A Crash Course in Digiscoping

I started digiscoping several years ago with my Swarovski scope, point and shoot Canon camera, and a homemade adapter. Now that I have an iPhone, I’ve been using it for digiscoping both handheld and with adapters. With some practice, determination, and a little luck you can get some really great photos.

My homemade adapter,IMG_4467_2

Digiscoping is a photography technique using a camera with a spotting scope or binoculars to take pictures. The word “digiscoping” is a combination of “digital camera” and ”spotting scope”. Digiscoping started out with DSLR cameras, but advances in smartphone cameras and sensors have made digiscoping incredibly easy with a camera that many have with us all the time. So often, the best camera is the one that is closest to hand.

For handheld digiscoping, extend the eyecup on the scope to provide some “relief” for the phone; this helps focus the camera and also prevents scratching the scope’s lens. Hold the camera back until you see the point of light through the scope, then slowly move the phone down until the bird or whatever you’re photographing comes into focus on the camera. Once you have the phone in position, zoom in a little and tap the screen to focus.


A Snowy Owl digiscoped with my Swarovski scope, 20-60 zoom eyepiece, and Phone Skope adapter

Using a digiscoping adapter eliminates the whole process of aligning both camera and scope and makes it much easier to keep the phone in place for an extended period of time. Many companies make adapters for their scopes, including Swarovski, Kowa, Opticron, and Meopta. And PhoneSkope makes adapters for almost every make and model of phone and scope. Viking Optical, NovaGrade, SnapZoom, and Carson Optical make universal adapters which are great for digiscopers who have various phones or scopes, or who bird with others who want to get digiscoped photos. Universal adapters, however, do require adjustments in the field.


A Black-capped Chickadee digiscoped with my Swarovski scope, 20-60 zoom eyepiece, and Phone Skope adapter.

Vignetting is the dark circle around your view through a scope or binoculars. In digiscoping, vignetting can be eliminated by increasing the magnification on the scope or camera until you no longer see the dark edges. It can also be edited out in iPhoto or Photoshop or whatever you use to crop images.

Smartphones are particularly good for taking photos in low light, but the quality of your optics still has a big impact on your photos. A scope with good light-gathering ability is optimal for photos taken at dusk or on an overcast day. Try to have the sun at your back when digiscoping as this will ensure good light on the subject. Backlit photos can be very nice as well, so try both types of lighting.

Practice using your camera’s exposure adjustments. If you tap where the image is brightest, the iPhone will self-adjust to the correct exposure. If you are photographing a subject that’s a little too dark or too bright and the camera doesn’t accurately guess the exposure, use the slider to make adjustments by dragging your finger up and down the screen. You can lock the exposure by holding your finger until you see “AF/AE Lock”.

While the iPhone camera works well, if you want more control over your camera and photos, try the Manual, and ProCamera, and Camera+ apps.


A Black-capped Chickadee digiscoped with my Swarovski scope, 20-60 zoom eyepiece, and Viking Optical Universal adapter

Camera shake is a terrible problem for many of us. Anything that shakes your setup will greatly increase the risk of blurry, or unfocused photos. Many people don’t realize that the headphones that come with the iPhone (the volume buttons) can act as a remote shutter release. This is a great technique to use if you want to reduce contact with the phone. There are also remote shutter releases that can control your iPhone camera via Bluetooth or use voice commands to take photos with Android devices.

If your photos need some help, try photo editing apps. Upload photos to apps like PicTapGo, SnapSeed, or Hipstamatic to make minor adjustments. These apps can fix and enhance contrast, exposure, and sharpness quickly and easily. Instagram can also turn a lesser quality photo into something great with a filter and some editing. For videos, hold your phone horizontally to take video as most uploading sites, such as YouTube and Vimeo, are designed for horizontal clips.

I would love to see your digiscoped photos, so please link to yours in the comments below!

Feathers on Friday

If you would like to join me for my Feathers on Friday meme, please put the link to your blog post in the comments and I’ll add the link to my post.

A gang of Black-capped Chickadees have started visiting my feeders and sometimes they sit long enough for me to digiscope a few photos.

Here’s one of my better ones taken through our kitchen window with my Swarovski ATM 80 scope and Phone Skope adapter,IMG_0006

More Feathers on Friday Posts:

Bird Boy

Birds in Your Backyard

The Cats and the Birds

Wolf Song Blog

Kathie’s Birds

Phone Skope Adapter: First Impressions

:: I received a Phone Skope adapter from the company for review; all opinions and writing are my own ::

Even before I got my new iPhone — in September, my first ever cell phone — I was researching digiscoping adapters to use with it and my Swarovski scope. Over the past few years, I’d seen lots of good reviews of the Phone Skope adapter, so I contacted them about their adapters.

Phone Skope specializes in making adapters for digiscoping on a variety of phones and scopes/binoculars; you make your selection based on the smart phone and scope/binocular you have. The eyepiece adapters and cases come in several sizes, so you can choose the correct model for your phone and optics. If you can’t find the correct sizing, custom models are available. Tim at Phone Skope was very helpful and generously shipped out an adapter to me last week to review. I’ve been testing it out and enjoying it very much.

The adapter consists of two parts, the case and the eyepiece adapter. Your phone just slides into the snug-fitting plastic case, then twist-lock the two pieces together and slide it onto your scope or binoculars. It’s that easy!

I keep my phone in a Lifeproof Frē case at all times to make sure it stays safe; I waited a long time to get a cell phone and I spend a lot of time outdoors, so I’m not taking any chances. In order to use the adapter I have to take my phone out of its case. Compared to some other adapters I’ve seen, the Phone Skope adapter does provide some protection for the phone if it’s dropped, which is a top priority for me. I also like that the adapter fits tightly on the scope’s eyepiece. It would take quite some force to knock the adapter off the scope, so I feel comfortable leaving the phone sitting on the eyepiece.

I went on a Sunday afternoon drive to test out the Phone Skope. It was very windy, so it was impossible to keep my scope motionless. However, I’m very happy with the photos I got. So far, I really enjoy the Phone Skope adapter and can’t wait until the Spring to use it to its full potential.

But I’m going to keep testing it and am planning to write more posts on the adapter as I perfect my digiscoping skills.


Photo taken with an iPhone 6, Phone Skope adapter,  and Swarovski ATM 80 scope with 20-60 zoom eyepiece

For digiscoping, I use my ATM 80mm Swarovski scope with 20 – 60 zoom eyepiece. I twist the eye cup most of the way as it reduces the vignetting (the black circle around the photos). You can get rid of the vignetting by cropping the photo in iPhoto if you like.

Here’s an un-cropped photo of Canada Geese,


Photo taken with an iPhone 6, Phone Skope adapter, and Swarovski ATM 80 scope with 20-60 zoom eyepiece

Coming in for a landing,


Photo taken with an iPhone 6, Phone Skope adapter, and Swarovski ATM 80 scope with 20-60 zoom eyepiece

Tundra Swans,


Photo taken with an iPhone 6, Phone Skope adapter, and Swarovski ATM 80 scope with 20-60 zoom eyepiece

I found this young Bald Eagle sitting in a dead tree on my drive. I really like this photo, with the eagle taking off,


Photo taken with an iPhone 6, Phone Skope adapter, and Swarovski ATM 80 scope with 20-60 zoom eyepiece