My Kowa TSN-883 Prominar Digiscoping Set-up

My Digiscoping Set-up Featuring Kowa 833 Scope and Nikon D90 Camera

UPDATE: February 6, 2011

I purchased a Kowa TSN-884 Prominar Straight Scope last July and have been using it for digiscoping ever since.  I have also switched to the TE-17W, 30x Wide Angle Lens rather than using the 20-60x zoom lens listed below.  You can see the new equipment at the end of the post.  Other than these changes, the adapters and the 50mm Nikkor lens are the same.  I have also included a piece of equipment that I find a necessity when digiscoping from the car.  It’s called a “Groofwin Pod” and you can find it here at LL Rue.  It’s a device that you mount a head and camera on rather than a tripod.  It will attach to your window or you can use it on the ground or the roof of your car.

I found that the straight scope makes it much easier to find your target than using the angled scope.  The angled scope is better used for scoping birds, especially when you are with a group of birders.  When properly set up, both tall and short people can look through the angled scope.

You can see the new setup and the Groofwin Pod at the bottom of this post.

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When I decided to try digiscoping, there were several considerations involved in my decision.  I already had a good camera in the Nikon D90 and a decent telephoto lens for bird photography with the AF VR-Nikkor 80-400mm 1:4.5-5.6D lens, but I wanted a good birding scope too.

I had been researching birding scopes for about a year, looking for the best quality in a mid-priced scope.  I was also yearning for a bigger lens for my camera or a lens that I could use with a teleconverter, to get better bird images.  Well, the larger camera lenses available to use with a teleconverter (a secondary lens placed between the camera body and the photo lens for magnification) were prohibitively expensive, in the $5,000 range.

This being the case, and seeing all the information on digiscoping in the birding world, I decided the more practical and less expensive way to get better bird photographs from greater distances was digiscoping.  Plus I would have an excellent scope to use for birding!

Obviously the heart of the digiscoping set-up is the spotting scope.  After reading the reviews and actually looking through this scope on an outing with Jeff and Dawn Fine of Dawn’s Bloggy Blog, I decided that the Kowa TSN-883 Prominar Spotting Scope was the best choice.  After all, this scope came in as the best of the best out of the 15 top models reviewed in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Scope Quest 2008!  See the results chart here.

Here’s what they had to say “the surprising (to us) and virtually unanimous top-of-the-line ranking went to the Kowa TSN-883 Prominar.  In side-by-side comparisons with Swarovski, Leica, Zeiss, and Nikon, both Kowa scopes provided a slightly, but noticeably, brighter and crisper image at 60x than any other scope. The three-dimensional detail visible on bird feathers and tree bark with these scopes, even in dim light, is simply phenomenal.”

The image above shows the scope with the TE10Z 20-60x Zoom Eyepiece which comes in its own leather caseI thought this eyepiece would give me the best bang for my buck both for scoping birds and digiscoping.

Kowa (pronounced koh-uh) has designed this scope with digiscoping in mind.  Two simple adaptors will positively connect any DSLR camera to the 883 spotting scope.  The TSN-DA10 Digital Camera Adapterscrews directly onto the scope eyepiece once the eye cup is removed.  The Digital Camera Adapter Ring, which for my Nikon D90

was the TSN-AR52

screws directly onto your camera lens where a filter would attach and the other side screws onto the Digital Camera Adapter.

I checked with the knowledgeable staff at B & H Photo as to the proper lens to use for digiscoping with the Kowa TSN-883 and Nikon D90 combination.  They suggested the Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D lens

The focus ring on the 50mm lens should be set at infinity and the aperture locked on f22 for the camera to work automatically to set your f stop and shutter speed for you.

You will have to manually focus when digiscoping but it is simple with the Kowa 883’s dual top focus knobs.  I keep my right hand on the camera shutter button and adjust the fine focus knob on the scope with my left index finger.  When I see something I like, I simply click the shutter release.

The third component of the set-up, and a very important one for digiscoping, is the tripod system.  I own a couple of old tripods and even the aluminum one gets very heavy if you go on long bird walks so I was looking for a reasonably priced carbon fiber set-up.  I found one in the Benro C-058EX Carbon Fiber Tripod which weighs in at a scant 2.1 pounds.

It has several nice features including flip lock legs, individual leg angle locks, a spirit level and compass in the top, and spiked leg tips in addition to the soft rubber feet.

I ordered both a panhead (Benro HD-18 3-Way Panhead) and a ball head figuring that I would use the panhead for the scope and the ball head for my camera but I ended up prefering the Benro B-O +PU-50 B-Series Ball Head for digiscoping too.

I find that I’ve got my camera attached to the scope most of the time now.  I only seem to switch to my telephoto lens when I want in-flight shots.  For this reason, I will be purchasing another Kowa TSN-884 Prominar, the straight version.

I feel that the angled scope is great for digiscoping birds that are up, either in a tree, on a wire or anywhere above eye level.  I also think it’s best for scoping birds when I’m not photographing, especially if I’m on a bird walk with other people of varying heights.

I feel the need for a straight scope for in-flight shots and shooting from the car (for instance on a wildlife refuge auto tour).

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OK, here’s the updated info

Kowa TSN-884 Prominar Scope on Benro Carbon Fiber Tripod

See close up above (with arrows) for lens and adapter information

Groofwin Pod mounted on window

Groofwin PodDetail of Groofwin attached to window

Groofwin PodGroofwin Pod used on flat surface

I find this Groofwin device a necessity to take the best images from a car window.   It’s perfect for auto tours at wildlife refuges and the like, or just taking photos from the roadside (which I often do).  You can find it at LL Rue and it’s worth every penny.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Pam Martin December 14, 2010 at 1:01 pm

So I’m curious, to but the scope, adapters, etc If I own the camera & the tripod, how much money did this set up cost you?

Reply

Larry December 18, 2010 at 1:02 am

@Pam I got a screaming deal on the KOWA gear. The entire setup cost about $2300. I have emailed you the details.

Reply

Ken Davis January 19, 2011 at 7:43 pm

Larry,

That sounds like an awesome setup you have there if you don’t mind I would like the details as well, and have you gotten the 884, if so I would like to hear your thoughts on that one as well.

Regards,
Ken

Reply

joco February 26, 2011 at 4:46 am

You know how to make a girl jealous, don’t you:-)
What a brill set-up.
I have the Nikon D300, that’s a start. And I wonder if the Nikon AF Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 would do.
All I need then is a trifling :-) sum for the digiscope.
Sounds like the equivalent of two birthdays and 4 xmas-es, UK prices being what they are, compared to the rest of the world.
I suppose these never go second hand, if they are that good. Would that be questionable if I do find one? Are they extra fragile?

Reply

Larry February 26, 2011 at 11:55 pm

@Jo I’m not sure if you could use the 35mm lens instead of the 50mm, it probably doesn’t let in as much light, which is the limiting factor in digiscoping. I would be surprised if you could find a used one since they have only been out for a couple of years but it is possible that someone purchased a straight scope, then realized that they would rather have an angled scope or is selling one for some other reason.

They are tough built scopes. Mine was on top of my tripod with my camera attached and got blown over and crashed to the ground. The shade cover that extends in front of the scope got bent and the 50mm lens separated but the scope still works fine.

You might try contacting them via their European website:

http://www.kowa-europe.com/sporting_optics/en/index.php

Good luck. I really enjoy my set-up and digiscoping in general. I’m sure you would too.

Feel free to contact me if you have any other questions.

Reply

Ken February 27, 2011 at 5:44 am

Larry,

I would like to here you comment on using the 884 hand held for capturing birds in flight.

Reply

Larry September 2, 2011 at 7:26 pm

@Ken I am getting better at digiscoping birds in flight but it is definitely more difficult than with a camera on auto focus :-D

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Tina November 10, 2011 at 6:25 pm

Larry,
I am looking for a Stabilizer arm that connects from my camera to my tripod. Like the Manfrotto one in the 1st and 2nd pictures above.
What is the correct name and model # of the part?
Thank You :)

Reply

Larry November 12, 2011 at 8:13 am

@Tina Manfrotto has changed the product number on this long lens support. The model number on my support is 3253 but the new product number is 359

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Manuel Sanchez December 28, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Hi.

I just want to know, the steps to adapt the DA10 in the 20X-60X TE-10Z (eyepiece). Thanks.

Reply

Larry January 15, 2013 at 6:04 am

@Manuel the DA10 camera adapter screws onto the eyepiece once you remove the eyecup which screws off the scope. Then the digital camera adapter screws into the DA10 and your camera’s lens where a filter would attach.

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Tom June 9, 2013 at 6:14 am

I may duplicate your setup soon. So, after you set the lens as you stated above do you then set the camera to auto mode and leave it?

Reply

Larry June 9, 2013 at 10:44 am

@Tom when digiscoping I set the camera to “sports” mode which sets the aperture fully open all the time. So with the 50mm lens set to infinity and the aperture at f22, I set the Nikon D90 on sports mode to keep its aperture fully open all the time. This way you get the maximum amount of light through the scope to the camera sensor. I also learned that unless I have full sun on my subject, it is best to use high ISO like 3200 for most shots. You would think it would make your shots very grainy but surprisingly it doesn’t. Of course if you can decrease the ISO and get a fast enough shutter speed for what you are shooting, by all means do so.

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Pat O'Donnell August 14, 2013 at 7:54 pm

Thanks for sharing the details about your digiscoping set-up. Just about drooling over here.
Pat O’Donnell´s last post ..Where Can I See a Snowcap when Birding Costa Rica?

Reply

John November 30, 2014 at 4:23 pm

Hi Larry ,

In the 1st picture, there is an additional bar or something that supports the camera at one end, the other end is attached a leg of the tripod. What is it? Could you please provide a link of the product?

Thank you.

Reply

Larry December 2, 2014 at 11:32 pm

Hi John. That is a Manfrotto 359 Long Lens Support. You can find it at BH Photo: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/554349-REG/Manfrotto_359_359_Long_Lens_Support.html

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