Thursday, September 8, 2011


I like to travel light when I go birding. Carrying around a camera body with a long lens isn't something that appeals to me. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I am not into doing bird photography on my usual rounds at favorite locales unless of course I find something rare enough that requires documentation. Just in case I do find something that needs to be documented I've carried a small digital camera to use for digiscoping but invariably it seems the batteries have run down every time I try to use it. Backup batteries would be a good idea but I've had them go bad on me too. Video cameras are a good way to document rarities but once again you've got to worry about battery power and you have to carry it in some sort of fanny pack or backpack.

Recently I got an Iphone after having used a Itouch for a year and I immediately started enjoying using the camera and video camera on it. Wheels began to turn. I almost always have my phone with me and it is usually powered up sufficiently when I leave the house. It can slip into my pocket to carry. Surely there must be a way to use it in conjunction with a scope like you do with a digital camera for digiscoping.

I did some searching on the web and the could only find one blog by Rich Hoyer that shows how to do a handheld digiscope with the Iphone:

But try as I may I was never able to get a very good shot with the hand held method. It was extremely difficult to keep the camera centered on the exit pupil. None of my images came out recognizable.

In trying to come up with a way to attach the iPhone to the scope I stumbled upon the Joby Gorillapod Flex Tripod for the iPhone 4. It has a case that encloses the phone so it can be attached to the flexible tripod.

Joby Gorillapod, snap on case w/iPhone

Joby Gorillapod with iPhone
 I bought mine from Amazon for $10.90. I then took my scope and readjusted the handle closer to the lense and voila I had a stable platform to shoot through my scope.  It takes a bit of practice to adjust the camera onto the exit pupil image and you will see some vignetting that can be remedied by zooming in with the camera app. I'm using the Lightbox app that has an image stabilizer that helps with the phonescoping and a self timer. The standard camera app works well too and you can switch it over to video too as well as shoot in HDR but does not have zoom capability.

I wrap two of the flexible arms of the gorillapod over the handle on the fluid head in opposite directions. with the third arm pushed against the top of the scope for additional stability. Not all fluid heads come with the adjustable handle, mine adjusts with a simple turn of a wingnut. (Manfrotto 3130) I carry the flexipod wrapped around the handle just in case I need it for phonescoping.

Here is what it looks like:

Left side

Right side

One small problem is that the case that goes on the iPhone slides onto the wrong side of the iPhone for using the camera so you will need to snap it on and off. To get it off you will need to snap apart the case and slide the attachment off that way.

 I tried it out the the other day down at the Pajaro River under extremely foggy conditions. I'm sure the photos could have been done better under more favorable conditions.  Obviously it is no magazine cover but it is sufficient for photo documentation and I did edit the sharpness a little:

The video I shot was even better and next time I should be able to eliminate the vignetting by zooming in:

I'm looking forward to working out some of the kinks and hopefully I will find some rare shorebird to try it out on!

If you have any suggestions I'd love to hear from you.


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