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Field test | Recording video through a spotting scope using a compact camera

Most digital cameras are now equipped with the option of digital video. So why not utilize this great function whilst digiscoping? Recording video through your scope offers a whole new aspect to your digiscoping allowing you to record behavior and sound of your chosen subject matter.

After just a few short hours of trying this technique, it's surprising what you can achieve and the potential for good quality recordings of wildlife behavior is massive.

The general principles remain the same as taking still images through your scope, but there are some basic rules that need following to record good quality video. Here are my findings thus far:

the setup

To get started making your own digiscoping movies you will need a digital camera capable of shooting video, a digiscope adapter to connect your camera to a scope, a spotting scope and a tripod with tripod head, below is the equipment that I chose to use:

1. Digital Camera | Praktica Luxmedia 12-HD

For this exercise, I chose the Luxmedia 12-HD from Praktica - it's a cracking little camera not just for digital stills but also shooting video - very easy to use and sits well on the Olivon digiscoping adapter.

What drew me to this camera was the fact that it records HD quality video (1280x720) at 30 frames per second with sound. It has a large, clear 3" TFT screen on the back which is great for composing your movie and focusing your spotting scope through. the 3x optical zoom lens also means you can zoom past any vignetting so that the image fills the frame.

Within just a couple of clicks you can be recording video, which is very important when digiscoping, you can also choose between HD widescreen, TV or Web video resolutions as well as multi or spot metering.

On the day, I used a 2GB media card which gave me up to 20mins HD video (1280x720), 60mins at TV resolution (640x480) and up to 120mins for web resolution (320x240). Bearing in mind how inexpensive SD cards are these days, this set up is a great option to record hours of video. It's worth noting that for filming in HD - a high speed memory card is advised due to the high amount of data being passed to the card, average speed cards may result in a movie that jumps.

For more information on the full range of Praktica cameras please visit www.praktica-uk.com

 

praktica-luxmedia-12-hd
Praktica Luxmedia 12-HD spec:

  • 12 megapixel
  • 3.0" TFT screen
  • 3x optical zoom
  • HD quality video
  • Digital anitshake
  • Video antishake
  • Face tracking
2. Digiscope Adapter | Olivon UDCA

The UDCA from Olivon offers maximum flexibility and convenience to digiscopers allowing almost any digital compact camera to be connected to an Olivon scope.

It slides over your spotting scope eyepiece and is secured by a locking screw. Attach the digital compact camera via the tripod socket, it then takes a few minutes to alter the horizontal, vertical and depth settings to suit your digital camera model so that it is alinged with your spotting scope eyepiece and you're ready to digiscope. More information on the Olivon UDCA can be found here.

udca

3. Spotting scope | Olivon T64

The Olivon T64 is a great scope for digiscoping, it's compact making it very portable and the optics are superb, coupled with the Olivon UDCA, it's a very neat and inexpensive setup for digiscoping.

Aesthetically, the new T64 looks fantastic, very compact, and stylish, looking like a scope that should have set you back a lot more than it has. It's also very tough with a rubber coated body, nitrogen filled and fully waterproof - so basically it will take the worst of the British weather no problem and still deliver the goods.The scope is nice and light weight, but still has a quality feel, making it great for portability.

Optically, for a scope that retails at around £200, the results are excellent, BAK4 -prism and full multicoating plus broad band green coating result in a really sharp, punchy image with plenty of contrast.

t64
Read more about the
Olivon T64 spotting scope here.

4. Tripod head | Olivon TRBH14 tripod head

An important tool in digiscoping is having a flexible tripod head and good strong tripod to help support your setup

The Olivon TRBH14 is my first choice when it comes to digiscoping. It is extremely sturdy, it instantly feels up to the job of supporting a large spotting scope. Often when digiscoping using a standard tripod head, it can be frustrating getting the scope to sit in the right position whilst trying to photograph your subject matter. The TRBH-14 solves this problem for me, simply press the trigger and rotate the head smoothly in to position until you locate your subject, then with the release of the trigger the head locks into position perfectly. The grip is extremely solid and stable. The ball head offers a large degree of rotational movement and covers any position that I require.


The method | How to shoot video through your spotting scope

It really is simple to start creating your very own digiscoped movies - have a read of my preferred method and give it a try!

The principles of video digiscoping is pretty much the same as traditional digiscoping, in terms of setting up the camera to the scope - nothing changes - if you would like detailed information on this, please click here.

Once you have attached the camera to your scope, turn on your camera and more than likely you will experience some vignetting (image in a black circle), to eliminate this, simply apply some optical zoom on your digital camera until the image fills the frame.

Now switch your camera to movie mode and select what resolution you want to shoot at, if you camera has a HD option - this is the highest quality but will fill your memory card quicker, for my video, I opted for a resolution of 640x480 which is great for viewing on a PC.

Locate your subject matter by pointing your scope towards it and use the LCD screen of your camera to view the object, using the the focus wheel of your scope, focus through the LCD screen of the camera until the image is sharp - then simply press the button that you would normally press to take a picture to start recording (may vary depending on model).

It really is that simple, just give it a try - I'm really excited by this method of digiscoping, when I think of the place I have been in the passed and some of the scenes I have witnessed out in the field - I can't wait to get out there and and really get stuck in.

The story behind my video

To create the video at the top of this page, I used 16x zoom on the spotting scope, the digital camera had approx 2x optical zoom set to eliminate vignetting (black circle) and the camera was recording at 640x480 pixels.

In terms of distances - The Goldfinches were approx 25' away from me, the Mallard approx 15' and the final clip - the Cormorants at a guess were 200' away.

Each separate movie clip was imported using Windows movie maker, edited and merged together using effects within the software.

Hints and tips | A few simple guide lines to help you along the way...

As with conventional digiscoping, there are limitations - here are a few of my thoughts...

The basic principles of video digiscoping is the same as regular still image digiscoping, you need good light behind you to illuminate the subject, picture composition is important - think about how the subject looks within the frame. Don't over do it with the zooming on your scope, the more magnification, the less light and more camera shake, I tend to stick at the widest angle that my eyepiece gives me, in this case 16x, don't forget you are also applying zoom on your digital camera. Try and keep the subject in the frame at all times, ideally pick a subject that is settled in one place as tracking a subject through a scope can be difficult.

Video digiscoping is ideally suited to a subject that remains in one place, due to the high magnification involved it is very hard to follow a subject that is moving about rapidly, as soon as you touch the scope it will shake, to practice I used a garden bird feeder and filmed birds that were settled in one location, digiscoping birds in flight is virtually impossible, finding them in the scope is one thing, and following them - you may as well forget it!

I found the best way to start was to press the record button so that the camera is recording - then locate the subject and focus - as you can then edit any initial camera shakes out at the movie editing stage.

Video digiscoping is a great way of capturing wildlife behavior, you may just want to use it as a record for future reference, but I would consider using video editing tools to improve the overall movie, to produce the above movie, I used Windows Movie Maker, which is free and part of Windows Vista Home Premium, it is easy to use and is great for adding multiple recordings together, editing out footage and adding effects such as fade in/out, you can also add your own titles and music to really make your video look great.

If you are adding your videos to your own website, consider using Youtube, that way you don't have to worry about the format of the video in web browsers and Youtube hosts your video so you don't fill up your webspace with large files. Youtube videos can be easily added to your webpage by copying the embed script in to your site from the youtube page.

Sound adds a great new dimension to digiscoping - imagine recording a blackbird singing away on a perch or adding your own narrative explaining what is happening on film, but remember your camera will pick up other sounds - for example passing cars or planes which may distract from the movie, also just reaching up to switch the record button on or off can be captured - but remember you can always edit this part of the movie out afterwards, my main advice is remember not to swear when your subject decides to move out of the shot!

Like conventional digiscoping - what you do after the digiscoping session to your files is equally as important as taking the picture or shooting the video, expect to throw away a lot of footage - this is to be expected, if for example you are filming a subject and then the subject moves - keep filming - relocate the subject and keep the camera running, you can edit out the portion of film where you moved the scope to relocate the subject in video editing software and then just fade the two clips in together.

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This is a non-commercial website.
The content is my own diary and findings. I accept no responsibility or liability if you choose to follow my advice.

The advice, reviews and opinions expressed in this website is based purely on my own findings and preferences and should be treated as guidance only. You may find other settings work better for you and your equipment.