A lot of the discussion on the Digiscoping Birds list for the past couple of months has been about a new camera, the Panasonic Lumix G1 DSLR. Neil Fifer broke the ice, finding that the camera's included kit lens works well for digiscoping, and he has continued to refine the use of the camera for digiscoping purposes along with several other active members of the list. For me, the most attractive digiscoping features are a mirror-free design, filter threads on the lens for attachment, a humungous swiveling LCD monitor, fast internal lens autofocussing, and reasonably small size.
The mirror-free design of the camera means that there is no mirror slap, a vibration-inducing downside to using DSLRs for digiscoping. This camera instead has another small monitor in the viewfinder, eliminating the need for a mirror to reflect the light away from the sensor plane into the viewfinder as on regular SLRs. There is still a shutter curtain that gives a little snap with each shutter release, but it doesn't seem to be introducing enough vibration to cause problems there. Having filter threads allows the use of threaded digiscoping adapters (a very secure way to attach a camera to a scope that most point-and-shoots lack.) The back monitor is bright and monstrous, allowing easy viewing even in bright light, and swivels to almost any angle for viewing on the scope. The internaly-focussing lens won't bump the eyepiece or adapter as it focusses. The focus is also very fast, and at least in my early trials, very sharp. All of this is in a package that is quite small (it is being billed as the smallest digital interchangable lens camera yet produced.)
I tried mounting it to my Leica APO-Televid 77mm scope with both my 20X and 32X wide-angle eyepieces using a Swarovski DCA adapter (Ben Lizdas of Eagle Optics had generously made me a shim to make up the eyepiece diameter difference of the Leica eyepieces vs. the slightly larger Swaro's.) Everything went together well and was super easy but even at the idealized zoom setting I was getting some vignetting. So I tried the camera without the adapter- lo and behold, the rubber eyepiece cup snugged about perfectly into the recess at the front of the G1 lens! So the camera was centered, secure, lens close but no glass on glass, and vignetting was gone with a little zoom applied to the lens. More zoom brought back vignetted tunnel-vision, which was a bit dissapointing, but I think this will be a very easy, usable combination to use in the field. I found that I could look through the viewfinder of the camera, left hand wrapping the camera lens/eyepiece in a monkey grip to keep them together and move the scope, while my right hand worked the shutter.
In some ways, it brings back the "good old days" of the Nikon Coolpix 990/995/4500 series, cameras that could easily be handheld to scope eyepieces for good results or mounted using filter threads for more serious applications. What I don't miss about those Coolpix models (I used the 995 and 4500) is their agonizingly slow focus searching, shutter lag, tiny dim LCDs, and noisy images. Now, with the G1, all of the power, speed, and functions of a prosumer DSLR (like 12 MP images, low-noise sensor, fast autofocus, and about non-existant shutter lag) can be easily harnessed for digiscoping. This summer, look for the G1H which will also have HD video capability! Do we have a new heir-apparent for top digiscoping camera? Perhaps so.
Of course, since the package arrived a couple of days ago I've been mostly at work and for much of my remaining daylight free time it has been raining and/or snowing. Yesterday, a storm hit and it rained all afternoon (and is snowing now), but the evening before I had about 40 minutes before sunset to mess around with it. Clouds prevailed sight wasn't great and the birds weren't super cool, but here are a few samples of hand-held images taken at high ISOs (400 and 800). Not bad for right out of the box, hand-held to the eyepiece! I'll post more when I figure out more about this combo- hopefully I'll have sunny weather, time, and fun birds to play with soon.
2 weeks ago