14 July 2016

A new toy! or Phonescoping arrives at the Hornet's Nest

It was only recently, as I re-read some old Hornet's Nest equipment reviews, that I realised I've been using pretty much the same birding gear for a decade or more.

Bins, scope, even my shoulder bag - all have been with me for many years and, aside from the odd new notepad. sketch book and pencil, there have been no new toys to play with.

Except cameras that is. Over the years I have chopped and changed a bit with cameras.

I was there in the early days of digiscoping - if not at the actual beginning then certainly in the first flush of innovation. Cameras were heavy and/or unreliable (Coolpix 990 or Contax SL300 anyone?), adaptors were clumsy and expensive, batteries depleted fast, and results were decidedly hit and miss. I got some great results, but got pretty fed up lugging all that gear about.

So from digiscoping I moved on to a superzoom camera (Panasonic FZ20, still regret selling it) and then a DSLR with cheap 300mm lens + teleconverter. 

But more than anything what this all taught me was that good birdwatching and good bird photography rarely go hand in hand. Sure, good bird photography requires field craft and knowledge of birds. But it also needs obsessive attention to an individual bird at the expense of all others; attention to light and composition; and a thousand technical details from pin-sharp focus to batteries. And then there are the hours 'developing' the images on a laptop.

So I pretty much quit bird photography all together, preferring instead to find wonderful Creative Commons licensed images to use in this blog, and to sketch my own birds as I find them in the field. My sketching is awful, but I learn vastly more about birds and bird ID from doing that than I ever did from photography.

However, there are undoubtedly occasions when a photograph would be useful - either for identification, confirmation, or perhaps to complete a sketch after the bird has flown.

A bit of reading around suggested that digiscoping in its latest guise - phonescoping - might be the answer. So this week I finally got my hands on a new toy - a Carson is-100 universal phone adaptor from Sherwoods near Wooten Wawen (thanks for the great service guys). 

This clever device is able to pair my iPhone 6s with either my Zeiss Diascope 65 or my Opticon MM2 ED scopes. The results are a revelation.

The smartphone camera is vastly better than the technology of years gone by, so the images - in good light at least - are plenty clear enough for my purposes, with bags of spare resolution for cropping. Additional features like video and slo-mo are the icing on the cake - I can see plenty of birding applications and look forward to playing in the coming months and weeks.

So there you have it - a small piece of plastic I can throw in the shoulder bag and be ready  to photograph at a moments notice. Wonderful. Here are the obligatory garden test shots (taken from a bedroom window at 20 metres or so); I'm sure there will be plenty more to come.

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