I have been lucky enough to secure myself a 2 week loan of a Nikon ED50 Fieldscope & a 40x DS eyepiece.
This is by far the smallest spotting scope that I have ever handled. Nikon have always been very pro active when it comes to digiscoping. They have released many specialist adapters for their cameras, and a range of DS (digiscoping) eyepieces for these adapters to attach to.
I've often had my doubts about smaller objective scopes being any use for digiscoping as I would be worried about the amount of light that would be available through the scope for picture taking.
But, the Nikon scope has ED glass included so perhaps I was wrong to write off this little wonder!?!
This opportunity does however represent the first time that I've been able to match camera maker to scope maker. Using a Nikon camera through a Nikon scope was something that I was really looking forward too!
See my results and read my thoughts on digiscoping with a Nikon ED50 set up!!
As we can see from the picture above, the set up is going to consist of 4 main parts. The scope, the eyepiece, the adapter bracket and the camera.
The ED50 scope (1) itself is tiny and half the size of anything that I had digiscoped with before. The lightweight feel was backed up with some lovely build quality, which proves small is good, so long as you know what you're doing, and Nikon certainly didn't sacrifice any quality in the build or design of the scope. The close focus on this scope is down to 3 metres, which is excellent. Digiscoping isn't all about birds, so a close focus can help if you see something near to you, in a hedgerow, then it's much easier to take pictures quickly. The ED50 will cost you between £250 and £350. Small enough to fit in a poacher's pocket, I'm really surprised that I don't see more of these scopes in use.
The 40x eyepiece (2) is one of Nikon's specialist digiscoping (DS) eyepieces. These are a great idea. They are designed to be able to have one of Nikon's specialist shutter release brackets attached to them. A slight recess around the outside of the eyecup snugly allows a tight connection between adapter and scope. As I said before, a great idea making ease of sometimes complex camera to scope connection issues. I did worry a little though that 40x magnification would reduce the aperture of the set up. For reference, 30x is usually more than enough. The DS eyepieces are more expensive though, and you could be looking at £200+ unless a secondhand one can be found.
The FSB-6 Shutter Release & adapter bracket (3) is a dedicated adapter for the Nikon Coolpix P5000/5100 digital compact cameras. Their concept is a good one, and the connection to the camera couldn't be easier. One part of the adapter screws to the front of the camera, whilst the shutter release cable is tightened in place using another thread. The camera and adapter then attach easily to the DS eyepiece and tightens with a screw thread. A very well built adapter, again dissolving difficult connection styles with ease. I also really liked that I could remove the cameras battery & memory card without having to remove the camera from the FSB-6.
We can see the quality built look of the FSB-6 attached to the Coolpix P5100 in the picture. Also attached is the shutter release cable, a must for successful digiscoping.
The FSB-6 costs around £75, so although not cheap, it can be said that the bespoke nature of this adapter makes it worth the money.
The Nikon Coolpix P5100 (4) is a very versatile digital compact camera. It ticks all of my requirement boxes as it has a full manual mode and aperture priority mode. Although these cameras are no longer available new, their versatility for attachment to scopes has made them a favourite for would-be digiscopers everywhere!
There are companies such as SRB-Griturn that still make bespoke shutter release systems for this model of camera.
The Coolpix P300 has largely replaced the P5100, however, it has a dedicated digiscoping adapter for use with DS eyepieces, the FSB-8.
(The FSB-U1 is used with the "Prostaff" range of scopes & eyepieces)
Above we can see the complete set up. Everything is very well made, and connection couldn't be more simple.
A complete guide to Nikons Digiscoping range can be found by clicking the Nikon logo.
The next test for now is to try it out in the field and see how this magnifying midget performs!!
Testing the Equipment
I took the set up to a quiet location to try it out. The conditions weren't favourable at all, with only a few sunny spells at best.
Upon turning on the camera I was confronted with rather a lot of vignetting. The aperture of the camera at its widest point is f2.7, but by the time I'd zoomed past the vignetting I was at f4.3. This isn't a bad aperture, but I knew it would be a little inaccurate owing to the large magnification of the eyepiece that I was using.
That said, I knew that it was going to be hard to get really good pictures, but I was surprised with the results I got.
Probably the hardest thing (and often the most frustrating) was finding the subject on the cameras LCD screen. There is never a wide field of view in telephotography, but the 40x eyepiece coupled with the zoom of the camera cut that field of view down even more than normal, which made it harder to find individual targets especially when they were further away from me.
The Kittiwake picture on the left was difficult to take as the subjects were hard to find and moving around.
However, they were around 50 metres away and yet they looked big on the cameras LCD.
Poor conditions meant I had to use ISO 800, 1/125 sec shutter speed & f4.3
I took many pictures of the Kittiwakes bobbing around hoping to get a "good one". Sharp focussing was an issue at such high magnification. The picture would only be sharp for a moment, and it was easy to over or under focus.
But, it was obvious to me that better conditions would've made the picture much better, so I'm not blaming the equipment at all here.
ED or not ED?
One of the main reasons that birders pay extra for scopes with ED (sometimes HD or ELD) glass is to help reduce Chromatic Abberation (CA) commonly known as "Purple Edging".
CA is caused by all the light coming through the scope not all being focussed back to the same point. ED glass has been designed to eliminate CA, but does the ED50 do its job properly?! I was very impressed with how the scope performed whilst taking a picture against a bright background. I couldn't see any CA around the edges of the Greater Black Backed Gull in the picture so the scope passed its test with flying colours.
Although the pictures are not great they do demonstrate the effectiveness of ED glass.
I've always recommended scopes with ED glass for digiscoping and the ED50 is definitely on that list now!
The gull was around 15 metres away.
Pros & Cons of "Too much Zoom"
I've already stated that a 30x eyepiece is more than adequate for digiscoping with. Too much more and you will start to encounter problems.
The main problem is that there is even less light coming through the set up, so even though your camera may be telling you the exposure will be good, quite often the final result will be one that is terribly underexposed. The only way around this is to slow the shutter down, but this can result in "soft" images.
Also, fitting a subject into the frame of your camera can be difficult.
The Herring Gull above was only around 8 metres away, so it was very difficult to fit the whole bird into the picture.
But, one of the massive advantages of big magnifications is the "Close Up" pictures.
If an opportunity presents itself like this Iceland Gull did, then the chance of taking a really special picture is possible, and in essence is what digiscoping is all about.
Ok, it could've been sharper, but this was due to conditions, not equipment.
Big zooms can create big images so sometimes its good to have a bit of extra power!
Also, record shots of distant subjects become a reality.
This Herring Gull was perched on top of some building works around 100 metres away!! It's quite clear that the bird is a Herring Gull, and the buildings look like they are right in front of the camera.
This shows that the Nikon system is capable of taking extreme telephoto pictures, even with a 50mm objective!
On the whole I was very impressed with the way that Nikon have designed their digiscoping related equipment.
The bracket fits the camera very well, and likewise the adapter fits the DS eyepiece really well. The whole set up felt very secure, and was for the most part very easy to use and get results.
It was obvious to me that the eyepiece magnification was going to be a problem, and the conditions that the test was carried out in were far from favourable.
I wasn't disappointed with my pictures, although some sun would've helped a lot.
No doubt the results would've been much better but for these two main factors.
The aperture of this system is pretty good really. Like I said before, I was left with a best aperture of f4.3 after eliminating the vignetting. Handholding the P5100 to the scopes eyepiece I was able to increase the aperture slightly to f3.9. As an example I can get an aperture of f3.1 through my 80mm Swarovski scope, so the fact I got f4.3 through a 50mm scope is probably about right. This shows how well the ED50 scope performs next to a much bigger objective.
When the sun did come out the set up performed very well. The focus was quick and very precise. The focus wheel has a smooth action and is easy to locate with fingers only.
The whole set up is incredibly compact. I'm not sure what Nikons motivations were to make such a small scope, but I'm glad they did as its a marvel. I had been informed by a friend to be "Pleasantly Surprised" with the scope's performance and I was impressed with how well it worked for it's size.
Overall I think that the Nikon equipment is some of the best that I have used.
I would very much like to try a larger objective scope such as a Fieldscope III to see if one performs in line with the ED50.
The results I got were not too bad considering the conditions around me. I have no doubt that the results would've been much better in good conditions, so I have to give the ED50 credit for performing even in low light.
As a reasonably experienced digiscoper I found it to be no problem understanding the set up process. From a beginners point of view it may harder for the right set up to be found. The main problem with dedicated adapters for dedicated cameras is that if either component cannot be bought then connection is near impossible. Also, I found it a little difficult to find the DS eyepieces to buy. There are DS eyepieces avaiable for the newer scopes in Nikons range, but not for the ED50/Fieldscope III's.
With that said, I'm still not sure that I would choose a 50mm scope for digiscoping with full time, but it has exceeded my expectations, and for that reason I have to recommend them from now on.
Thanks go to Nikon UK for loaning me their equipment to try out.
Below is a slideshow of a few pictures of an Iceland Gull that put in a close visit!!
Thanks for reading