Leica digiscoping kit

Digiscoping is probably a familiar term to OP readers, as a number of telescopes and adapters from various manufacturers have been reviewed over the last couple of years, including both compact cameras and digital SLR options Leica have long produced top quality telescopes, binoculars and camera equipment and have now introduced their own complete digiscoping kit, that provides everything that i needed to get started and take photos, comprising of: Leica Apo-Televid 82 telescope Leica Trica tripod with fluid head, Leica digiscoping adapter and Leica D-Lux 4 compa camera.

This is quite a difficult review, as I’m not only looking at each individual item, but at all the items as a whole and their combined suitability for taking good quality images through a telescope. So, this is not a review of a tripod, telescope and camera but a digiscoping kit review. But it is very difficult not to take a quick peek at the merits of each item in its own right.

Probably the first question readers will ask is: ‘Why do I need to buy a complete kit — can’t I just buy bits from everywhere?’ Of course you can, but if you choose to buy a Leica telescope and eyepiece to start with, then perhaps you might as well carry on and see how good the rest of the kit is. Plus, that way, you know that everything is ‘made to measure’ and meant to be used with everything else.

The kit

Starting with the telescope and eyepiece: my review model was the 82mm angled version (straight is also available) and the eyepiece a 25-50x zoom, both of which are of superb quality with crystal clear, sharp images and excellent colour rendition. A protective stay-on case is also available.

The Trica tripod is carbon fibre, lightweight yet very sturdy and steady, with a fluid head that is both smooth and easy to use.

The camera is the D-Lux 4, a ten million pixel L compact, with the 35mm equivalent of a 2460mm zoom lens, ISO 80-3200, various exposure programmes and metering modes and shutter speed of 1/60-1/2000 second; just about most features you would find on a mid-priced DSLR camera.

The photo adapter is a smooth wide ring that fits on to the eyepiece and screws to the front of the camera lens.

So, that’s the kit; once I’d familiarised myself with the functions of a new tripod, plus a compact camera (this was the first time I had ever used a Leica camera of any sort) it was time to see how I could get on with it all in the field, or more precisely, at my local nature reserve.

Dedicated Raw users should stop reading at this point as I shot in JPEG for this test; this was simply because every digiscoper I know of uses this medium, so I felt it made more sense to follow that trend on this occasion rather than buck it! The file size at Fine setting was around 3.15mb, depending on scene detail.

I have to confess to finding digiscoping quite difficult, it is totally different from the bird photography I know, and have known for the past 30 years; using a DSLR and a telephoto lens is comfortably familiar — everything fits where it should and the controls are second nature.

But with digiscoping you have two choices: either look through the telescope to find the bird, then attach the adapter with camera fitted and take the photo, or pan the camera attached to the telescope while looking for the bird on the camera’s screen.

I find both difficult. Panning and looking at a screen and trying to line the telescope is difficult, plus there is no guarantee that the bird you have looked at through the telescope will still be there when the camera is attached a few seconds later.

However, I did persevere and I have to admit that after a couple of days practice I was actually becoming quite adept at finding the target bird on the screen and taking decent pictures. In fact, if I say so myself, they were actually very good, and the more I used this kit the more impressed I became (both with it and myself!).

The quality of this digiscoping kit is superb; the camera consistently produces excellent images, with very accurate colours and includes one of the best auto white balances I’ve used.

At first I was taking single shots at a time, but a quick read of the instruction manual and I found a setting that allowed me to take continuous shots until I took my finger from the shutter. This is very useful, even more so than on a DSLR because as you take the photo you also have to check the screen to see if the bird is moving slightly, as well as trying to turn the focusing wheel on the telescope — you see, it’s not quite as simple as it sounds, this digiscoping lark! But, as I mentioned earlier, the more pictures I took, the easier it became, and I was even trying to photograph flocks of birds as they flew in to roost at high tide.

Auto exposure was also accurate, but being from the old school of film, I worked in my usual way and exposed manually for most of the time. Why blame the camera when you can blame yourself? Adjusting the aperture or shutter speed was a simple enough task (once I’d read the manual), so try it, and see if the results are better than with auto exposure.

The telescope is up there with the rest of the top of the range models and delivers sharp images without any colour cast. I did try the eyepiece at a higher magnification, but this does lead to vignetting on the photo once past the 30x setting. This can be cropped out at a later date on the computer if there is a distant bird that you need a record shot of, but for quality images I left it at the 25x end of the zoom range.

Overall, this is a very impressive complete digiscoping kit, which is capable of taking top quality images, but it also comes with an impressive price tag — like most top quality optical equipment, this is often the price that has to be paid. Ultimately, all I can say is: if you do choose to buy this comprehensive set up, I really don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the results.

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