Digiscoping
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For a second time Nikon UK have been kind enough to loan me some of their digiscoping equipment.

This time the equipment loaned was a Nikon Prostaff 5 82mm objective, 20/25x DS (digiscoping) eyepiece, a Nikon Coolpix P310 digital compact camera & a FSB-8 digiscoping adapter.

The equipment is sold as a complete kit, meaning that it is aimed at anyone wishing to observe wildlife as well as photograph it.

I must say that I am contacted so often about connection issues that to hear of a kit containing everything needed to start digiscoping with really appealed to me.

So, how did this "All in one" fare in the field? Read on to find out!


The Equipment

 

 

In the picture above we can see the main components of the digiscoping set up.

The Nikon Prostaff 5 scope & 20/25x DS eyepiece are 2 nicely made pieces of equipment. The scope itself has an 82mm objective lens and is very lightweight. The focussing wheel is central to the body and is easily found with either hand for quick and easy focussing. The eyepiece is a vast improvement on Nikons earlier DS eyepieces. Before, a seperate Digiscoping (DS) eyepiece was needed. Now it is all built into one. The eyepiece has a bayonet style fitting which means that they are very easy to fit and remove. Also, as I was using the larger 82mm objective version scope it meant the eyepiece had a strength of 25x. It would only be 20x if I had been using the 60mm version of this scope.

The 16.1MP Nikon Coolpix P310 is one of Nikons better digital compact cameras. It has a large LCD screen, all of the shooting modes required for digiscoping and all in a very small package. I had long been looking forward to trying one of these cameras, as I was interested to see how it compared to my Canon Powershot S100. The Nikon Coolpix P310 can now be bought for around 200, so it is a very good camera for very reasonable money.

The FSB-8 & shutter release cable are a bespoke adapter made for the Nikon Coolpix P300/P310. The build quality as always with Nikons adapters is superb, and as you'd expect, the adapter and camera fit together perfectly. This adapter costs anywhere between 75-145 so it is a little costly, but it is guaranteed to do the job for you! Connection is often the major confusion factor in digiscoping, so Nikon have made this very simple if you are prepared to use a Nikon scope & camera.


Getting Set Up

 

4 simple steps.

As this is more than likely a kit aimed at beginner digiscopers I am going to go through the connection process that Nikon have made so very simple but so very effective.

Step 1 couldn't be easier. The eyepiece is attached to the scope via the bayonet fitting.

The eyepiece comes with a rubber eyecup for observation purposes but this is removed for digiscoping purposes by gently pulling it off.

Doing this reveals the mount for the digiscoping adapter.

A very well made eyepiece with practicality at the forefront.

A definate thumbs up to Nikon here!

 

                                    

 

 

 

As we can see in step 2 the FSB-8 is placed over the eyepiece until it won't go on any further.

The adapter is fixed into place by tightening screw 1.

This screw can be loosened to help align the camera correctly.

The camera is fixed into place by using screw 2. It screws into the tripod mount on the bottom of the camera.

To take the adapter off at any time, just loosen the screw and remove the whole set up. Simple!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 3.

Here we see the camera fixed securely into place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 4.

The shutter release cable is very easily screwed into the matching thread on top of the adapter.

 

 

 

 

You are now ready to go digiscoping with your Prostaff 5!

 


The Field Test

I took the set up to a few local places. I've learned through doing a few reviews now that conditions vary from place to place and that its important not to get to comfortable in one place.

One of the first things I noticed was how light the whole set up is. There was hardly any pressure on my shoulder as I walked around. It is certainely lighter than my usual set up. Weight is an important factor if you know you are going to be walking a long way.

The conditions on test day were a little overcast. It wasn't sunny but the day was still bright, so it was an ok day for digiscoping.

For me, with the ease of set up and transportability the only real issue was going to be how well it took a picture.

I took a few test shots and my reaction to the set up was fairly mixed.

I was using the camera in full manual (M) mode so that I could have control over the shutter and aperture. The cameras display provided me with all the information that I needed to know to tell me when the camera was set up to take pictures at the right exposure.

I turned the camera on and there was a fair amount of vignetting, that didn't surprise me. To relieve this you have to zoom the camera in a little. The widest aperture I could achieve was f3.5, which is pretty good although I wasn't convinced that all the vignetting had completely gone.

The trouble with zooming in more to relieve vignetting is that it reduces the aperture of the set up.

This then means that there is less light passing through the set up, which in turn reduces shutter speeds.

However, it wasn't a major issue for me as these areas can always be taken out in a photo editor.

The camera itself was reasonably easy to operate, with most of the main controls for shutter speeds and aperture at my fingertips.

I like the ISO to be easy to reach as well. On my Powershot S100 the function ring around the lens is a dedicated ISO button, but the Nikon P310 still requires that you can only change the ISO through the menu set up. Personally I found this to be a little slow and as ISO is one of the digiscopers main tools for exposure I would expect the camera to have a dedicated button.

Apart from this minor personal issue I found the camera to be responsive, especially the autofocus. This was very quick and a pleasant surprise as most compacts seem to have a reasonably slow autofocus.

Upon taking a few pictures the only other frustrating point was the shutter button. It didn't seem to depress very smoothly with the shutter release cable. It was just a little sticky at times which meant that occassionaly I missed the opertune moment to take the picture. I made sure that the camera was aligned in the FSB-8 properly, so that the shutter button was being depressed evenly.

Other than this I was able to take pictures reasonably quickly. The shutter release cable felt very good in the hand and the FSB-8  did its job of holding the camera securely whilst it was being used. I had to press the shutter button fairly firmly so the FSB-8 needed to be sturdy, and it was.

I would also recommend the purchase of a LCD hood as the screen was very glary in the daylight. This isn't just a Nikon issue, but its an issue with all digital cameras. This will help a lot with seeing the cameras LCD screen.


The Pictures

If I'm being totally honest I was completly unsure about what kind of pictures I was going to be able to produce with this scope and camera.

I had no doubt that the camera should perform well as it is one of Nikons better Coolpix models. Also, I know of digiscopers already using the Coolpix P300, and I still own and use the Coolpix P5100.

Nikon compacts are revered as good digiscoping cameras, so for me it was going to be the quality of glass in the scope that made the difference.

The first few pictures that I took were taken in good sunlight.

As always, composition comes first so I tried to get close and have the sun behind me.

The Turnstone pictured was no more than 6 metres away, so the scope had good near focus capabilities, which was pleasing.

The bird was easy to find on the LCD screen despite the glare of the sun on it.

I was quite happy with this picture. The exposure and colours seem good and apart from a little chromatic abberation (CA) around the edge of the head feathers it was a good picture.

 

If you are still wondering what Chromatic Abberation (CA) is, it is a common problem with binoculars and scopes that are not fitted with ED style glass.

Basically, with non ED glass equipment the light isn't all focussed back to the same point properly, resulting in the colours "bleeding" and leaving a fringe, usually purple, to the edges of parts of your picture. Its not always easy to see, but it can become a problem when you enlarge your photos to get them printed.

Have a look at this example.

 

                                                                                   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                      

                             

It is clear to see some of the problems faced by users of scopes that are not fitted with ED glass. The CA is quite severe, but its hardly noticable at lower magnifications. If you are a beginner using this set up then the CA won't matter to you if you are getting reasonable results. It is worth noting that I used a Swarovski ATS 80 for a few years and even they do not have ED glass, so believe it or not I got the same kind of CA problems!


I also tried a few shots at distance. The set up performed as well as any other in these circumstances. Again I was pleased with the results considering the light and the moving subject. The shot below was taken at around 30 metres.

 

Conclusion

As with the ED50 that I reviewed, I was firstly very impressed with how well the components fitted together. They all fitted so well again, and this is something that is so vital in the field.

The ability to swap between observation and digiscope are also important to many birders/digiscopers. It only takes moments to remove the camera and adapter. I'd even go as far to say that its quicker to remove than my Swarovski UCA! Nikon have got this very right!

There were a couple of niggly points such as the ISO control and reluctant shutter button but these were all problems, that with time would be easily overcome. They may prove frustrating to a learner though.

The CA issue was always going to be inevitable because of the glass in the scope. There is no doubt that decent glass makes for better images, but the images I got were far from a disaster. In fact, I was pleased with how things turned out. Chances are, as a beginner, these issues will not be important, and they can be remedied over time.

I found the whole set up to be easy to use, and quick to use, most of the time. The scope was quick to focus as was the camera. The FSB-8 kept the two components together with ease which is more important than anything. Believe me, cameras falling out of alignment all the time are just plain annoying!

Aperture through the scope after relieving the vignetting is good.

The key point in my head is cost versus end result.

There is no doubt that this set up can produce good pictures. But is the kit a fair price for good photos? The cheapest I have found this kit is 599. To be honest, thats not a bad price for a camera, scope & adapter but you could probably spend a little more and get a better Nikon set up such as the ED50.

For me the set up is easy to use and presents no real problems. All you have to do is learn how to use the camera properly to be able to digiscope. But, as you progress is it the kind of kit that would still satisfy you, and is it still worth 600 to someone else should you wish to sell and upgrade?

I honestly think that this is a great starter set up, but I feel people will be put off a little by the asking price. Its a big investment for a first timer!

If however, they can be convinced then they will have saved a lot of confusion in many areas of digiscoping that most find unbearable.

My thanks go to Nikon UK for the loan of this equipment.

Thanks for reading

Danny.