Digiscoping in the Tropics


A male Scarlet-thighed Dacnis before zooming in with the camera in the digiscope setup

The first time I digiscoped, I wasn’t aware of the term, and I was using a small, borrowed point-and-shoot camera with a guide’s spotting scope. The results ended up here on the blog, though the images are, in retrospect, fairly low quality. In certain cases, however, digiscoping–basically the pairing of a scope with a camera for photography–can yield quite good shots of wildlife, and is arguably more versatile than having a big camera with a telephoto lens attached. Just check out Sharon Stiteler’s photos in her digiscoping article on Audubon’s webpage last year, or simply look up “digiscoping birds” to find some stunning images. Note, however, that digiscoping almost always refers to using a scope, or, in other words, a high-end piece of optic technology that costs anywhere between $400 and $3000–and that’s without the tripod.

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Pop the phone into this “adaptor” bumper case, and then slip the eyepiece onto the binoculars it came from!

Since I don’t have a scope, the photos in this post were taken with my Motorola phone camera, looking through one of the lenses in my old pair of 12×42 binoculars that I had from last year’s field work in Jamaica. It’s far from the ideal digiscoping situation, and in fact I often had trouble with image stability since the binoculars were unsteady when held in one hand (for some of these shots, I actually rested the binoculars on Jocelyn’s head while she patiently stood still for support). I used the plastic “bumper” that came with the phone as an optional bare-bones case option, and glued the rubber eyepiece from the Bushnells (both rubber eyepieces started falling off a couple months ago) to it, as you can see in the photo on the right.

The result of this setup was photos that I certainly couldn’t have taken with just my phone camera, but I’m not exactly eager to try it again–I’d much rather have my Canon point-and-shoot back in service (as I explained in my post yesterday about the Boquete/Barú area, it inexplicably stopped working a few weeks ago). In addition to the unsteadiness from wielding a pair of binoculars away from my head to take a photo, I also had to remember to zoom in about 1.7 times with the phone camera, or else the images would show up like the first one in this post, or this one of a Three-striped Warbler, with the vignette of the binocular lenses creating an unwanted border around the bird.


One of the cooler birds Jocelyn and I saw was the male Three-wattled Bellbird, which indeed has three wattles hanging from his beak, as you can barely see in the photo above (taken from the stable point resting on Jocelyn’s head). The males of this species make a very loud, metallic call that is reminiscent of a bell, or some strange technological sound. Below, I’ve cropped a second photo of the strange bird facing us while vocalizing, with its bill open wide:


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