PI Photography

Exercises in Extreme Focal Lengths
Equipment Used and More

    For this experiment - this first test - I used some of what I have around here.

    There are many more possibilities that what are shown here - and I haven't even gotten around to trying all that I have here. I will also mention a couple of other things that I am planning on trying as soon as I can get to them.

    Part of the problem here is that there are very few mounts to connect your camera to your particular lens choice. If you do not have filter threads, this becomes another problem to solve. Then supporting the camera and lens combo so as to not damage either one is very important too.

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    This is the primary camera used for this test. Not a perfect choice, but I love the camera as my 'carry' camera ( with me at all times ). Now that I've had it for some time, the size makes it worthwhile - and there is now a 5 megapixel version too. This is an older camera now - I got this one on 'closeout' at Target one day for $80! A very worthwhile purchase I think.

    This is a 2 megapixel ( 1600 x 1200 ), 3x zoom ( 38mm to 114mm in 35mm terms ), and AA batteries. No digital zoom is used here - but I will attempt at least a couple shots on a later test just to see a result.

    Notice the tiny lens opening on this camera - this is what caught my eye and suggested its suitability for this experiment. There is no way to mount this camera to the lens, so I am planning on making something to position the lens in the exact center of the eyepiece opening for the best shot I can get.

    I simply held this camera up to the eyepiece of the lenses and tried to hold still. You will see the success - or lack thereof - but when I can get it mounted properly, the photos will be even better.

    This 'exact' camera comes in the X-31 model ( 3.1mp, 3x zoom, 2 AA batteries ), more 3.2mp models, and now even a 5.0 mp camera ( all these newer models now have proprietary batteries now ) for some excellent shots.

    REMEMBER - these shots I am showing in these initial experiments are ALL handheld - a few without even a tripod. Later ones will be better.

UPDATE! - 23 March 2005 - Several camera makers have recently announced new models of similar size to the Minolta I used here - and with the critically important small lens openings that permit this kind of use. They range up to six megapixel and at least one has a 4x zoom. This will give added reach and allow you to crop a photo when needed.

With my favorite scope ( the Leica ) this would give over 9,000mm in 35mm equivalent in a relatively compact package. For a more cost-effective solution to real zoom photos - combine the 4x zoom with the less expensive Bushnell ( or similar ) with the 45x maximum zoom on the eyepiece, and the 4x of the camera, for a total zoom of 180x, for close to 7,000mm!

And using well-established techniques employed by professional photographers you can create a photo with at least double that range in apparent focal length.

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    This is the scope and tripod I used for many of the photos you see here for now. It is my primary scope. This is on a cut-down tripod for use when sitting, at the range, or similar 'low' position. You can 'splay' the legs out far enough to get the eyepiece about a foot off the ground.

    This is a Leica Televid 77 with a 20x to 60x zoom straight-through eyepiece ( the angled view would probably be a better all-around choice ). This scope is great, especially in low light. The eyepieces are also great quality. Focusing is by the two 'rollers' on the top of the scope - the larger roller is for primary focus, the smaller is for 'fine' focus - very important for this.

    The tripod is a Bogen / Manfrotto with a geared head with a quick release ( rain - dust - etc ) for the scope or camera. The quality support is important and being able to move the view in truly tiny increments with the geared head is invaluable.

    Unless you are really into cameras and spotting scopes ( or are insane - been mentioned ) you are not gonna like the prices of this stuff. I checked - the scope is about $1500 now, the zoom eyepiece another $450, basic tripod is about $100 ( plus modification ), and the tripod head is a bit over $200 - but look around for sales!

    This is the Bushnell 15x to 45x Spotting Scope. This range might really be the most useful. It certainly will save you a bunch of money as they are considerably less expensive to buy. The light seemed to stay pretty constant as the zoom increased to maximum.

    This scope has a single focusing knob on the side - so you do not have to move the camera to focus ( though it is a better choice to move it out of the way ).

    The tripod is ok - it does have a screw adjust for tracking, but is only so-so on stability, part of the package.

    This came as a package deal for about $300 ( 15 years ago ) including a padded backpack. Now they are cheaper than they were then, with some changes.

 Bushnell 15x-45x Spotting Scope.

 Meade ETX 90 Spotting Scope.
    This is a Meade ETX 90 ( 90mm diameter ~ 3.5in, 1250mm focal length ). It has a 45 degree erecting eyepiece mount and a 24mm to 8mm zoom eyepiece. This is the spotting scope version of an astronomical scope. Now also available in a 5in version with 100x to 300x range with this same eyepiece. Put a deeep hood on it too.

    This cost way too much -then- but is now actually considerably cheaper - the optical glass eyepiece(s) are the most expensive thing here. Very light - Pyrex mirror, molded plastic body, and an aluminum tube - about 45oz.

    The scope and eyepiece combo start with a 52x multiplier ( 1250mm divided by 24mm ) and go up to 156x ( 1250 div by 8mm ). When combined with a 3x zoom camera - this gives you some outstanding capability. Gives up to 16,650mm equiv with this eyepiece.

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    This is a general sample of the four tripod heads I have - each could be used but ...

    The head in the first left photo is a 'geared' head that is very controllable, my favorite, and the most expensive of these. You can rotate the head by fractions of a degree in each of three axes.

    The second one is pretty much a general purpose head - a bit less controllable - but if that is what you own - is quite usable. Still adjustable in three axes.

    Many of you may already have a good video head - the third photo - and the longer arm may be better, especially if you are already used to it. Smooth panning action but needs other adjustment by hand.

    The last one is a 'joystick' I was 'convinced' to buy ( pros 'love' them - riiight ). It has a ballhead for all / every direction adjustability by just squeezing the trigger. Basically, as I see it - un-controllable. I dislike it a lot - and have no idea how you could use it for something like this.

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    One additional technique you can employ ( not shown ) is a simple homemade cloth triangle attached at the three top leg joints of your tripod. The cloth should be larger than just the right size, so it will 'sag' in the middle. This sag allows you to put a large rock, sand, small child, whatever, in it so as to make your tripod heavier and more stable, without buying and carrying a heavier one.

    You can often make use of a hole many tripods have near the bottom of the center post of the tripod by hanging something from it - carry a rod with you, bent to fit, as a 'hook' to use. Hang a camera bag, or small pouch filled with whatever is available to create additional stability.

    If nothing else put a loose bag of rice, pearl tapioca, or even flour ( extra wrapping please ) on top of a scope to absorb vibration, each step you take will make these photos sharper.

    Lastly a hiker's trick, a sturdy piece of string. Tie it around a monoscope for instance, with enough length so as to reach the ground with extra. Hold the lens at the height you will use it, step on that extra length of string so it is 'taut' and now you have a little temporary 'tripod' to steady your shot. This is also a nice trick with a regular camera - tie the string around a 1/4 x 20 very short bolt that fits the tripod mount on the bottom of your camera for the same temporary 'tripod' effect.

    These are the other lenses I was trying out during this little experiment. Each can be used in a pinch but …

    The binoculars are Meade 8x32 ( 8 power and 32 mm lenses ), and no zoom. The opening at the eye was just a little bit too small for a full frame with the Minolta ( which has the smallest lens opening ). These have been on sale at Radio Shack for $20 w case, and are surprizingly good as binoculars, and very compact too.

    The tall monocular is a Bushnell 10x30 ( 10 power and 30 mm lense ) it was used with the Minolta fairly successfully. On sale for about $60 I think it was at a telescope store. No zoom, darn it.

    Lastly is the tiny 'folded' monocular. It is an 8x24 and again the opening at the eye is just too small. Great for quick one-handed viewing though, is pretty much always in my bag.
    This is a pair of plain old 7x50 binoculars my Dad gave me in 1958. 50mm for good light gathering, but limited to only a fixed 7x magnification. 387ft field of view at 1000yds too.

    7x on a 3x camera is still a huge benefit when you need it. On a camera with a 110mm tele on the long end - this makes it a 770mm. Something 1000 feet away will seem about 140ft away.

    The opening on the eyepiece is the key. Many are limited by the 6mm idea ( this comes from the actual eye's iris being limited to about a 6mm opening and any more just wastes light you cannot use ). This one has an eyepiece with about a 10mm lens - good for use with the little Minolta.

    This is the Sony Mavica FD-92 and worked pretty well with the Leica. It is an 8x zoom - and is one of the most usable with the Leica. Now the task of making mounts for the camera and the combo to the tripod is next. This is the largest camera of the bunch - but is very friendly to use. Is still very much a usable camera for everyday use too - even with the small photo size. Going to do more tests with this camera.


    Next is the Nikon CP-4500 and with it's 28mm front, 4x zoom, and 4 megapixel file size - this might be a top choice - if you can find one - old now. With the filter ring this is probably the easiest to get mounted to your scope - but may still need to make a mount for it. Lense quality is outstanding.


    The bottom photo is a Nikon 950 with an 8x32 Kenko monocular on it ( so-so ). This is similar to my Bushnell 10x30 if mounted on this camera. The articulated body in the 9xx / 4500 series is a blessing in disguise. Several choices here - 3x, 6x, 8x, 10x, from different manufacturers.


    These are typical of the cameras most are buying today. All excellent cameras, and now with much greater zoom ranges than just a generation ago.

    But if you want to use any of these with a scope of most any kind for truly long focal lengths - these cameras are difficult to adapt due to their large size front elements.

 Olympus C-750uz, 4mp, 10x zoom.

    This is the Olympus C-750uz ( 4mp, 10x zoom - about $400 ). The big thing with this camera - a remote control. Zoom and photo taking are both controlled. Great help for long focal lengths.

 Nikon CP-8800, 8mp, 10x zoom.

    The Nikon 8800 may well be at the top of the heap right now. 8 megapixel, 10x optical zoom, and pretty fast between frames. However the large front element means you must adapt to whatever scope you might want to use it with.

    Not only is the front element very large - it protrudes - and has no filter threads at all. You are limited to Nikon's own tele-extender or make an adaptor to connect this camera to your choice of scopes.

 Sony 828.

    For Sony fans - similar to the above camera - and just as difficult to adapt to very long focal lengths.

    There are few choices out there right now - especially with built-in 8x, 10, or 12x zooms. If you would like to adapt your camera - you must make a 'longer' mount ( camera further from the eyepiece ) so the image has a chance to fill the frame.

    This is an Olympus brand tele-extender which extends the focal length of the lens it is attached to by 1.7x ( 100mm becomes 170mm ). On the Olympus C-7xx series cameras, this pushes the far end to 646mm equiv without using any digital zoom at all. This is close - but not in the same range as using any kind of scope.

    Overall, this high-quality lens is fairly inexpensive and is adaptable to other brands of digital cameras too.

    This kind of setup may be all that you need for the work you do - 17x is the total optical zoom.
 T-CON 17, 1.7x telextender.

    The Raynox DCR-2020 is offered by a company that sells no cameras - only lenses. It is a relatively high-quality lens that is being used by quite a few people. When coupled with the same Olympus C-7xx camera the far end of the zoom range becomes 836mm equiv ( 22x ). This is now in the same range as the low end for some scopes and might be considered if you need a long reach.
 Raynox DCR-2020 Pro, 2.2x extender.

    Mounts have been made from pretty much everything - PVC / ABS, bottle caps, wood, even cardboard - and then custom machined pieces. Pretty much anything that will center the camera lens on the eyepiece of the scope or binocular - some must be temporary because of focusing methods required.

    Cable release if at all possible, extra memory cards, extra batteries, etc - all the rest is the same as for any other assignment. Just much less chance of getting burned.

    And don't forget the value of a big pink baby bag to carry all this stuff.

Have fun and - Good luck!                   

Copyright  ©  2005  ·  Barry A. Kintner  ·  Arizona Investigators Association  ·  A2Z Computer Works - Phoenix, Arizona