Digiscoping with the Leica D-Lux 4 System

We received a D-Lux 4 digital camera and several adapters from Leica to go along with the impressive Apo-Televid 82 scope (see scope review here) and have been happily field-testing it for several weeks now in preparation for a full review on the digiscoping outfit. This entry isn’t meant to replace a full review, but rather just to give people an idea what can be done with this adaptable and really easy-to-use outfit.

The digiscoping rig consists of a D-Lux 4 digital camera, the D-Lux 4 digiscoping adapter and the Apo-Televid 82 scope along with a tripod of your choice. Given the weight of the scope, I opted for a full-sized carbon fiber tripod to counter-balance it. A carbon fiber tripod has the advantage of damping down vibrations, which is important when taking pictures, especially without a cable release. An aluminum ring screws from the lens of the camera to reveal threads onto which the adapter is mounted. The adapter then fits over the eyepiece of the scope (in this case, the 25-50x zoom eyepiece) and fixes in place with a set-screw. And that’s it! The whole operation takes about 30 seconds.

White-faced Ibis, digiscoped with Leica D-Lux 4 system

White-faced Ibis, digiscoped with Leica D-Lux 4 system

The first question most folks want to ask is: what kind of pictures can you take with this rig? Well, as it turns out, pretty good ones! For example, take a look at the detail in this basic-plumaged White-faced Ibis from San Joaquin Marsh Sanctuary near Sea and Sage Audubon House in Irvine, CA. In winter, White-faced Ibis lack the white facial skin for which they are named and they get a mottled appearance to the head and upper neck. Note the pinkish tint to the tip of the long decurved bill, and the facial skin. The appearance of the back and wings suggests this bird undergoing pre-alternate molt, with highly iridescent green feathers replacing the dull older feathers on the head, belly and neck. While shooting, this bird got too close for photography, and to take these pictures I had to move back!

Whimbrel at rest

Whimbrel at rest

Another question you might ask is whether the image richness is sufficient to support really fine details of plumage and pattern. These resting shorebirds provided a good example of that, and a different challenge: how to make the subtle plumage details stand out against a dull-colored but bright background. Look at the feather detail in this Whimbrel, from the pale buffy fringes of the wings and back to the warmer cinnamon tones of the breast, and the rufous crown stripes. Notice the white eye ring and how the inner portion of the lower mandible is pink, while the legs are bluish gray. Even the rippling reflection below is rich with detail. The preening Long-billed Dowitcher is just a bit too far in front to be fully in focus, but there are still some great feather details visible in it too, from the dark-centered, pale-edged wing coverts to the dark chevrons on the sides of the belly. So, even in challenging light, surprising image detail is available.

Perched Vesper Sparrow

Perched Vesper Sparrow

How cumbersome and slow is the Leica D-Lux 4 digiscoping unit? Well, it’s really not, as evidenced by the fact that using this unit, I have often been able to capture sharp images of small and rapidly moving birds. This group of Savannah Sparrows kept hopping up onto a barbed wire fence and alighting for a few seconds before getting spooked and dropping back down into the grass. But with a bit of luck and timing, the D-Lux 4 still caught this Vesper Sparrow, an uncommon bird in Orange County, among them. Note the characteristic white outer tail rectrices and black inner ones. The wind ruffled its head feathers, giving it a ‘punkish’ look, but the thin white eye ring is visible around the black eye. The depth of field is fairly good here too. This photo was taken in 16:9 ratio mode, which yields a broader shot.

Lesser Goldfinch feeding

Lesser Goldfinch feeding

A second example is shown in this feeding male Lesser Goldfinch. This bird was only about 25 feet away when I took these shots, but he kept hopping from plant to plant in search of more succulent bits to munch. You can see a piece of his meal clinging to the edge of his beak. Our west coast LEGOs are greenish backed with black streaking, whereas those of the interior can be completely black-backed. And of course, the Danish LEGOs come in a wide variety of colors and can be used to build amazing things… but I digress. The camera and scope picked up the subtle markings of the bird along with details in his claws along with the brilliant orange hues of the flowers and their green foliage.

So that should answer your questions. Digiscoping with the Leica D-Lux 4 camera and Apo-Televid 82 scope is incredibly easy, not to mention a lot of fun. If you don’t hear from me for a while, it’s only because I will have stolen this unit and gone on the lam!

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