Saturday, October 08, 2016


I have an HTC one-V smartphone which runs Android 4.0.3. It has a 5 Mp camera (1552 x 2592 pixels) - which is not of tremendously good quality! Nevertheless, since I usually carry it when I am out birding, the idea of simply being able to slip it on to the eyepiece of my telescope for a quick record shot, is quite attractive.

I came across Phoneskope adapters at the Bird Fair at Rutland Water some years ago. At the time, they made a universal adapter that attached to a 'phone cradle using self-adhesive Velcro (I am not sure whether they still do this model). I paid £28.80 for the version of the adapter made specifically for my telescope eyepiece (Kowa 20-60x zoom) and about another £3 for a hard shell case for my 'phone from eBay. The cost of the adapter seemed a bit high for a simple plastic cup with a hole in the bottom - but I can understand that tooling up to make these is probably quite expensive and there are a lot of different eyepiece models out there. So the market for each type of adapter to fit a particular model is probably quite restricted!
The phneskope adapter attaches to a hard shell case for the phone by a self-adhesive ring of Velcro.
The Phoneskope adapter came with a self-adhesive Velcro ring. It was straightforward to stick one half to the back of the adapter and the other half to the hard shell case, centred around the camera holes. The tricky part is getting the two parts attached together by the Velcro so that the camera is exactly centred over the eyepiece of the telescope. This required very precise positioning and took a lot of trial and error. Once I got the two halves together in the correct alignment however, the Velcro formed a pretty strong and robust join, so I haven't had to do it again. Here it is in place on the eyepiece of my telescope:
The photo shows the Android stock camera app. There is a zoom bar up the left hand side the shutter button is the blue circle at the lower-right. Use is very straightforward (assuming the telescope is focused on the subject before mounting the phone):
  1. You need to zoom in a bit to reduce the vignetting at the top and bottom corners by tapping the zoom bar,
  2. Tap on the image where you want the camera to focus (usually the bird's eye),
  3. Tap the shutter button to take the picture
This is easy and quick, but the downside is step 3 - tapping the shutter button. One of the biggest problems with digiscoping is camera shake, so the last thing you want to do is to tap the camera at the moment you take the photo! I found a free Android app called "Say cheese camera" which essentially adds voice activation for the camera. According to Google Play, it works with Android 2.2 and upwards and there is also an iPhone version available. As the name suggests, what this does is to trigger the camera when you say "cheese" - or any other distinct and isolated word (or even clap your hands - not a good move in a bird hide though). I find "Go!" or "take" work well and are less embarrassing when other people are nearby! The advantage, of course, is that you can trigger the camera without touching it.

I have to say that the results I get are not brilliant, but I think that is down to this particular phone model which has a pretty indifferent camera. The HTC one-V was launched in 2012 and clearly the technology has moved on. The current generation of phones have much better cameras and there are some pretty decent bird images to be found on Flickr, forums, etc. taken using mobile phones. There is certainly nothing wrong with the Phoneskope adapter. The whole this is quite robust, and small and light enough to be conveniently carried in my anorak pocket. It slips on easily and quite firmly and I can quickly grab a record shot with the minimum of fuss. These are good enough to convince my birding friends that I have actually seen what I say I've seen., which is the main point of the exercise for me.
Red-necked Grebe at Rutland Water