Camera settings for digiscoping (cp990/995/4500) (1 Viewer)

Andy Bright

Administrator
Staff member
England
The camera settings used for digiscoping are one of the most frequent requests that I receive, so I thought it would be an idea to state my own and to invite others to share their own settings with the forum.
It would be understandable to assume that every digiscoper would use the same settings.... this isn't the case and there seems to be several ways to reach the same goal. The following settings are for the major digiscoping cameras, the Nikon cp990, cp995 and the cp4500.... some of these may be applicable to other Nikon coolpix cameras and maybe cameras from other manufacturers.

First off, it's important to use your camera in a manual or semi-automatic mode.... programme and auto modes can often give you inappropriate exposure settings for bird photography, maybe giving you a slower shutter-speed in preference to a higher aperture value... the latter is totally irrelevant for digiscoping, extra depth of field is unlikely and far less important than freezing any movement.

Full Manual:
You choose shutter-speed and aperture value....you can judge if the photo will be over/under exposed by the linear exposure meter.

Aperture Priority:
You set the aperture value (lowest available setting is vital) and the camera works out what shutter-speed is appropriate for the given light

Shutter-Priority:
Where you set the shutter-speed and the camera sets the appropriate aperture value for the given light.
I use full manual and tend to under-expose slightly by choosing a slightly faster shutter-speed than the camera recommends to freeze bird/camera movement as much as possible... Correct exposure is often subjective but blur isn't, anyway under-exposure can be rescued in Photoshop, though over-exposure is very difficult to rectify.
Aperture priority is a fairly reliable mode and may be the best bet when the bird is active and you need to get a shot off quickly.

Focus modes:
There is always some debate about what mode produces the sharpest images. I have tried them all over the last 3 1/2 years and still come to the conclusion the 'Macro' (flower symbol) produce the best images. 'Infinity' is handy if you have obstructions (branches/reeds and similar) between the camera and subject as you simply focus on the subject until sharp and the camera will take the shot without trying to find a focus lock itself.
If you do utilise the latter, try to do it with the camera in 'manual focus' with the distance set to infinity rather than using the main 'Infinity' (mountain symbol) focus setting, this seems to give slightly improved results.

In the actual camera menus:

White Balance:
Leave it on Auto, ... you can have a play around with the White Balance preset if you have a white object in view for the camera to take a reading, though not really worth the bother as you can rectify most problems in Photoshop.

Metering:
Now this is quite important as it determines where the camera takes its light reading of the image from, so as to correctly expose the image... Best to ignore matrix metering as it can often lead to the wrong exposure for a small bird against a light/dark background, though if the bird dominates the view it o.k. Spot Metering is useful as the camera will only take a light reading from the centre spot (hopefully where the subject is)... exposing the subject correctly but to hell with the background.
An in-between metering mode is 'Centre Weighted' or 'Partial Spot'..... The camera will concentrate on exposing for the centre spot but doesn't totally ignore the lighting of the background.
Finally, and in combination with a focus mode we will get to later, we have 'Spot AF Area' metering. basically spot metering but at different points around the image. I tend to use this for most of my shots, that's why my backgrounds look too dark or bright!

Continuous:
Fairly straight forward in that you can choose to shoot one shot at a time or a series of shots (about 6 for full size images on the cp4500). Handy to take a burst of shots in quick succession in that you're more likely to capture a good pose with an active bird (diving Ducks)... just delete the crap ones afterwards. There is a price to be paid for using 'Continuous mode' as you will have a fairly long wait while these images are written to the memory card (feels like an eternity if the bird is suddenly posing beautifully).
You can take a single shot whilst in 'Continuous mode', but the write-to-card time is slightly longer than if the image had been taken in 'Single mode'.
There are other multi-shot shooting options, but these can only be used when using lower quality image settings.

BSS:
Nikon's amazing feature for getting sharp images with shaky hands, unfortunately not much use for birds that are moving. The camera keeps taking photos as long as you have the shutter button pressed down, you take your finger off and it will only save what it regards as the sharpest image. A moving subject will totally throw it off, but it can be used for static birds.

Image Adjustment:
This controls the contrast in the final image. Best left on normal, though I prefer low contrast on the cp4500 to help keep blown-out highlights to a minimum. You can always boost contrast in-computer with far more control.

Saturation:
Best left on normal setting. Auto settings on any of the image adjustment controls can leave you at the mercy of the camera's 'brain'.

Sharpening:
See above.

Image Quality:
Always on 'Fine'. This saves the image at a low jpeg compression ratio.... you can't really see any jpeg artefacts in the results. 'Hi' will save the image as an uncompressed Tiff, so this is the ultimate for quality but you'll be waiting 20+ secs before the image is written to the memory card and you can take another shot.

Image Size:
Keep on 2272x1704, which is the maximum size. May be tempting for 35mm people to use 2272x1520 for 3:2 format images rather than 4:3... but a waste of time and pixels as you can crop to 3:2 in-computer.

Focus Options: (3 Sub-menus)

AF Area Mode:
This refers to the Nikon AF zone system that presents five focus targets that you can choose from, in auto the camera will focus on the zone that has an object closest to the camera... in manual you can choose which zone the camera will focus on (via the mini joystick). This handy for 'nice' compositions with the bird off-centre.
You may have guessed by now that the 'Spot AF Area' metering mode that I mentioned earlier is linked to these focus targets... you will get spot metering over the active target (active target is highlighted red on the screen).
I'd recommend using 'AF Area Mode' in manual combined with the 'Spot AF Area' metering mode... if nothing else it will help the camera focus on what you want it to rather than some twig in the bottom of the image (even that's not foolproof).

Auto-Focus Mode:
Absolutely vital to switch it to 'Single AF', seems to be the default setting these days.... but check it if your camera is constantly searching for something to lock onto when you're in a manual/semi-auto mode.

Focus Confirmation:
Tricky one.... highlights the area in-focus on your screen, so you can focus your scope and know when the subject is in-focus because it 'twinkles' (for want of a better word). It can make your eyes go a bit funny on the older Nikons, better on the newer ones. Not totally reliable and I find my own judgement of what is in perfect focus to be more reliable on many occasions, so have it switched off. If I go through a rough patch of 'iffy' photos I'll switch it on again in desperation.... but usually switch it off again when I realise something else was to blame for the 'iffy' pics.
Focus Confirmation can make the view look very 'bitty' when used with an Extend-a-view sunshade2x loupe.

That's about it for my settings.... what about yours?
Andy B
 

Camberley red

Well-known member
Its all quiet straightforward then!

I think I'll stick to 35mm for a while. But many thanks for the insight.

Paul
 

IanF

Moderator
Thanks for posting this Andy :t:

You really must be psychic !

My new scope arrived this morning so I have been tinkering with the camera settings, but struggling to get sharp photos straight out of the camera when opened at full size. As you indicate there are just so many variables in the camera settings. If I resize them to 800x600 then they sharpen up tremendously and can be improved still further with a bit of sharpening/blur as per the other tips.

Is this a normal thing or should the shots be crisp at full size ?

I also get sharper shots with the camera set to 2x or 3x optical zoom rather than the maximum 4x ( on the 4500).
 

Andy Bright

Administrator
Staff member
England
Congratas on the new scope, Ian. Kowa 823 wasn't it? 32x or 20-60x e.p?

Surprisingly the images from the recent higher res cameras usually look less sharp than lower res ones. Some of this is due to the fact that newer cameras have less noise in the image, the noise can often give an impression of sharpenss.... another reason is that manufacturers have sacrificed sharpness for better colour reproduction in the images.

It's a bit difficult to judge what you regard as sharp, but the results should be fairly good.... but always requiring additional unsharp mask.... generally at levels of 140-170 / 1.3-1.7 / 0-3

Downsizing the image allows a less critical view, rather than the in your face full size view at 100%... so things naturally look better, even with considerable sharpening. That's why it's relatively easy to produce good looking web images but far harder when they're for large prints.

Although there has been talk of the problems when shooting at above 3x on the camera with the cp995 and 4500... I think it's only a gradual drop in quality. I'd rather increase the e.p. magnification than go above about 3.5x., the scope resolves more detail as you go up in mag... topping out at about 34x for an 80mm.
Good luck and keep me informed :t:
Andy
 

Andy Bright

Administrator
Staff member
England
Paul: Can't help thinking that a similar text concerning the use of a modern 35mm slr for bird photography would be even longer.
Andy
 

Camberley red

Well-known member
True, but I set the thing to apature priority and manual everything else, so I probabaly waste about 50% of the electronic trickery. Auto focus does not work with my tele-adaptor, so I'm probabaly about 15 years behind everyone else.

By the way, your results are very impressive, have you looked at some of the SE Asian guys work, they are pretty hot with digiscope technology too.

Good luck and I look forward to lots more super images from you and the digiscoping fraternity.

Paul
 

Andy Bright

Administrator
Staff member
England
Hi Paul,
Yeah, the Malaysian mob are red hot... known them for a long time. Most of 'us' older digiscopers know eachother from Birds-pix over the years
Although Laurence Poh gets most of the plaudits and publicity, his fellow countryman Oby (Ooi Beng Yean) is the number one in my opinion, even better than Ann Cook....he uses unbelievably slow shutter-speeds in the jungle and gets razor sharp images, he's the reason why Laurence dumped his Leica to get a Swaro'.

Finland have really taken to digiscoping as well, loads of them getting cracking shots of cracking birds.... just goes to prove digiscoping works in any climate!
Try this guy (Jussi), gave him a plug in Birdwatch mag... only been at it for a short time but awesome pics of birds that we're lust after in the U.K. Has to be said, he only takes shots to be shown on the web at small sizes.... still look good though.

Jussi's Birds

Andy
 

KC Foggin

Super Moderator
Staff member
United States
Great Andy. I have just printed this out in the event that I do decide to try digiscoping. :)
 

IanF

Moderator
Thanks for the above tips Andy.

Really I need to get to grip with the camera first, before expecting too much from my digiscoping efforts.

I'll keep you updated.

BTW it is the 823 with the 32x eyepiece.
 

RoyH

Well-known member
Camera settings.

Andy

Thank you for taking time out to cover this subject which I have printed, well written Andy. I have had more success since using the Menu Priority Mode with some of the settings you mention but I must practice more using the Manual Mode now I have your notes and I can't wait to give a go. After reading your notes I need to make just a few settings adjustments but I was not far out only that I was using Menu Priority, tried all the others must not have been doing it right.
I wonder if anyone has experienced Fogging up. My 995 camera over heated which was in direct sunlight for a short period. This happened to me last summer so I have been aware of this since. While on a recent Caribbean cruise, there was a film crew onboard. This amazed me, he left his Nikon D1X set on the tripod in direct sun for ages but I guess you get what you pay for.

Roy.
 

IanF

Moderator
Just to let you know I had my first trip out digiscoping for an hour this afternoon to try out the camera settings suggested by Andy. I was pretty impressed with the results, far better than I could previously have obtained with my usual equipment at the distances involved, though not as manouvreable.
One thing I did found though was with +1 EV compensation the results were far better. At camera auto selected settngs they were a little dark.
Here is a shot taken from about 120 yards !
Kowa 823 + Nikon 4500
 

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IanF

Moderator
Pochard at about 175 yards - came out a little dark from the metering off the flank. That five zone focusing is a fantastic feature of the camera, you'd think they'd designed it with digiscoping in mind.

I was pretty pleased with the results - thanks again Andy :t:
 

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digi-birder

Well-known member
Ian, I am so envious. These are fantastic for your first shots. Mine came out like I was looking through a frosted window - in fact most of them still do!

I'm going through Andy's settings, but I'm sure it's what my camera is set on already. I'm hoping to have a good digi-session on Sunday.
 
Thanks for the tips. Many of them I'd arrived at already but I'm going to try "manual mode". I hadn't considered the trade off between underexposing and blur due to subject movement. My problem is that so many birds perch at the end of spindly mesquite branches at extreme range. The slightest breeze sets them in motion. Even on a fairly calm day six "continuous" frames has them bouncing clear out of the focus zone. If I'm lucky, one of six shots is mostly in focus. Birds on the ground or even on water are well--sitting ducks. Just wish I could shoot continuous for 20 or 30 frames.

I have light most of you would dream for, but rarely a solid perch to the horizon. Only fair I guess.

What about lens settings, X2,X3 etc.? I tried both but had problems focusing. Am I doing it right?
 

Andy Bright

Administrator
Staff member
England
Chuck A Wulla:
Lens settings? Not sure what you mean. Caemra zoom position or the menu options for using the various teleconverters?
The options for using the teleconverters do nothing worth mentioning when digiscoping (or even using the Nikon teleconverters!)
Camera lens zoom positioning is up to you, but there is a fall-off above 3x ... this is only marginal to my eyes, any detiriation is more likely due to less light and the image more prone to vibration at these higher mags.
Andy
 
Yes, teleconverter settings is what I was interested in. Didn't have much luck with them, but I was trying for a bird at near sniper range on a breezy day. After seeing the Gallery, you've all convinced me to start looking for a portable blind.

Thanks
 

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