The Swarovski UCA is an innovative digiscoping adaptor, designed specifically for Swarovski zoom eyepieces, and Swarovski spotting scopes, such as the ATS/STS range.
As someone that offers advice to all digiscopers, I am often asked about what kind of adaptors and cameras work the best.
Its not always easy advice to give, as some cameras and scopes are not easily compatible mainly due to complicated mounting scenarios involving filter threads and T2 adaptors!
I honestly believe most people that are thinking of starting digiscoping give up at this point. They are probably already thinking that this sounds confusing!
Now, for almost the first time, an adaptor exists that is compatible with DSLR & compact cameras, and mounting them is very simple.
Swarovski very kindly sent me one of their UCA's to try out and review. The following is what I thought of this exciting product
The Swarovski UCA
The Swarovski UCA (Universal Camera Adaptor) is unique in many ways.
Firstly, it is one of the only digiscoping adaptors that is compatible with digital compact & digital SLR (DSLR) cameras.
More importantly, this adaptor is compatible with nearly ALL compact cameras, as it doesn't rely on the camera having a filter thread around the lens to mount the camera.
Also the UCA has a feature called "SWAROFAST"
This feature enables the user to remove the camera from the mounting bracket in seconds so that the user can view images through their spotting scope, whilst still being able to replace the camera quickly if required. It is very simple, but very effective.
So, what were my first impressions?
Upon opening the box I was presented with the UCA, the Swarofast quick release shoe, and instructions on how to convert the adaptor from DSLR to compact camera and back again.
One of the first things I noticed was the quality of the adaptor. Everything felt well made, from a combination of metal & plastics, which was good, as I was going to be using my Canon EOS 500d on it, and I needed too know my camera would be secure.
It was obvious, just by looking at the adaptor, what each part did, so my overall first impressions were pleasing. Nothing was too complicated, and the build was good. The adaptor was starting to justify its £235 RRP!
Also, I tried to take the view of a beginner. Would a beginner be able to work out what all the parts of the adaptor did? I think they would.
The only slight drawback at this point was the size of the adaptor. Compared to my other Swarovski digiscoping adaptors (TLS 800, Swarovski DCA), it was quite large.
So, what are all the parts for?
Here you can see the right hand mounted view of my Canon DSLR mounted on the Swarovski UCA with a fixed 50mm lens.
The adjustment knobs are a good size
1. This adjuster controls the vertical height of you camera.
2. This adjuster is used for tightening the eyepiece mount to the eyepiece.
When the adaptor is mounted, you can still use the eyepieces zoom feature.
This adaptor is not compatible with fixed length eyepieces.
Here we can see the mounting plate in a little more detail.
1. This is the mounting foot for the SWAROFAST quick release shoe.
2. This adjuster unscrews to allow horizontal, forward & backward camera movement for when the user is aligning their camera lens to the eyepiece of their scope.
3. This is the SWAROFAST retain/release lever. Sliding the black knob across allows the lever to be moved to release your camera & quick shoe
So we've had a closer look at some of the more important parts of the UCA, and so far I'm still very impressed with the way that the adaptor feels, and I think that Swarovski have covered most areas in terms of adjustment. In my experience of digiscoping, I find it important that the camera is going to be easy to align, and to remain aligned. Sometimes users can have problems with alignment being lost especially when the camera is removed from the scope. This can cost precious time whilst in the field, and cause frustration.
So what would a beginner digiscoper need to digiscope with?
1. A Swarovski Spotting Scope
2. A Swarovski Zoom Eyepiece
3. A Swarovski UCA Adaptor
4. A tripod.
5. A shutter release cable (if available) or a camera with a good timed shutter release feature (3 seconds or more)
For this review I have used a Swarovski ATS 80, a Swarovski 25x-50x W Zoom Eyepiece, a Canon EOS 500d DSLR and my tripod.
How does the adaptor attach to the scope?
I will be attaching a DSLR with the adaptor in DSLR compatible mode.
It's very simple to attach the adaptor to the scope.
Loosen the adjustment knob and then carefully slide the eyepiece mount over the eyepiece.
When it can't go on any further, tighten the adjustment knob until it can't be tightened any more. Don't over tighten, just incase!
It really impressed me that the zoom function can still be used. This is a good feature that Swarovski has allowed for.
Once tightened to the eyepiece, the user is ready to attach their camera to the SWAROFAST mounting plate.
On the right is the quick release shoe for the SWAROFAST release feature.
This is ingenious thinking from Swarovski.
With many set ups removing the camera isn't an easy option, and often renders the users scope useless as a scope!
Attach the quick release shoe to the base of the camera using the tripod mounting screw thread.
Ensure you do the following steps before attaching the camera.
1. Make sure that the SWAROFAST mounting foot is as far back on the mount as it can be. You need to be sure that the camera & lens will fit on ok!
2. If you are using a DSLR lens with auto focus (AF) , make sure that this is turned off. (All focusing is done with the scope when using a DSLR)
3. If you are using a compact camera please allow room for the lens to extend. Turning your camera on to close to the eyepiece could damage both pieces of equipment. If the lens on your compact extends whilst in use, make sure you turn your camera on BEFORE you align the lens with the eyepiece.
Once the above has been checked, slide the SWAROFAST quick shoe & camera into the SWAROFAST quick shoe mount.
This feels like a nice, snug fit. Another well designed and well made part from Swarovski.
Here we can also see that the camera is mounted safely at the back of the adaptor.
The camera can be moved forward to align the lens and eyepiece later.
Now that the camera is in place the SWAROFAST retain/release lever can be moved from left to right.
When you hear a "click" the SWAROFAST is secure and the camera is safely attached the adaptor.
To release the camera, simply move the black knob, and at the same time move the lever back to the left.
The camera can now be slid backwards, and away from the mounting foot.
Set up is nearly complete.
The camera lens needs to be aligned with the eyepiece of the scope.
My prefered way of doing this is to loosen the horizontal adjuster (located underneath, see above pictures) and move the camera forward until the lens touches the eyepiece. Align the lens horizontally.
Then loosen the vertical adjuster (again see picture above) and align the lens.
Here the camera's lens can be seen up against the eyepiece.
Also you can see clearly how the eyepiece mount fits over the eyepiece.
Remember, if you want to use a compact camera then the adaptor will need to be adjusted to allow this type of camera to be used.
Its quite simple to do this.
So far I've been very impressed with how well designed this adaptor is.
Everything fits nicely, and feels good on the scope. This is one of the best adaptors I have ever used!
How to convert from compact camera compatibility to DSLR compatibility.
With the adaptor in hand, loosen the vertical adjustment knob (1) until the 2 parts slide up and down.
Then slide the retainment slide across.
Once this slide is off the 2 pieces will come apart.
Some more lovely engineering from Swaroski there.
Then turn the eyepiece mount around (depending on what type of camera is to be attached) and slide the 2 parts back together.
Remember to put the retainment slider back on, and make sure it goes on the right way round.
The small sprung bearing should fit inside the small indentation on one end of the retainment slide.
Once done, affix & align the camera that is to be used and you're ready to digiscope!!
To convert from DSLR to compact camera simply follow these instructions, starting in DSLR compatibility mode.
Summary so far...
As far as setting the adaptor up goes, I found it all to be very straight forward.
The item arrived well packaged, and in a presentation box, as all Swarovski equipment does.
The build of the adaptor is of a very high standard, and it appears that Swarovski have taken the time to understand what is required of a digiscoping adaptor.
Apart from being a little large, this adaptor justifies its price tag. After all, you get a compact & DSLR adaptor all in one.
But as with all equpiment, how will it fare in the field, in different conditions? Read on to find out....
The Field Test
I took my set up to a local wetland area. Here there are areas of woodland, and a medium sized expanse of water.
I like to digiscope around water as the water helps a lot with reflecting light.
As any photographer will tell you, light is the most important medium. There's no real fun to taking photos in the dark, and being that birds don't really like us, let alone camera flash guns, there really is no choice but to digiscope during the day, when (and if) the light is good enough.
Because of the telephoto style of digiscoping, light is very important. In basic terms, the more you increase the levels of zoom (magnification), the more your field of view decreases, and in turn, the less light is available.
This principle remains the same even if you are taking a picture of anything with a normal camera. The greater the zoom, the smaller the aperture (amount of light being let through)
My initial fears were using my camera with a fixed lens through a 25x eyepiece, that there wouldn't be a lot of light to work with, and that on a day other than a sunny day, I would be reliant on higher ISO's to create a little more brightness.
The day I chose to test the equipment was sunny, but not too bright. In other words, it wasn't bad digiscoping conditions!
At 25x magnification I found the available shutter speeds were adequate for the conditions. I used the camera set to ISO 800. A point to remember here is bright=faster shutter speeds, sharper images, overcast/darker=slower shutter speeds, less sharp images.
As I started to use the adaptor, I found that it supported the camera very well. I feared that the camera would move around on the bracket, but to my surprise it stayed extremelly still.
One small drawback was that the camera & adaptor do make the rear of the scope a little back heavy. This balance issue can be corrected with a balance rail. They are relatively inexpensive at around £130.
I was also worried that the adaptor would protrude too far at the back, and would get in the way not allowing me to align my eye with my cameras viewfinder. A point to remember here is that when digiscoping with a DSLR you have to use the viewfinder, whereas you would use the display screen on a compact camera.
However, the adaptor didn't get in the way at all, and I was able to look through my viewfinder.
Taking pictures was quite straightforward. I didn't experience any problems here at all.
A recommendation, more than a concern here would be to use a shutter release cable with this set up, especially when using the zoom function.
Basically, the greater the zoom magnification, the more acute the focus has to be, and at greater magnification every tiny little shake or shudder is felt by the camera. Therefore, to help reduce this, a shutter release cable allows you to use the camera without touching it, reducing shake. It will make a difference to your final result.
This is quite normal in digiscoping.
The SWAROFAST feature certainly does live up to the name.
My DSLR was removable in moments, allowing me to use my scope as a scope. Also, because of the thought put in by Swarovski, I was able to use the zoom of my eyepiece. I was then able to replace my camera on the adaptor with no problems.
It must be stated that the SWAROFAST feature is an excellent design, and i really feel that it is a feature that many digiscopers will find very useful.
Summary of the Field Test
Overall the adaptor did everything it should do.
It supported the camera well, was easy to adjust, didn't get in the way, was quick and easy to operate the SWAROFAST controls.
Apart from the rear heaviness, I think it all works very well, and I believe that this bracket makes understanding digiscoping for a beginner easier.
At a glance...
Yes, there are cons, but I think it's "better to invest in the best!"
My honest opinion after testing this adaptor from opening the box to trying it out in the field is that its is an excellent and most welcome addition to Swarovski's digiscoping range.
It works in such a way making digiscoping so much easier, and doesn't render the users scope redundant as a scope.
Being compatible with compacts & DSLR's already makes this a stand out adaptor.
They key features outweigh the odd niggle.
I feel the cost of the adaptor is justified, as it should be the only adaptor that is ever required.
I feel confident as an advisor to other digiscopers that I could talk them through setting up this adaptor.
For ease, all you need to get digiscoping is in the box, there is nothing else required.
I think Swarovski have taken a lot of time and thought over what makes a good digiscoping adaptor.
The Swarovski UCA is a must for anyone thinking of taking up digiscoping.
Here are some examples of what is achievable with the Swarovski UCA