How to use a spotting scope as a telephoto lens

Written by fritzi newton
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How to use a spotting scope as a telephoto lens
Spotting scopes can be used with digital cameras for extreme magnification. (ã'ã'¼ã'‰ ウォã''ã'ã'³ã‚° image by kelly marken from

Spotting scopes, with their extreme magnification, allow wildlife aficionados close-up viewing of distant birds and other creatures in their natural habitats. By combining the use of a spotting scope with a digital camera, a photographer can attain a telephoto effect unachievable with most camera lens. Outdoor Photographer notes that "when a 3x or 4x zoom camera is placed onto the eyepiece of a spotting scope with a 60x zoom, the magnification increases to as much as 180x, or a 9,000mm lens." The practice of integrating a spotting scope with a camera has been coined digiscoping.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Digital camera
  • Spotting scope
  • Tripod

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  1. 1

    Determine where your subject can be best photographed and access the location. Digiscoping is most commonly used when shooting bird images.

    How to use a spotting scope as a telephoto lens
    Determine where you want to shoot your wildlife photographs. (bird in a tree image by Clarence Alford from
  2. 2

    Attach your spotting scope to a tripod. A tripod is a piece of equipment essential for keeping the scope motionless.

    How to use a spotting scope as a telephoto lens
    A tripod is necessary when using a spotting scope. (photographer"s photographer image by Lee O"Dell from
  3. 3

    Line up the bird in the spotting scope and use one of several knobs on the scope to fine-tune the focus.

    How to use a spotting scope as a telephoto lens
    Fine-tune the focus on the spotting scope. (storks in nest image by Tomo Jesenicnik from
  4. 4

    Choose the low-tech or high-tech method of digiscoping. (Of course, high-tech will guarantee better photographs.) The low-tech method involves very gently putting your camera lens up to the scope's eyepiece, metering for an exposure, focusing the camera on the subject and shooting the picture. To avoid losing the subject or disturbing the focus, do not bump the spotting scope.

    How to use a spotting scope as a telephoto lens
    You can simply hold the camera up to the spotting scope. (film-camera on camera-bag image by Andrii Oleksiienko from
  5. 5

    Attach an adaptor (sometimes two are needed) to connect your camera to the spotting scope for a high-tech digiscoping experience. Some cameras attach via the tripod mount, whereas others thread by way of the lens. Purchase the appropriate adaptor for your camera model.

    How to use a spotting scope as a telephoto lens
    Use an adaptor to connect your camera to the spotting scope. (Owl image by Elsa Goussard from

Tips and warnings

  • Digiscoping will work with either a "point and shoot" camera or a single-lens reflex.
  • To purchase an extreme telephoto lens with the magnification available through digiscoping would be prohibitively expensive.
  • Avoid using a wide-angle lens when digiscoping, since you will encounter vignetting or dark areas in all four corners of the image. To counteract vignetting, transition your camera from a wide-angle to a telephoto focal length.
  • The calibre of both the spotting scope and the camera will affect the quality of the photograph.
  • Because of the extreme magnification, your depth of field---the portion of the photo in sharp focus---will be very shallow. In addition, because of all the various layers of glass between the scope and the lens, the available light will be reduced. To ensure that your picture is crisp, take your time when focusing.

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