Spotting Scope Camera Not Quite Ready for Prime Time

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Spotting Scope Camera Not Quite Ready for Prime Time

A few posts back, I promised to report on my experience with Minox's new Digital Camera Module (DCM). I've now had a chance to work with the unit, and here's what I found...

The DCM is a terrific idea. A quality spotting scope makes a remarkably affordable super-telephoto lens. But, until Minox created the DCM, you had to couple your SLR camera - either film or digital - to the scope. This resulted in an awkward and bulky set-up... though the results were often terrific.

Digital photography introduced the possibility of a more compact camera/scope combination, and that's where the DCM comes in. It's a tiny cube - less than 3" on a side - but contains a fully functional digital camera, sans lens.

I tried out the DCM on my Minox MD 62W spotting scope. (Minox also makes the DCM in mounts for Swarovski, Kowa, Leica and Zeiss scopes.) Mounting was simple, once I determined I had to remove the threaded ring at the base of the eyepiece - something the instructions didn't mention.

The menus are clear easy to navigate. It took no time at all to learn how to operate the unit.

The LCD screen was fairly bright in shadow, but even the built-in shade didn't help much out in full sun. And at only 2.5", it was too small to use for accurate focus. Minox anticipated this, and provides a focus assist. Set the digital zoom to the maximum setting, and a set of focus bars appear. Lining up the bars will theoretically give you sharp focus. Cancel the digital zoom, and you're ready to shoot.

I found that the focus assist worked well when shooting a subject with clear vertical lines against an open bacground. But it missed the mark nearly every time I used it to focus on a subject with a cluttered background. Since only a limited number of subjects will present themselves against a blank wall or open sky, I consider this a serious drawback.

When the focus was good, the 3.2 MP (5.0 MP interpolated) CMOS sensor produced crisp shots with virtually no noise. But the colors were muddy. Since I shot mostly in near-ideal morning light, this was disappointing.

Shutter lag was slight, but noticable. I was shooting wildlife, so this resulted in too many lost shots. The unit also took far too long to write data to my SD card. I don't understand this with such small files. But, again, when shooting wildlife, the delay translated to missed shots.

On the other hand, I applaud Minox's decision to avoid the megapixel race. The quality of the shots would almost certainly have been worse if they'd crammed a lot of extra pixels on the tiny sensor.

Minox made another smart move by including a remote control. Pressing the shutter release button on the unit - attached as it was to a 40x scope - would have made visible shake almost unavoidable. With the remote, not even one out of more than 100 exposures exhibited any shake.

The lithium ion rechargable battery performed well. It was still going strong after 3 hours and 100+ exposures. In fact, it still showed a full charge.

In its current version, the DCM is probably fine for hobbyists and casual photographers. It will enable you to "outshoot" most of your friends - and at an affordable price.

But I don't think the DCM is quite ready for serious photographers yet. I'll be keeping my eye on this product, though. In a generation or two, it could well become an indispensible addition to my digital photography toolkit.



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Christina Chan