Friday, 21 September 2007

Digiscoping with the Canon S80

Why did I choose the S80? Basically, it was Canons top of the range compact camera (at the time – early 2006) and at eight megapixels the resolution was much higher than the ‘best’ digiscoping cameras quoted (the Canon A95 I believe) on Birdforum and other websites at the time. Since 2000, when I started digiscoping, I had used a Sony camcorder, then a Nikon Coolpix 4500 and a Contax U4R, before deciding on the S80.

When I received the camera I was immediately struck with its fantastic customisable controls, which enabled you to ’set and forget’ the cameras settings so, as soon as the camera turns on, it is ready to go for digiscoping. A massive boon when birds show only fleetingly and you need a few grab shots.

Within a few weeks, I was soon pretty quick at sticking the camera on the scope and using the (customisable) self-timer to get some awesome shots. Being able to set the self-timer to shoot from anything from one to ten seconds and up to ten shots at a time is also an excellent feature of the camera which made me love it even more. Once this is set, it’s basically the stability of your tripod that lets any shots down. Carbon fibre models are FAR better than metal tripods with regards vibration dampening – typically, a metal tripod calms down at around ten seconds, a carbon fibre model usually takes around three. I think this is the single most important attribute to bad digiscoping – get your tripod right, and you will see a vast improvement in your sharp to blurry images when digiscoping. Then it’s a matter of getting the bird to sit still!

Anyway, back to the S80. The one slight issue I have with the S80 from a digiscoping perspective is the way it fixes to a digiscoping adapter. This is via a plastic conversion adapter which screws in to the tripod bush of the camera and then clips over the back of the camera near the viewfinder. This was fine when I first got it, but after a years worth of use it has got a little worn and doesn’t clip quite as tightly as it should. This is only a slight quibble mind you, and it has worked fine for most of the time I have used the camera. There are ways around using this adapter – by using the SRB swing-out adapters. These are incredibly well made adapters, which do the job nicely. They slot over the eyepiece of your scope (usually a very snug and neat fit, and easily the best fitted I have seen, of any digiscoping adapter) and then screw in to the tripod bush in your camera. This adapter also has a built-in cable release arm, which can be adjusted to sit over your shutter-release button. Everything is tightened up using allen keys, and my one tip, if using this adapter, is put a spot of superglue on any of these areas when you have decided they are perfect. This stops them from shifting when in a bag and saving you valuable time when a bird is performing. Fantastic value for money too. Well done SRB!

I use my S80 on a Swarovski ATS 80 HD. The usual eyepiece is the 20-60x zoom, which the Swaro digiscoping adapter works perfectly with. However, and unfortunately, the Swaro digiscoping adapter doesn’t work at all well with either the 20x or 30x eyepieces. This is a real bugbear of mine, as that limits you so much with this very well made adapter. I have only just (Sept 2007) remedied the lack of use with the 20x and 30x eyepieces and my S80 as I reckon these are awesome eyepieces. This was done with two pieces of toilet roll! They are rolled up to the required sized and taped. They slip inside the eye-cup and then over the extending lens of the S80. The fit is tight, but with a little slippage. This is helped with an elastic band, which is fixed to the stay-on case and over the back of the S80. This is by no means a perfect solution, but it’s functional enough to get some reasonable shots. The tube also stops extraneous light from getting in and causing lens-flare. One day I’ll find something better than an old bog roll!

From my short time using the Swaro fixed length eyepieces, the 20x is the sharpest and brightest. This is probably the best eyepiece I have (so far) ever used for digiscoping, definitely beating the 20x offering from Leica for sharpness. One day I’ll get around to testing them side-by-side to try and prove this. With the use of the customised bog-roll adapters, vignetting with these eyepieces disappears completely after one click of camera zoom (unlike the 20-60x zoom eyepiece which vignetting doesn’t go until around half-way through the camera zoom).

So what else is there? Well I sometimes use a cable release, but this very often falls by the way-side in favour of the self-timer now. If a bird is performing, and I have time to set it up, I will still use that method, which definitely has its uses.

Settings are pretty standard digiscoping settings –
aperture priority set to the widest setting
highest quality images (8 megapixels)
continuous shooting mode
centre-weighted exposure
customisable spot-focus
low contrast
auto white balance (mostly)
one stop up in saturation
no sharpening.

My standard digiscoping set-up is this (Sept 2007):
Camera: Canon S80 (with LA-DC20 conversion lens adapter)
Scope: Swarovski ATS 80 HD
Eyepieces: 20-60x zoom, 30x and 20x fixed
Digiscoping adapter: Swarovski DCA (with two unique bog-roll adapters)
Tripod: Manfrotto 443 carbon fibre legs, Manfrotto 701RC2 head

1 comment:

  1. Dear Steve,
    I have a Canon S80 and, as soon as possible, I will buy a Kite SP-80ED spotting scope. In this moment, is the only spotting scope that I can buy. In french forums on the net, they are some good comments about the digiscoping possibilities for this spotting scope.

    Because it doesn't exist on the web any posts about Canon S80 and digiscoping, I write you this mail to take some informations about how are you construct your digiscoping adapter for Swarovski ATS 80 HD. Can you send me some photos to well understand your adapter?

    Thanks for this information and sorry for my english skill

    Oriol from Barcelona


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