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Section 1:



Camera / Scope Options for Swarovski Spotting Scope Photography

35mm SLR body (takes Interchangeable Lenses)
- Set Up: Camera Body + T-mount + TLS 800 Camera Adapter (# 49313) + AT, ST, ATS, or STS spotting scope body

Digital SLR body (takes Interchangeable Lenses)
- Set Up: Camera Body + T-mount + TLS 800 Camera Adapter + AT, ST, ATS, or STS spotting scope body
       OR
- Set Up: Camera Body + Normal Lens + Step-ring (if needed) + DCA + S eyepiece + AT, ST, ATS, STS scope body

Other Digital Camera Adapters are available

Digital Point-and-Shoot Cameras with fixed-mount (non-interchangeable lenses)

DCA - Two Digital Camera Adapter models for cameras that 1) have the lens threaded to accept photo filters, or 2) have a filter adapter ring available from the manufacturer / aftermarket supplier
- For Spotting Scope with newer "S" version 20-60x eyepiece - Camera Body + Filter adapter (if needed) + Step-Ring (if needed) + DCA-Zoom (# 49206) + 20-60xS eyepiece + ATS, STS, AT, or ST scope body
- For Spotting Scope with Fixed-Power S eyepiece - Camera Body + Filter adapter (if needed) + Step-Ring (if needed) + DCA-Fixed (# 49306) + 20xSW, 30xSW, or 45xSW eyepiece + ATS, STS, AT, or ST scope body

DCB - Two Digital Camera Bracket models for cameras that have no mounting threads available:
- Using ATS Scope - Camera Body + DCB-Angled + any eyepiece + ATS scope
- Using STS Scope - Camera Body + DCB-Straight + any eyepiece + STS scope

Notes To Above Setups

35mm Cameras

*** - TLS 800 (# 49313) turns the spotting scope into an 800mm telephoto lens and gives superior pictures than the older (discontinued) 800mm (# 49213) and 1100mm (# 49205) Camera Adapter models
*** - T-mount needs to be specific to the camera brand / model number - we stock T-mounts for Nikon, Canon EOS, Canon FD, Minolta MD, Minolta Maxxum, Pentax S, Pentax K, Leica, Olympus OM lenses
*** - No scope eyepiece is used in the setup, so this is not a zoom (variable power) lens
*** - See Clay Taylor's "SLR Scope Photography" write-up for full details

Digital SLRs

*** - As of 9/04, Canon D30, D60, 1Ds, 10D, D-Rebel, 20D; Nikon D1, D1x, D1H, D2x; Pentax *istD; plus Fuji and Kodak SLRs taking Nikon lenses. Note that some Nikon and Minolta models will not operate properly with a T-mount lens.
*** - Same attachment to TLS 800 and operation as a 35mm SLR
*** - Many Digital SLR bodies will give more magnification than a similar 35mm camera

Point-and-Shoot Digital Cameras with non-removable lenses - (true DIGISCOPING)

*** - These cameras use the scope eyepiece to supply the image magnification
*** - The camera's zoom lens can then further magnify the image
*** - The image is viewed by using the camera's LCD view screen
*** - Top-quality results are only achieved by using an adapter system to hold the camera in place behind the scope eyepiece
*** - There are two Swarovski adapter systems - Digital Camera Adapter ( DCA ) and Digital Camera Bracket ( DCB )
( ** DCA - for digital cameras with filter threads )
*** - Can only work on the new S Series Swarovski eyepieces *** - DCA-Zoom (# 49206) for use on 20-60xS eyepiece, DCA-Fixed (# 49306) for all fixed-power S-eyepieces
*** - The OLDER 20-60x eyepiece will NOT work with the DCA-Zoom - its barrel diameter is too small
*** - However, the newer 20-60xS eyepiece WILL work on the older (AT, ST) scope bodies
*** - The DCA comes with threaded filter rings of 28mm, 37mm, 43mm, 52mm - if the camera's filter size is different, a step-ring must be used to connect them - available from a camera store, not Swarovski Optik
*** - Sturdy, positive lock to eyepiece, Perfect alignment of camera to eyepiece
*** - While in the field - quick, efficient attachment and removal of camera and DCA assembly to the scope eyepiece

HOT NEWS! Digital SLR with 50mm normal lens (preferred setup) or 18-44mm type-lens will work with the DCA

*** - Allows Nikon D100, D70, and new Konica-Minolta Maxxum 7D to be used with full metering functions
*** - Any D-SLR can now use the zoom eyepiece of the scope for image magnification

DCB - for virtually all digital cameras

*** - Two models - DCB Angled for ATS scopes, and DCB-Straight for STS scopes
*** - Will only work on the new, green-armored "S" series spotting scopes - not the with older gray AT & ST scope bodies
*** - Works with any eyepiece, including astronomy eyepieces using Swarovski Astro Eyepiece Adapter (# 629-0307A)
*** - Camera lifts away from the eyepiece for viewing, locks in place behind eyepieces for photography
*** - Any camera with an optical zoom greater than 4x will still give image vignetting

Section 2:



Digiscoping with Swarovski 80mm and 65mm Spotting Scopes - Point and Shoot Cameras

1) Digiscoping

Most of the point-and-shoot digital cameras on the market have built-in, non-interchangeable lenses, either fixed focal length or zoom, so they cannot be attached to either of the Swarovski Camera Adapters (see "SLR Photography with Swarovski Spotting Scopes "). However, the camera can be held up to the viewing eyepiece of the spotting scope, the image can be framed and focused using the camera's LCD viewing screen, and the photo taken that way. This type of photography has been christened "Digiscoping".

The beauty of this system is that you start out with the base magnification of the spotting scope's eyepiece, and then multiply it by the amount of magnification in the camera's OWN lens. Example - my Pentax digital camera has a lens that corresponds to a 35-100 lens on a 35mm camera, so the telephoto setting magnifies the image 2x. Holding my digital camera up to the 20-60x zoom eyepiece of my ATS-80 HD, I see my scope's image surrounded by blackness, called image vignetting. When I zoom the camera's lens to full telephoto, the vignetting disappears, and it takes the scope's 20x image and doubles it to 40X! That is the equivalent of using a 2000mm lens on a 35mm camera! If I then zoom the scope eyepiece to 60x, with the camera's lens at 2x, my final image magnification is 120x, like a 6000mm lens for 35mm! Fantastic!


2) Which scope?

It does not matter if you are using the old-style AT or ST 80 scopes, the new ATS or STS 80 scopes, or the compact ATS / STS 65 scopes. The right camera will work fine with any scope. The High Definition (HD) version is the recommended type of scope for photography - it has superior contrast and color saturation when compared to the standard models. This will result in brighter colors and a crisper image. As to scope style, I usually use the AT (angled eyepiece) because it allows me to set the tripod lower, and thus get a more stable base to shoot from. However, if you already have a straight-through (ST) scope there is no disadvantage to using it, and you probably will be a little more comfortable with the ST for finding and following a moving subject.


3) Which Camera?

    -    (For model recommendations, see "Camera Choices" at the bottom of this document)

If you are interested in a particular camera and cannot find it recommended or even listed in any digiscoping articles or websites, try it out! Take your spotting scope to the store and simply turn on the camera's LCD screen and hold the camera up to the eyepiece. You should see the scope image as a bright circle surrounded by black - photographers call this vignetting. Work the camera's zoom from wide-angle to telephoto, and see if it eliminates the vignetting. If it does, the camera should be a good choice for digiscoping.

Digital point-and-shoot cameras cost anywhere from under $200 to over $1000, depending on how much detail the electronic sensor can record (listed as "megapixels"), the lens type (look for "optical zoom"), and whatever other features are designed into it. The high-end cameras are usually called "pro-sumer models"), since they combine professional-type system overrides and flexibility with point-and-shoot convenience for the general consumer.

In many cases, the photographic results are surprisingly good, especially with the recent improvements in image sensor quality. The early reviews of digital photography said that it was convenient, but the image quality was poor when compared to 35mm film. However, my 3.3 megapixel camera yields some excellent 8x10s! More recent cameras are sporting 4.0 and 5.0 megapixel sensors, which yield better image quality for 11x14 prints (and larger), but they also require greater storage capacity. In August, 2004, a slew of 7 megapixel consumer cameras were announced for fall shipment. Personally, I think that level of image quality is unnecessary if you do not plan on making prints any bigger than 11x14. In the field, the bigger files will fill up a storage card more quickly, so be sure to buy a big memory card and always carry a spare.

An important fact - NONE of the digital cameras on the market were designed with digiscoping in mind. Some digital camera lenses work well to eliminate the black vignetting of the scope's image, while other designs do a lousy job. In some cases, zooming to a higher magnification causes a dramatic loss of contrast in the image. Unfortunately, there do not seem to be any hard-and-fast rules to predict whether a particular camera / zoom lens combination will work well behind a scope eyepiece. There are many "external" zooms that change their overall length when focusing and zooming, and others that use internal moving lens elements to focus and zoom without changing length - I have found examples of both types that work well on a scope eyepiece, and others that work poorly. If the diameter of the camera's front (objective) lens is any bigger than a nickel, it will probably have vignetting problems.

One fact that seems to hold true is that any digital camera that has an Optical Zoom of greater than 4x will NOT work well as a digiscoping camera. Don't pay any attention to Digital Zoom figures - they are worthless for this application. Actually, when digiscoping you should turn the Digital Zoom function "OFF".

    -    It is handy to have some control over the camera's systems, but not critical. See "In the Field".


4) Mounting the camera to the scope

At first, digiscoping was done by simply holding the camera's lens up to the scope eyepiece. However, it was not all that easy to obtain consistent results - the camera must be held perpendicular to the scope eyepiece, and must be perfectly centered on the image. Trying to hold everything in place, steadying the image, and pushing the shutter button with a minimum of vibration is easier said than done.

The early digiscopers were creative tinkerers that fashioned elaborate mounting systems to hold their cameras in place. Unfortunately, that changed the spotting scope into a full-time photographic lens, and you couldn't view through the eyepiece unless you detached the camera. Birders and nature watchers want to have a spotting scope that can also take good pictures when the occasion arises. Simply holding the camera up to the scope eyepiece works OK, but there are problems.

There are many companies that have designed adapters to hold digital point-and-shoot cameras behind a scope eyepiece, but the main problem is not with attaching the adapter to the scope, it is attaching the adapter to the camera. Most point-and-shoot digital cameras are designed for novice photographers that have no use for accessories like remote shutter releases, photo filters, or accessory telephoto and close-up lenses. Making the process more complicated is the fact that the cameras come in all shapes, sizes, and designs - there is NO "universal" digital camera adapter.

    -    The Swarovski Digital Camera Adapter (DCA)

   ***Here's the catch - your digital camera MUST have the ability to accept threaded photo filters to use the DCA***

Any camera that has threads to accept photo filters and accessory lenses is a good place to start. Some have the threads on the lens itself, but a few of the recent models have an accessory "filter adapter" available from the camera manufacturer.

In April 2003, Swarovski Optik introduced a method of attaching a digital point-and-shoot camera to our spotting scope eyepieces. The Digital Camera Adapter has no lenses -it simply allows the camera to be positioned behind any of the new "S" Series Swarovski viewing eyepieces. It is quick to attach and detach from the eyepiece, and comes in two versions - the DCA-Fixed for use with the fixed-power, wide-angle eyepieces (20xSW, 30xSW, 45xSW), and the DCA-Zoom for the 20-60xS zoom eyepiece.

Neither of the DCAs will work directly on the older AT 80 and ST 80 Swarovski spotting scope zoom eyepieces, although it is possible to make an adapter. If you would like information on how to make such an adapter, please e-mail me and ask for the "Sweet Adapter". All the new S eyepieces will work on the older (gray) AT 80 and ST 80 scopes, so buying an "S" eyepiece and a DCA will work fine.

The DCA has three components - the inner (eyepiece) tube, the outer (camera) tube, and the camera mounting ring. The inner tube clamps onto the zooming ring of the scope eyepiece, so it can remain attached to the scope at all times. You can still zoom the scope by twisting the zoom ring. The mounting ring attaches to the camera's filter threads, and the outer tube attaches to it. Four different mounting rings come with the DCA, in commonly-used standard filter sizes - 28mm, 37mm, 43mm and 52mm. Any camera that uses different-sized filters will need a step-ring, available from any well-stocked camera store.

Example - the Sony DSC-W1 has a filter adapter (VAD-WA) that accepts 30mm filters. To attach the DCA-Zoom to the DSC-W1 and VAD-WA, you would need to purchase a 30mm - 37mm Step-up Ring.

    -    The Digital Camera Bracket (DCB)

The Swarovski Digital Camera Bracket is the solution to the problem of a camera that 1) has a great lens for digiscoping but 2) has no filter threads or filter adapter available. The DCB clamps onto the back of the "S" series spotting scope bodies and holds the camera in position behind the scope eyepiece. There are two versions - the DCB-Angled for the ATS scopes, and the DCB-Straight for the STS scopes.

   ***The DCB will not fit on the older AT and ST scope bodies***

Its unique design allows the camera to be held in place behind the scope eyepiece for photography, but the entire assembly flips up out of the optical path to allow the operator to view through the scope eyepiece. When in "viewing" mode, the camera arm locks in place above the eyepiece. Flip a release lever and the camera instantly positions itself behind the eyepiece for photography.

The only real disadvantage of this design is that it initially takes a few minutes to properly align the camera behind the scope eyepiece - since every camera is different, it must be properly centered on the eyepiece and positioned so that the lens does not hit the eyepiece when zooming or focusing. The camera can easily be removed from the DCB, but reattaching it will take a few seconds to realign the camera. On a day where there is blowing dust or rain sprinkles, keeping my camera mounted atop the spotting scope would make me uncomfortable.

In August, 2004, the first Swarovski DCB-Angled models were delivered to the US, and the DCB-Straight models are scheduled to be delivered in the Fall of 2004.


5) Which Tripod?

The brand is not as important as the size - the heavier the better. At high magnifications the image is very sensitive to motion, and the slightest shake will result in a blurry picture. Keep the tripod legs and center column as low as possible when shooting, so they will dampen vibrations more efficiently (a good reason to use the AT-80). A wooden or carbon-fiber tripod will dampen vibrations more efficiently than an aluminum tripod, but the two drawbacks there are weight and cost, respectively. Another alternative is a weight bag - an accessory that hangs below the center column and can be filled with rocks, sand, etc., and provide additional vibration dampening.

When a camera is mounted on the scope, it now becomes very tail-heavy, and a sturdy tripod head is a good thing. A "fluid head" for video tripods usually does not solidly lock down, and the resulting play in the system will be very annoying.

The Swarovski FH 101 Tripod Head moves smoothly in all directions, yet locks solidly with the flip of a lever. It will attach to virtually any tripod, regardless of the brand.

Some people use a separate brace that threads into the camera tripod socket and then clamps to one of the legs of the tripod. This works well, but severely limits the ability of the camera to track moving subjects. A monopod attached to the camera body will support the scope / camera in the vertical direction and still allow lateral motion to follow moving subjects.

Coming in 2005 from Swarovski Optik dealers, the Trek-Pod is a walking stick / monopod that will convert into a tripod while in the field. While it is not sturdy enough to hold the scope / camera assembly by itself, its unique Mag-Mount attachment allows you to use it as a very stable brace under the camera body while the scope is mounted to the tripod. The most stable solution is two tripods - one mounted to the scope, and one mounted to the camera. Needless to say, this is not a very portable setup, and you can forget about following moving subjects.

Swarovski Optik has announced plans to market a Balance Beam assembly that would mount onto the tripod head and move the scope / camera assembly forward, putting the center of gravity directly above the tripod head, with availability by late 2004.

The ultimate setup for stability would be a sliding rail system, similar to what is used on professional view cameras. Two movable mounts on a rail would attach to the camera and scope, while the center mount attaches to the tripod head. The whole, rigid assembly now can slide forward until the camera / scope balance point is above the tripod head. This would be a heavier system, but the perfect balance point and stable scope would make for better control and image stability.


6) In the Field

Practice assembling the system quickly and efficiently - an eagle sitting in a tree will probably not wait around until you to figure out how everything is supposed go together.

In the field, you will be able to use your scope normally - focusing, zooming, etc. The camera will have the mounting ring / outer tube attached to it, ready to shoot pictures. When you see a subject you want to photograph, slide the camera / DCA assembly down over the eyepiece / inner tube assembly, tighten the locking screw, view the scope image on the camera's LCD view screen, and take pictures.

I set my screen's brightness at Max setting, so I can see the image better during bright sunlight.

If you have accurately focused the scope on the intended subject, the camera's autofocus system usually locks in on the subject and the autoexposure takes care of the camera settings. If the camera allows, I usually set it to a center-weighted or spot meter setting, and the focus to a spot-focus setting. Any cameras that feature a "focus confirmed" signal on the screen are very handy.

Take your first few shots at fairly low power and a high ISO setting, so the chances are good that you will immediately get decent results. Review the images on the LCD screen, magnifying to see how the fine details are rendered. Once you have a few "good ones", you can lower the ISO for better image quality, or crank up the zoom power.

High-power settings are very sensitive to camera shake, so using the camera's self-timer or a remote shutter release (if available) is advised. I usually set my camera's exposure system to Aperture-Preferred Auto, so I can change f/stops to get the fastest shutter speeds possible for the lighting conditions. The higher you set the magnification, the less light hits the sensor, and the camera will need slower shutter speeds.

TAKE LOTS OF PICTURES - If taking photographs with long telephoto lenses was easy, everybody would be doing it! There is no way to get good results without putting in the time and effort. As you become more familiar with the system, you will end up with better results. The beauty of using a digital camera is that you can immediately post-view the picture and enlarge it on the camera's LCD screen to see how the image quality came out. Any bad shots can be deleted, either in the field or later, after the files have been saved to a computer hard drive. In any case, you can clean out the memory card and take more shots.

MAKE SURE YOU HAVE SPARE BATTERIES - Using the LCD screen eats up power, and as soon as the "Low Battery" signal comes on, your shooting time is limited. The more recent cameras are wonderfully energy-efficient when compared to those of just a few years ago, but you should have two or three sets of rechargeable batteries all charged up and ready to go for a day in the field.

I always turn the LCD monitor off when I am not actively framing a shot - it saves power, the camera remains on, and I can recall the monitor in a matter of a second or two.

Another really cool feature that is becoming more common with the digital point-and-shoots is a "movie" setting. While the image resolution of the short movie clips is not as good as the still photos, the ability to film moving subjects is pretty useful. The duration of the film depends on the camera, but my Nikon CoolPix 4500 takes 35-second clips. If the subject is a rare bird, a 30-second movie viewed frame-by-frame can show details that are only fleetingly glimpsed and hard to capture with a single shot.


Camera Choices:

Here are some cameras that will give a good, full-frame image when held up behind our 20-60x zoom eyepiece.

    -    Those with * are ones that WILL attach to the DCA using the camera's own filter threads.

    -    Those that have ** will attach to the DCA, but need an add-on filter adapter from the manufacturer.

    -    All others will need the DCB to hold them up to the eyepiece.

This list has probably changed, since the camera models are introduced and discontinued at a bewildering rate.


Nikon

   *CoolPix 900, 950, 990, 995, 4500 (all discontinued)
   **CoolPix 770, 880, 885, 4300, 5000 (all discontinued)
   **CoolPix 8400
Do NOT use the CP 4800, 5700, 8700, or 8800 models - they have big optical zooms!


Pentax

All Pentax cameras with 4x optical zooms or smaller.


Canon

**Power Shot A80, A95
Power Shot S30, S40, S200 Elph, (adapters made by www.ckcpower.com may fit specific cameras to the DCA) Olympus

D-40, **C-5000, C-5060


Minolta

Dimage X


Fuji

FinePix F601Z


Kyocera

FineCam S3X


Sony

**DSC-W1
** DSC-P150 (7mp camera - has filter adapter!)
Most DSC-P series cameras work on the DCB


Kodak

**DX 6440, 4530,
Most others with 4x optical zooms or less should work


Video Cameras Everything I have said about attaching a digital point-and-shoot to the DCA or DCB is the same with any number of the video cameras. Since the image sensor on video cameras is usually smaller than those on digital still cameras, there are some models that work well even though they have optical zooms of greater than 4x. If the front lens diameter is small, you probably can get a decent image, and the final magnifications are even greater than with the still cameras. However, I would "test-fit" the video camera's lens to the scope and view the image on the LCD screen before buying.

Most of the video cameras accept photo filters, so it is simply a matter of attaching the DCA to the front of the lens. If not, see if the DCB has enough adjustability to hold a mini-camera up to the scope eyepiece.


Section 3:



SLR Photography with Swarovski 80mm and 65mm Spotting Scopes

This text will cover equipment and techniques for taking photographs through Swarovski Optik spotting scopes using virtually any interchangeable-lens Single Lens Reflex camera.


1) Which scope?

It does not matter whether you are using the old-style (gray) AT or ST 80 scopes, the new (green) ATS scopes or STS 80 scopes, or the compact ATS / STS 65 scopes. The camera adapters will work fine with any scope. The High Definition ( HD ) version is the recommended type of scope for photography - it has superior contrast and color saturation when compared to the standard models. This will result in brighter colors and a crisper image. As to scope style, I usually use the AT (angled eyepiece) because it allows me to set the tripod lower, and thus get a more stable base to shoot from. However, if you already have a straight-through (ST) scope there is no disadvantage to using it, and you probably will be a little more comfortable with the ST for finding and following a moving subject.


2) Which camera adapter?

Swarovski Optik has marketed two different spotting scope Camera Adapters for nearly a decade. One turns the spotting scope into an 800mm telephoto lens, the other an 1100mm lens. When using a 35mm SLR camera, these will give an image magnification that is 16x and 22x, respectively. The camera adapter replaces the viewing eyepiece of the spotting scope, so you cannot get any kind of zoom lens (variable power) performance. In the fall of 2002, the old 800mm adapter was replaced by a new version - the TLS 800, which features redesigned optics and superior optical performance, especially edge sharpness. While both old adapters are technically discontinued, the 1100mm adapters may still be available, but supplies are limited.

If you have never used a long telephoto lens for still photography (400mm or longer), I would recommend starting with the TLS 800mm adapter. It functions as an f/10 lens on the 80mm scopes and f/12.5 on the 65mm scopes, while the 1100mm becomes an f/13.7 and f/17, respectively. This means that the 800mm gives a brighter image when looking through the camera viewfinder. You will find focusing on the subject is easier, and you will get a faster shutter speed that will help eliminate camera shake (see tripods). Bad focusing and camera shake are the two leading causes of rotten pictures, especially for beginners, so it helps to minimize their effects.

Those that have experience with longer focal lengths can jump directly to the 1100mm, for maximum magnification, but beware that it will also exaggerate atmospheric conditions like haze and heat shimmer (just like when viewing at 60x, sometimes the image sometimes looks better at 45x). Once the 1100mm adapters finally go out of stock, higher magnifications can still be achieved by using a high-quality teleconverter. A 1.4x converter would boost the TLS 800's focal length to 1120mm, or 22.4x.

The adapter mounts in place into the scope body, replacing the scope's viewing eyepiece. In order to attach the camera to the photo adapter, you need to remove the camera's lens and use a T-mount that fits your camera body (Nikon, Canon, etc.) to the TLS 800. Make sure that the T-mount is the correct one for your camera model - for instance, there are two different T-mounts for Canon SLRs; one for autofocus bodies (EOS type), one for non-autofocus (FD type) bodies.


3) Which Camera Body?

Almost any Single Lens Reflex camera body (also called SLRs - they take interchangeable lenses and you actually view the subject through the lens system) should work fine for scope photography , but a few things are desirable. Since the scope has no f-stop settings like a regular lens, it lets in light at a fixed rate - either f/10 or f/13.7, depending on which scope model to use (see above). That means that as the scene gets brighter or darker, you must change shutter speeds to keep the correct exposure. A camera that has an Aperture-Preferred Auto-Exposure system will change the shutter speeds for you, letting you concentrate on the subject and not worry about the camera settings. "Programmed Auto" and "Shutter-Preferred Auto" systems may not work, but Manual Metering mode or an old-fashioned manual shutter speed setting will work fine. Aperture-preferred works great when shooting print film, but slide film may require you to go to manual override for precise metering of tricky lighting conditions.

Most manual-focus camera bodies use a focusing aid in the center of the focusing screen - either a split-image circle or a ring of microprisms. Any lens that is darker than f/8 will cause the microprism circle and split-image focusing aids in a camera's viewfinder to go black - this will always happen when taking photos through the spotting scopes. The black spot will not show up on the actual picture, but it will block out the center of the viewfinder and force you to compose your main subject slightly off-center.

***If your camera model has the ability to change focusing screens, replace the standard one with an all-groundglass screen.***

Unfortunately, most SLRs do not have this feature, so you will have to live with a black spot in the center of your viewfinder. Most auto-focus cameras do not have these focusing aids on the screen, so blackout is not a problem. However, the image is usually pretty dim when compared to.

Another handy feature is a motor drive or auto-winder, which allows you to take repeated shots without moving your eye away from the viewfinder while your thumb advances the film, thus losing your subject from view. You also have the ability to shoot rapid sequences of moving subjects.

Some "Auto Focusing" camera systems will NOT work with manual-focusing, non-coupled lenses (also called "non-autofocusing lenses") - check your camera's instruction manual. At least a few of the Minolta Maxxum cameras will not work at all with a scope adapter. Also, some of the newer-model Nikon SLR will not take active meter readings and automatically set exposures when the lens does not contain the electronic contacts they were designed for - again, check your manual.

For any of these non-compatible SLRs, there may still be a solution - see section 8 - "Using SLR cameras with the DCA".


4) Which Tripod?

The brand is not as important as the size - in general, the heavier the better. At 16x and 22x, the image is very sensitive to motion, and the slightest shake will result in a blurry picture. Keep the tripod legs and center column as low as possible when shooting, so they will dampen vibrations more efficiently (a good reason to use the AT-80). A wooden or carbon-fiber tripod will dampen vibrations more efficiently than an aluminum tripod, but the two drawbacks there are weight and cost, respectively. Another alternative is a weight bag - an accessory that hangs below the center column and can be filled with rocks, sand, etc., and provide additional vibration dampening.

When a camera is mounted on the scope, it now becomes very tail-heavy, and a sturdy tripod head is a good thing. A "fluid head" for video tripods usually does not solidly lock down, and the resulting play in the system will be very annoying. The new Swarovski FH 101 Tripod Head moves very smoothly but locks solid with a flip of a switch. Some people use a separate brace that threads into the camera tripod socket and then clamps to one of the legs of the tripod. This works well, but severely limits the ability of the camera to track moving subjects.

Using a monopod attached to the camera body will give vertical stability while keeping lateral mobility to track moving objects. Starting in 2005, Swarovski Optik dealers will be carrying the Trek-Pod, a walking stick / monopod that easily converts into a field tripod. It features the unique Mag-Mount attachment system for cameras and binoculars, and it is a great choice to use as secondary support under the camera, where the tripod is holding up the spotting scope.

The most stable solution is two tripods - one mounted to the scope, and one mounted to the camera. Needless to say, this is not a very portable setup, and you can forget about following moving subjects.

Try using a cable release to minimize the vibrations caused by pushing the shutter button. This will help, but the movement of the focusing mirror flipping up out of the light path is enough to cause image shake during slow (1/30 sec and longer) hands-off exposures. Ditto that when using the self-timer - the vibrations subside by the time the shutter fires, but the mirror slap might still kill the image.

The ultimate setup would be a sliding rail system, similar to what is used on professional view cameras. Two movable mounts on a rail would attach to the camera and scope, while the center mount attaches to the tripod head. The whole assembly now can slide forward until the camera / scope balance point is above the tripod head. This would be a heavier system, but the perfect balance point would make for better control and image stability. By the end of 2004 Swarovski will be producing an offset tripod "balance beam" that will perform a similar function. At the time of this writing, there is no product number introduction date for this accessory.


5) In the Field

Practice assembling the system quickly and efficiently - an eagle sitting in a tree will probably not wait around until you to figure out how everything is supposed go together.

35 mm SLRs - for your first efforts, choose a film speed that will yield shutter speeds in the 1/500 sec to 1/1000 sec range - 400 speed or 200 speed film will usually work well in most lighting conditions. As the shutter speeds get slower, it becomes more important to keep the system steady when pushing the shutter button. Even a very slight movement at the time of the exposure will result in a blurry picture. CAUTION - a very fast film speed in bright sunlight might exceed the camera's shutter speed range. Example - 800 ISO film at f/10 on a bright day needs a 1/2000 sec. shutter speed, which many cameras do not have. Most color print films have enough forgiveness to deliver a good picture even when the exposure is not perfect, but color slides require very accurate exposures for good results.

Digital SLRs - pick an ISO setting high enough to give you shutter speeds in the range of 1/350 to 1/1000 sec. or higher. After taking a few shots, review the images to confirm that the photos are sharp, and then start reducing the ISO setting to get better image quality. It's better to have a few grainy but sharp images then to shoot with too slow a shutter speed and have ALL of the pictures come out blurry.

Accurate focusing is critical - the viewfinder is darker than normal, and the depth of field is very shallow. An autofocus system will not operate here - you must turn the scope's focus wheel just as in visually using the spotting scope. Some autofocus camera bodies have a signal in the viewfinder that indicates a correct focus has been achieved when using manual-focus lenses. Depth of field can be critical in long telephoto photography. An 800mm lens at f/5.6 or f/8 has a VERY narrow depth of field. A small advantage to having an f/11 lens system is that your depth of field will at least be manageable. When photographing animals, sometimes the length of the body extends outside the depth of field. Make sure that the head and eyes are in focus - a sharp body and legs with blurry eyes and head usually looks awful.

Capturing action is tricky - the narrow field of view and shallow depth of field make it hard to keep the subject centered and in good focus at all times. Practice! If the subject repeatedly passes by the same spot, (like a racing car through a corner or hummingbird arriving at a feeder) you can pre-focus at that spot and trip the shutter as it arrives there.


6) Other Stuff

Spotting scopes are NOT lenses designed for photography - they cannot give the same quality results as an 800mm or 1100mm Nikon or Canon telephoto lens. At the same time, those telephoto lenses cost 6 to 10 thousand dollars each, you cannot view through them, and they definitely are not waterproof! The image quality of the older Swarovski camera adapters is best in the center of the picture, and falls off out by the edges of the frame. Since most people are going to use them to photograph things (animals, racing cars, airplanes, etc.) and not landscapes, this effect is minimal. Center the subject in the frame, leave a little space to the right and left edges, and the results will be excellent. The new-design TLS 800 gives superior image quality out to the corners of the picture area, justifying the higher cost.

TAKE LOTS OF PICTURES - If taking photographs with long telephoto lenses was easy, everybody would be doing it! There is no way to get good results without putting in the time and effort. As you become more familiar with the system, you will end up with better results. Shoot test rolls, taking notes as to shutter speeds, lighting conditions, etc., so when the pictures come back you can see what worked well and what was a disaster. Once you are in the field, take multiple shots of the same subject - one may be just a little better than the others. By now you have probably spent over $2000 for your photographic system, and film and processing is the least expensive part - don't miss an opportunity for a great image by taking only one shot and walking away.

Worried about the cost of film and developing? That's the beauty of Digital SLRs - you can take 50 shots or 250 shots on a memory card and afterward simply delete the bad ones!


7) Digital Cameras - the new wave

Digital Single-Lens Reflex (D-SLR)

There are about a dozen interchangeable-lens Digital SLR cameras (D-SLRs) on the market. They accept the same lenses and operate exactly like their 35mm-film counterparts, but their images are electronic, stored on solid-state memory cards. The best-selling D-SLR models are made by Nikon and Canon. There are other models available from Fuji, Kodak, Olympus, Sigma, and Pentax, while Konica-Minolta recently announced a D-SLR. The first D-SLR models to be introduced were horribly expensive - well over $5000 for the camera body alone! Thankfully, the prices dropped even as the sensors and processors were improved, and by the summer of 2003 you could purchase an outstanding performer for around $1500.

In September 2003, Canon introduced the Digital Rebel, selling for $899, making it the first D-SLR under $1000. Nikon met the challenge by announcing in Spring 2004 the Nikon D-70, their own under-$1000 D-SLR. Pentax will be shipping a 1K D-SLR in the fall of 2004, and undoubtedly more will be coming from other manufacturers.

In addition to superior color range and image quality, the D-SLRs enable a 35mm camera owner to use all his various wide-angle and telephoto lenses. These cameras can be mounted on the Swarovski Camera Adapters like a normal 35mm SLR, as described above. As an added bonus, the digital body often gives a slightly higher magnification than the 35mm body - for example, the Canon 10D and Digital Rebel give you an image magnification factor of 1.6x. Thus the TLS 800mm adapter now acts like a 1280mm lens, giving a 25.6x image instead of 16x, and the 1100mm gives 35.2x instead of 22x. The Nikon D-SLRs have a 1.5x factor. Check the manufacturer's specifications for their specific D-SLR image magnification factors.

The real fun part comes when you start taking pictures - the procedure is the same as with a 35mm body, but you can immediately review your photos on the camera's LCD screen to verify that you got the shot. Any poor exposures can be deleted, either right then while in the camera, or later on, once the images have been downloaded to your computer. Instead of having to change the film after 24 or 36 exposures, a sufficiently large memory card in the camera will allow you to take hundreds of shots before needing to replace the memory card or downloading the images to a hard drive. Once the images are stored, clear the memory card and start shooting again!


8) Using D-SLRs with the DCA - something NEW!

The Swarovski Digital Camera Adapter (the DCA Zoom, part # 49206) was developed to attach point-and-shoot digital cameras behind the Swarovski 20-60xS zoom eyepiece - a practice known as Digiscoping. Holding a 35mm camera body behind a scope eyepiece will often show an image on the focusing screen, but it usually is surrounded by a ring of black - known to photographers as vignetting.

Recently, I discovered that a D-SLR equipped with a 50mm (normal) lens and the Swarovski DCA can function exactly like a digital point-and-shoot. This gives the photographer a few advantages over the TLS 800 and T-mount systems detailed above:

   A) The scope's zoom eyepiece can be used to the photographer's advantage. While the scope is yielding magnifications between 20x and 60x (equivalent to 1000mm to 3000mm lenses in 35mm-speak), the D-SLR's image magnification factor gives even MORE magnification. My Nikon D1 has an image magnification factor of 1.5x, so behind the zoom eyepiece the camera sensor is receiving image magnifications of 30x to 90x (that's 20-60 x 1.5), or the equivalent of a 1500-4500mm telephoto lens!!!
   B) In the field, you can use the spotting scope normally until you want to take a picture, at which time the camera / DCA Zoom assembly attaches in seconds and is immediately ready to shoot. With the TLS 800, you must first remove the scope eyepiece from the scope body, attach the TLS / camera assembly, stash the scope eyepiece in a pocket or bag so you don't lose it, and then start shooting. An animal or bird might not give you the time to get everything set.
   C) D-SLRs like the Nikon D-100, Nikon D-70, and the Minolta Maxxum series will not operate properly with the TLS 800 and the T-mount. They need to "sense" a lens with electronic connections for focusing, aperture, etc., otherwise the camera will not operate. This system allows you to use the camera's 50mm lens on the camera body, and all metering systems are now fully functional.

Using a 35mm SLR with this system will also give great image quality and only show minimal vignetting at the edges of the picture.

The DCA works in three pieces - an inner tube, an outer tube that slides over it, and the mounting ring that attaches to the filter threads of the camera's lens. The 20-60xS eyepiece has an eyecup that unscrews (counterclockwise). Remove it, and slide the DCA-Zoom inner tube down the eyepiece until it stops. Attach it to the barrel of the eyepiece by tightening the thumbscrew, and reattach the eyecup over top of the DCA-Zoom tube. You can still change the eyepiece zoom settings by turning the DCA-Zoom tube, plus the lens cap still fits atop the lens, so I just leave it on my scope at all times.

Now attach the DCA-Zoom outer ring to the filter threads of the camera lens. The DCA-Zoom comes with four mounting rings - 28mm, 37mm, 43mm and 52mm. The Nikon and Canon 50mm lenses both take 52mm photo filters, so the DCA-Zoom tube screws directly into the lens. If your lens takes a different filter size, you will need a step-ring (available from a good camera store) to adapt to the 52mm size of the DCA-Zoom. The DCA-Zoom on the camera's lens will look and operate like a big, black sunshade, which is an added bonus.

When you are ready to take a picture, make sure that your Autofocus mechanism is turned OFF - the weight of the camera is hanging off the front of its lens, and the servomotors in the lens may not be able to take the strain. Besides, you still have to focus the scope manually. You can choose any exposure system you like (Programmed, Action, etc.) because the normal lens is attached to the camera body, but I prefer Aperture Priority Auto because it will pick the shutter speed depending on the amount of light hitting the light meter.

Now slide the camera / DCA-Zoom down over the scope eyepiece, and lock it in place with the thumbscrew. Set the 50mm lens to its wide-open aperture (that will get you the fastest shutter speed possible). If you set the lens at f/stops smaller than f/5.6 (f/8, f/11, etc.) you will probably see image vignetting. Focus the scope on the subject, check the exposure information to make sure your shutter speeds are high enough, and hit the shutter! To zoom the eyepiece, loosen the thumbscrew for the outer tube, hold the camera stationary while twisting the lower end of the inner tube (try it - it's less complicated than it sounds) to zoom. Then re-tighten the thumbscrew and resume shooting.

You could use a different lens than a 50mm and it would optically work fine, however, the small WA-to-Tele zooms that most D-SLRs are packaged with are usually f/3.5 lenses. Compared to a 50mm f/1.8 lens, you are giving up 2 full shutter speeds - not a good trade-off with high-power photography. A new 50mm AF lens sells for under $100. It's a bargain!

Once you are done taking pictures, loosen the thumbscrew on the outer tube and remove the camera from the scope. It's that simple.

What are the disadvantages of using the DCA-Zoom instead of the TLS 800? The TLS 800 has better optical quality, especially if you are interested in making large prints. The camera / DCA-Zoom combination does not pass as much light through to the sensor, due to adding more lenses into the optical path, which will make shutter speeds drop. Also, since the magnifications start at 30x and go up, camera shake becomes more of a problem. At this time, I'm using the DCA-Zoom for most general shooting, then switching to the TLS if I have the opportunity to get some really outstanding shots.