Sunday, October 15, 2006

Shooting digital photographs through the eyepiece of my binoculars

I never tried this before because, frankly, I didn't think it would work. But we were taking a walk in Madison's Owen Conservation Park when I spotted a crow convention in a tree about 150 yards away. I could see them fine with the binoculars -- Eagle Optics Ranger, 8x32. But my point-and-shoot camera -- Minolta Dimage X, 2MP -- was hopeless, even with the crappy 6x digital zoom. That's when I decided to try combining camera and binoculars.

As you can see at the link, the Minolta has an internal lens and mirror construction behind a small shooting window in the upper left corner of the body. I simply held the Minolta's shooting window flush against the binocular eyepiece, with the extendable eyecup retracted. Without any way to support my poorly aligned apparati, it took awhile to get things lined up and even register an image in the LCD. As soon as I did, I pressed the shutter, and this is what I got -- with some black vignetting at the top and right mostly cropped out.

The image (click on the photo to enlarge) seemed to be about 40% larger than what I get with my digital zoom, and quite a bit sharper. Combined with the cropping, this shot seems roughly equivalent to what I might have gotten with a 500mm lens on a 35mm camera. You'll note that some of the birds are sharper than others. That's because my camera was not perfectly aligned with the binoculars, tilting the focal plane with respect to the subject.

I just took the one image, because I was there to get exercise, not to embark on quixotic photo quests. But as I walked along I thought about what might make things work better. Something to prop the binoculars up and hold them steady would be nice. A place to sit while ligning up the binoculars would be good. Finding a place to park the car and use the steering wheel as support seemed to fulfill both conditions. I decided to stop along Lake Mendota on the way home and try a few more shots.

Here's my first try -- the State Capitol poking through the trees across the lake (again, click on photo to enlarge). I was able to get the binocular's full field of view by pulling out the retractable, twist-out eyecup. This also gave me something to brace the camera against that was flat, allowing a better alignment. As a result, the image was a bit sharper across the entire field of view than the shot of the crows.

I used the same technique for this shot, but cropped the final photo out of the circular image. With the magnification and the extreme cropping, this is roughly equivalent to a full-frame 35mm shot made with an 800mm lens.

Note: Slight contrast enhancement and sharpening applied to all three photos in Photoshop, but otherwise all three pictures appear just as I shot them.

Things to try another time: Zoom the camera lens, both to the optical limit (3x) and the digital limit (6x total). Some night when the full moon is low enough in the sky to comfortably frame it in the windshield, point the whole damn thing at the moon and hope for the best.

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