I have just completed a task I have put off for several years and it has been a very enjoyable trip down memory lane. Today I have sorted through all of the first digital images I managed to ‘digi-scope’ with an old ‘Coolpix’ camera.
I’ve been taking shots since I got my first camera for my 21st birthday (over 35 years ago). It was an old Minolta SLR and I bought myself a 500mm Tamron mirror lens. It was a wonderful camera to learn how to take half-decent, properly exposed images. Unlike pixels, slide film was expensive. So many shots were taken and so many sheets of slides processed that went straight into the bin. The pain of looking against the light at a shot you hoped would be super only to discover that you had under-exposed it. There was no Photoshop to rely on to crop, alter the light or sharpen just a little. Your image on the slide either worked or it didn’t! I quickly learned the ropes of my F-stops…and that has stood to me since.
I remained committed to slide film for a long time. The quality of the film always seemed so much better than the first digital images I was seeing back then. By the late 1990’s I had migrated to a Canon SLR with Canon lens…and have been a committed Canon person since. However, for a time I flirted with the enemy…Nikon.
Flirting with the Enemy
In the early noughties, birders suddenly discovered the world of digi-scoping…using a small digital camera up against your scope, you were able to capture some good shots using your scope as a telephoto lens. I resisted this new movement, preferring to stick with my quality slide film until a friend who was upgrading to a newer model, offered me his old Nikon Coolpix at a knock-down price. I decided to risk it and see what all the fuss was about.
The Coolpix seemed the digi-scoping camera of choice. It had a swivel lens so that it could be held up to the eyepiece of an angled scope while the image you were seeing was visible to you. Pressing the shutter button allowed focus (which was not always sharp) and when you took the shot, there was always a second delay which meant that so many shots I took had the birds tail-end leaving the image. However, I was successful enough to be convinced. Getting the shots downloaded and then being able to adjust the shots with the early versions of Photoshop was indeed revolutionary.
It wasn’t just the fact that you could quickly see the shots but it was the fact that by taking shots through the scope, you could capture images that might never have been captured at all. The value of that really hit home in July 2007.
I was guiding a visiting Spanish birder down in Tacumshin Lake, Wexford. It was a lovely day and my Spanish friend was keen to photograph summer-plumaged Dunlin. As we walked out, I saw a distant, lanky, summer-plumaged ‘golden plover’ feeding along the edge of the water and up onto the vegetation of the ‘East End’. Alarm bells were immediately ringing in my head…this looked like a classic adult American Golden Plover. It seemed very alert and wary.
I took out my Coolpix and grabbed a few very dark and grainy shots. The bird was not much more than a dot in most of the shots I took. Within four minutes from first seeing it to grabbing a few shots, the bird rose for no reason and flew high to the east. It was not seen again.
Being won over
Later that night when I got home, I downloaded the shots. As soon as I zoomed in on the bird in the grainy shots I had captured (see image above), I could really start to take in the plumage of the bird in more detail. I broke into a cold sweat. The primary projection wasn’t that long…were the tertials really that long? In the field the flanks looked black but now I could see the black barring against a white background. This was looking more like an immaculate summer-plumaged Pacific Golden Plover…a mega rare bird for Ireland.
I sent emails with the digital images attached out to various people for their views which is something we now take for granted. In the days of slide film, the simple luxury of quickly sharing images with others did not exist. Within seconds, I received full agreement from everyone that this was indeed a Pacific Golden Plover.
Encountering this bird convinced me that digital was the only way to go. Within weeks I had bought myself a Canon Digital SLR. I can’t imagine life without my Canon Digital SLR now.
For the record, digi-scoping isn’t a lost art either. I am lucky to use the new range of Swarovski scopes and they have produced an adapter for digi-scoping. With this, all I have to do is place my SLR onto the adapter and my scope becomes telephoto lens. Armed with such technology, all I need now is to find another Elegant Tern or Pacific Golden Plover to once again enjoy the moments of living in the digital age.
God bless pixels.