Skogsøy Webshop Home Travel Gullfjell Contact
Tjeldstø Galleries Offshore Equipment U.K. Links

Øygarden Services Articles Accommodation

Digiscoping or DSLR?
Points to consider before you start.....

Many birders now treat photography as an integral part of birding and the internet abounds with images taken by digiscoping, DLSR and digibinning.

This page presents some of the advantages and disadvantages of  digiscoping / digibinning versus "proper" photography. It is aimed at birders who want to take photographs rather than at professional photographers; hopefully it may help those who are undecided about which way to go.

Digiscoping was how I started bird photography and I did this from 2003-2007 until my trusty Nikon Coolpix gave up the ghost. Having been bitten by the photography bug I then needed a new camera - and took the chance to purchase a digital single lens reflex camera (DSLR). At first I had a cheap zoom lens that went up to 300mm; However, this was just too frustrating much of the time so I upgraded to a fixed 400mm telephoto lens and have (almost) never looked back since.

See also the following pages for more on bird photography:

Nikon Coolpix P600 for bird photography
Nocturnal Bird Photography
Bird Photography - why bother?
Compact Superzoom cameras for bird photography

White-tailed Eagle
Flight shot of White-tailed Eagle using DSLR and telephoto lens - all but impossible using digiscoping techniques

White-tailed Eagle - digiscoped
Digiscoped image of White-tailed Eagle using a Nikon Coolpix and a Swarovski telescope.


Digiscoping is the use of a compact digital camera and a telescope - the lens of the camera is pushed up close to the lens of the telescope and a picture taken through the telescope. An adaptor of some kind to keep the lenses stable and close together is usually essential in order to obtain good results.

The zoom function of the camera is used to prevent "vignetting" of the image.

Arctic Tern
Digiscoped image of Arctic Tern

There is less equipment to carry, thus saving both space and weight, both of which may be important considerations. Most keen birders already own a telescope and it is therefore a relatively small investment to buy a compact digital camera and an adaptor.

The combined magnification of the zoom on the camera and the relescope is large - making it possible to snap pictures of distant birds.

The drawbacks of digiscoping are largely down to the time it takes to prepare a shot and the difficulty of following moving birds. It can also be difficult to locate the subject of the photograph when zoomed into part of a telescope's field of view.

The other major disadvantage is often "shutter lag", it can often take some time between pushing the button and the photograph being taken - often this means that the subject has moved - resulting in shots like the one below:

Digiscoped wren
Click on the picture for some more successful digiscoped shots of the same bird.

DSLR & telephoto lens:

A DSLR and a telephoto lens are the prerequisites for this type of photography and even the least expensive are not cheap. For "proper" photography a tripod is required, although hand-held lenses can work just fine a lot of the time. 

The main advantage is that one can be ready to take a picture in seconds and that it is easier to follow fast moving subsjects. Additionally the picture is taken at the same instant the shutter is pressed - making it easier to take the desired picture.

DSLR cameras tend to have a higher resolution than compact models and any loss in magnification can be compensated for by the increased number of pixels to a certain extent. It is not unusual to find that even a cropped image may have as many pixels as the equivalent picture taken by digiscoping.

The drawbacks of a DSLR and a telephoto lens are the the price; although the camera itself may not be expensive a decent lens is. For most birders (as opposed to photographers) this equipment will come as an addition to a telescope and a tripod and is therefore considerably more to carry.

Compared to digiscoping the magnifaction of most affordable lenses is very small.  My 400mm lens gives an image a little smaller than my 10x binoculars - something I sometimes find frustrating compared to my digiscoping days. If one increases the magnification of the lens the prices goes through the roof; if using teleconverters to achieve the same effect then the amount of light available is often a limiting factor.

Purple Heron - digiscoped
Purple Heron - digiscoped.
Digiscoping is ideal for large, slow moving species such as this.

Purple Heron - DSLR
Purple Heron in flight - DSLR and 400mm telephoto lens.

Digibinning is essentially the same as digiscoping but using binoculars instead; usually without an adaptor. Good pictures can also be taken this way and means even less equipment needs to be taken out in the field.

A gallery consisting of only digibinning images can be viewed here. A number of other pictures on the gallery pages were also taken this way - especially pictures I have taken at work offshore.

Digibinning can be an advantage if one is not really out to take pictures but want to have something with you "just in case" something turns up. Other reasons may include weight or space restrictions - if one was hiking in the mountains or travelling then this may be a deciding factor.
This is obviously also the cheapest option.

The risks to expensive lenses and / or cameras may be another reason for going with digibinning - an example of this from my point of view is that I don't like taking my DSLR and telephoto lens when travelling by helicopter to work. 

However, although useful to some degree it is harder to hold the camera and binocluars stable and the magnification is not as great.

Osprey - digibinning
Osprey - picture taken by "digibinning" on a moving vessel off Ibiza
A Nikon Coolpix and a pair of Swarovski binoculars were used for this picture.

Whichever you choose the best possible hint is to ALWAYS take the camera with you. The thing about birding is that anything can turn up at any time.

Common to any of the photographic teqniques discussed there are a few extras one needs: memory cards and spare batteries. There is nothing worse than finding oneself in a situation where one can take intersting photographs only to find you have no space left on the memory card or no battery left. Take spares with you at all times!!

A waterproof bag of some sort is also essential if one is to keep that camera running smoothly.....

Whatever technique you decide on - good luck!

And a word of warning - bird photography is highly addictive and once hooked vast portions of your life will disappear - either in the field attempting to take that perfect shot or at the computer ploughing through gigabytes of images.....

All content on this site, including Natural Born Birder logo, is copyright © 2005 - 2015
High resolution versions of most images on this website are available for use. Please contact me for further details or other enquiries

Birding Top 500 Counter