Be careful not to foul your focussing system.

The second band is cut to form a single straight piece, which you tie at each side of the first band.

If your scope has a rubber eye-cup, make sure it is folded out.

Place the webcam against the eyepiece, then loop the cut band over the cam to hold it in place.

Step 3: Adjustments

If you're lucky, all you have to do is make sure the webcam is actually in focus (either with the scope's focus control of the cam's) and you can start watching - and recording - anything you like.

If you cannot bring your image into focus (say, because your webcam lens projects too far into the eye cup), you may need to add a shim - a small piece of card, maybe a thin piece of wood, with a hole cut in the middle. Slip the shim between the webcam and the eyepiece, to bring the lens closer to the position normally taken by your eye.

Step 4: Go for It!

There's not much else to do.

Granted, it's a bit bulky to carry your laptop to your favourite bird reserve, but if you have a location with a decent hide, or it's a long way down the garden to your bird feeders, then this is the rig for you.

Depending on your webcam's abilities, you should be able to take tolerable-quality videos of birds (or other wildlife), along with digital stills that you can quickly upload to the web as soon as you get anywhere near a wifi signal.

Of course, if you have a small laptop, or an Eeepc, then bulk isn't an issue, and you are set for a life of almost live twitching.




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    I've tried all kinds of stuff, but finally just opted to get a good quality adapter that fits onto my scopes and works with my iPhone. I use the MINITS iWitness made by

    1 reply

    You'll notice that thid project is four years old - the technology has become much more affordable in the mean time.

    I have one of those webcams, they are awful. The quality of the optics in those scopes warrants a much better camera. Try a Logitech? although not having a philips or something to compare with, I am biased. You will really notice the difference.

    Hmm, there's a lot of chromatic aberration in the end video, if the scopes got high quality optics I'd be tempted to blame the lens of the webcam, they're usually not high quality lenses but I've seen some people remove the lenses in them to replace altogether. Other than that this is a pretty nice project plus it's very simple, taking the lens out would add to complications but if it was possible to focus to the webcam it could drastically improve the video quality in the end result. I've been looking in to a bit of bird watching as something new to try with my photography, need to try and find a multiplier because 270mm (after conversion) isn't getting me close enough unless they're accustomed to people. However a trip to the sanctuary may be a plan, since the lookouts are all the same and the birds don't get too bothered by them.

    2 replies

    It's the webcam - the Opticron scope isn't top of the range, but it's nice enough. If I had a "proper" digicam without a moving lens I'd try something similar.

    I remember getting a fixed lens digicam from tescos for £20 a few years ago, 3MP stills and 640X480 video, it did have a macro option that just shifted the lens a bit, but you could probably pick something like that up for almost nothing now. Alternatively you could strip out the lens of a webcam and focus the scope on to it or replace it with another, there'd still be an IR filter between the sensor and the outside of the frame so the sensor wouldn't be directly exposed, or lose the filter and get a big IR lamp for night watching...

    You've got my vote as an avid birder this is superb.

    1 reply

    This is very cool! I dont have a spotting scope but I love to photograph birds... This would be a great set to have. I used to try putting my camera lens through my binoculars, but I only ever got blurry photos of the eyepieces. Anyway, great work. Thanks!


    Awesome- I have wanted to take better advantage of the combination of now-ubiquitous digital cameras and good optics. I have a couple of nice shots of the moon I took through the spotter scope of an observatory telescope while I was a student (the main scope was confusing the hell out of my camera's autofocus and the motorised equatorial mount moved too fast for me to set up a tripod), and have a cheap "jeweller's loupe" that fit my old camera nicely. The local nature reserve has a massive hide in the middle (about the size of a medium-sized classroom, something like 12 windows which I think is quite popular in summer- it makes me think perhaps building one of these to run live and donating it would be a neat project to cater for people who can't use normal binoculars/scopes.

    1 reply

    It would be good for monitoring specific nests as well, come to think of it. In this country, bird reserve wardens often end up climbing up trees to place cams to watch osprey or peregrine nests. This might be safer.

    Very nice! Clear and complete (as always :-). Sometimes the simple, green projects are the most instructive.

    Works better than one might think! Useful for spying on more than birds too. (You could have got some footage of a bird...) Do you think this could work with a mobile phone? L

    5 replies

    I frequently use my phone at the eyepiece of my telescope for quick snaps of the moon. It just depends how you connect the phone to the 'scope.

    It's cold and dark now, but I found my binoculars - I'll have a go tomorrow - thanks for the info'. L

    I would have had footage of birds, except for the wind - they're all sheltering. Mobiles? I don't see why not.

    The mobile phone lens tends to be very small and doesn't protrude from the case - it might be tricky, but I'm going to see what I can do with mine and some field-glasses. The mobile would make this more 'mobile' of course... L

    If the lens isn't too close to the edge of the camera, it should mount fine exactly this way.

    I have used the binocular + camera combo. I site through one lens and shoot through the other. I had much better luck with a small digi cam though. Something in the 3mp area gave me very nice results.

    Excellent! I have used a binocular attached precariously in front of the camera lens, and I have surprised the good result. My problem is I don't know what to film or photograph with that arrangement... ;)