How To Take Pictures Through A Spotting Scope

How To Take Pictures Through A Spotting Scope

Being out in nature and watching wildlife activity is a relaxing and fun way to spend your free time. If you’d like to take it to the next level and start recording the images you see on photographs, then you’ve found the right article. We’ll tell you how to get the most from your spotting scope whilst attaching it to your camera or mobile phone.

It’s not as simple as strapping the camera to your scope and taking your chances, it’s more involved than that. It is an art that needs to be set up in the correct way otherwise your images will be blurry at best and completely unrecognisable at worst. The art of taking photos through a spotting scope is known as digiscoping, and this is because you use a digital camera and a scope.

The Right Equipment

Before you can start using a camera with a spotting scope, you need to be sure you use the correct type of camera. You can’t just attach any old camera to the scope and expect to get decent photos, for example, if you plan on using a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera you’ll have to make some adjustments manually, not just rely on automatic presets within the camera.

If you have a smartphone or similar many of these frustratingly annoying problems are virtually nonexistent. And with the technology constantly improving it’s only going to get better.

How To Take Photos Through Your Spotting Scope

Spotting Scope

For this you’ll need a spotting scope, an adapter, a tripod and the camera of your choice (DSLR, smartphone or point and shoot camera).

  1. Attach your camera to the spotting scope
    Using the correct adapter for both your particular spotting scope and your chosen camera connect the camera to the scope.
  2. Attach the spotting scope to the tripod
    Attach the scope to the tripod in the usual way.
  3. Train your scope on your subject
    Point the scope at a branch, tree stump, fence post or whatever and wait for your intended bird target to show up.
  4. Take a succession of photos
    Take as many images as you can and select the best ones for your album.

What’s Best DSLR Or Smartphone For Digiscoping?

This is the first decision you’ll need to make, and it’s an important one too. There are a multitude of cameras and phones available, most of which can be coupled with a spotting scope. But which is the best way to go?

Realistically, it depends on how experienced you are as a photographer. If you’re new to taking photos properly, then you’ll probably do better using a smartphone. If you find your images are not as good as you expected then you can always upgrade to a DSLR camera.

What Are The Benefits Of A DSLR Camera For Digiscoping?

Using a DSLR camera gives you far more control over the overall image you can produce. For instance you’ll be able to set the exposure times, perfect the ISO, get the right F-ratio plus all of the other necessities needed to take a perfect photograph. The main benefits of using a DSLR camera for digiscoping are;

  • Better Control Over The Photographs Produced
  • High Quality Images

What Are The Benefits Of A Smartphone For Digiscoping?

Using a smartphone or a simple point and shoot camera will give the same benefits. They are easy to set up and easy to use, no need to worry about making any adjustments the smartphone does it all for you. The smartphone also has the ability to take video footage which can be used to take freeze-framed images from.

 Smartphones are so common nowadays, you probably already use one so there’s no extra expense buying one like there might be with having to purchase a DSLR camera. DSLR cameras are also quite expensive plus they’ll probably need an adaptor to fit it to the spotting scope. The main benefits of using a smartphone for digiscoping are;

  • Ease Of Use
  • Ability To Use Video Footage And Take Individual Images From Freeze-frame
  • Usually Cheaper To Set Up (as most people own a smartphone now)

Choose The Right Adapter

Now you’ve decided on whether you’re going to use a DSLR camera, a point and shoot camera or a smartphone, you need to choose the exact adapter for your setup. The adapters are very often not only make specific but also model specific too. So you need to be sure to get the correct adapter for your particular choice of camera.

Added to which although many adapters tend to be universal when it comes to fitting to spotting scopes, they’re not one size fits all. Ensure the adapter you choose will work with your spotting scope as well as the camera of your choice.

What Are The Benefits Of Digiscoping?

There are a number of benefits when it comes to digiscoping including;

  • Spottings Scopes Are Smaller Than Telephoto Lens
  • Spotting Scopes Cost Less Than Telephoto Lens
  • Magnification Equivalent Of Between 1,250 to 3,000mm
  • Extremely Close-up Shots From A Great Distance
  • Spotting scopes Are Waterproof And Sealed

The Need For Steady Support


If you already use a spotting scope, you’ll already know how important it is to keep the scope still to maintain a clear, unblurred image. It’s exactly the same when taking photos too if you move the camera, even just slightly, your photo will not be crisp and sharp. Using a camera attached to a scope is no different, so you’ll need a decent tripod set up so that when you do decide to take the image you will produce a clear close-up image with no blurring or dark edges.

Now you have selected everything you need, it’s time to connect all of the parts together. This is a relatively simple procedure, if you’re using a DSLR camera you usually get a T-mount that attaches onto the lens using compression rings and a collar that fixes to the spotting scope.

If you’re using a smartphone it’s even easier to set up, usually the adapter screws directly to the spotting scope and the smartphone is fitted to the mount. Assuming you got the correct adapter for your particular phone the camera should be lined up, and you’re ready to go.

Once the camera is attached to the spotting scope just attach the scope to the tripod and let the fun begin.

Using A Lens Hood

It’s a good idea to use a lens hood when taking photos with any camera but it’s far more important when using a digiscope. To take the perfect picture, you need lots of light, but that light needs to be coming from the right place. 

Too much light coming in from the wrong angle will result in poor quality images with no sharpness in the colours or contrasts. By using a lens hood you will cancel out all of these issues and get the best shot you possibly can.

Specific Tips For DSLR Users

If you’ve gone for the smartphone or point and shoot camera options you can just start taking photos as soon as you see something worthy of capturing. But if you’ve decided on using the DSLR camera and want to take far better images then there are a few more points to be aware of.

The F-Ratio

You can’t just rely on automatic adjustments when using a DSLR camera, you need to get your head around the F-ratio. This is technically the diameter of the lens divided by the focal point. In plain English it’s the amount of light entering the camera for each photo.

If too much light enters the camera your images will be faded or tired looking, another way of putting it would be washed out. Too little light and the image will be blurred, dull looking. The faster the object you’re trying to photograph is moving, the faster the shutter speed you’ll need to take a clear picture.

That means your camera doesn’t have much time to allow light to enter. This means you’ll need an F/6 ratio at least possibly even faster. The lower the number the faster the shutter speed. Establishing the correct F-ratio takes time and practise but the more you take the better you will become.

Location, Location, Location

If you are intending on taking photos of fast moving birds for example, you won’t have enough time to make any necessary adjustments to get the perfect shot. We recommend picking a particular target, a branch, tree stump, fence post etc, and make the relevant adjustments, then wait.

You’ll need to be patient and to be honest, lucky too. But eventually the bird you’ve been trying to get a good image of will turn up, then just take that picture. When taking photos of slow moving animals you will still need to make adjustments after you line up every shot but you’ll have more time to get it right.

How Did Digiscoping Come About?

In 1999, in Malaya an avid bird watcher called Laurence Poh was out trying to get a decent image of a raptor in a distant tree. He placed his Olympus C-900 zoom camera to the eyepiece of his 20x spotting scope and digiscoping was born.

Which Type Of Spotting Scope Is Best For Digiscoping?

The best and easiest type of spotting scope is the type with angled eyepieces. Then it’s simply a case of attaching the DSLR camera, smartphone or point and shoot camera via the correct adapter and you’re ready to go.

What Situations Are Suited For Digiscoping?

Whale Watching

Digiscoping is suitable for taking many nature shots from a far distance but close-up. Examples include;

  • Bird Watching 
  • Whale Watching
  • Plane Spotting
  • Stargazing
  • Ship Watching
  • Trainspotting
  • Sports (Golf, Cricket, Tennis, Football, Rugby, Archery, Shooting etc)
  • Wildlife Watching
  • Dolphin Watching

Digital Imaging Software

Probably in the short time you’ve been reading this article, technology has already moved on. There are many digital imaging programs available, some cost quite a lot, but there are also some pretty good free versions available. They all allow you to make that good photo you took an excellent photo.

While you were searching for either a spotting scope, DSLR camera, smartphone or point and shoot camera you probably had at least one pop-up advertising the value of digital imaging software. As we said, some cost a lot while there are others that are free, the free versions are limited but can also enhance your photos to the next level.

As with everything, do your research and find the best digital editing software you can. Join forums for some helpful, friendly advice, watch videos and read as many independent articles as you can. Then it’s over to you, and most of all, have fun.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you connect a camera to a spotting scope?

Most spotting scopes connect to cameras via a specific adapter, which can be purchased online for not too much money.

Can you attach a camera to a scope?

You can attach a camera to a scope via an adapter.

What is a Digiscope?

A digiscope is a combination of a spotting scope and a camera, either a DSLR, smartphone or a point and shoot camera.