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IHMSA News Feature Article
Published in The IHMSA News, the Official Publication of The International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association
Published monthly except November/December - January/February
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Leupold Digiscoping Spotter Kit
By Todd Spotti
     Digiscoping? When I first heard the term, I didn’t have a clue as to what it might mean. At first, I thought it might be some kind of charged couple device (CCD) technology in a spotting scope. While that technology is definitely coming to sports optics, it’s not quite here yet. No, that wasn’t it. I later found what it really means is mating a digital camera to a conventional spotting scope, and then using the scope as a giant telephoto lens.
     It turns out that the birding community has really been driving this phenomena as they not only want to see our little feathered friends hopping about, but also want to take their picture as well. When the picture is in digital form it can then be e-mailed to their fellow birders and birding organizations to get credit for the find.

LEUPOLD Digiscoping Spotter

The Leupold kit contains everything needed to get into digiscoping

      “Well that’s nice” you might say, “but what does that have to do with silhouette shooting?” Well, it occurred to me that it would also be very useful if you could take and store a digital image of each of your shots when practicing, or better yet, during a match. After a relay, when the targets are reset, you could take a image of your hits which you could later review and study at home at your leisure. Trends, patterns, etc. in your shooting can be detected, evaluated, etc. and corrective action taken if necessary. For instance, you might notice that all your turkey hits were on the high side. You didn’t pay too much attention to it during the match because (1) the turkeys did go down, and (2) the shots weren't that far off. However, it could indicate that you might want to take a click less in your elevation setting.
     A digital record would also be very useful to have in the load development process as well. When I’m testing new loads at the range, I take a lot of notes on the results. However, it would be even better if I could also have a digital image of my groups on the distant swinger targets that I could store on my computer for later evaluation. I already keep a lot of load data on my computer, but having an image of the groups produced to go along with the data would be even better - especially if the information is a couple of years old when notes have an unfortunate tendency of becoming somewhat cryptic.
     Additionally, if you’re a hunter (most IHMSA members are) you probably scout the area where you’re going to do your thing prior to the hunting season to familiarize yourself with the terrain, movement of the game etc. Having a long range digital image record of the area could be very useful in planning your hunt as well.
     I suspect that there are probably many, many other uses for digiscoping in silhouette shooting, hunting, and other outdoor activities, and that we’re just starting to scratch the surface of how to use this very significant capability. It reminds me a little of how things were when personal laser rangefinders first came out. At first they were used primarily by golfers to judge distances in order to select the right club, and now they’re being used in a thousand different ways by outdoors people and in hundreds of industries.
     Well Leupold, who always has their collective ears to the ground, recognized this growing digiscoping trend and has come out with a kit that includes everything that a person interested in the subject would ever need. The kit contains the following:
1.  An upgraded version of Leupold’s famous folded light path 12 x 40 premium 60mm spotting scope.
2.  Four digital camera adapter plates
3.  A base unit used to attach the camera and adapter plate to the scope
4.  A compact tripod with a padded carrying case
5.  A window mount
6.  A padded case for the scope
7.  Detachable carry strap
8.  A hard sided brief case for all of the above
     OK, let’s start with the scope itself. The 12-40x60mm has been around for some time now and has established a reputation as being one of the very best 60mm’s in the business. It has an unusual design that kind of looks like two tubes mounted on top of each other. This configuration is the result of the fact that Leupold uses a combination of lenses and mirrors in the scope to fold the optical light path back and forth in order to extend its focal length to nearly twice its physical length. The result is a very compact package of only a little over a foot long but which provides the optical performance of a scope with a focal length of 20 inches. Pretty cool. It also weighs in at only 37 ounces.
     Additionally, this new version of the scope has an objective lens that has been upgraded with the addition of extra low dispersion (ED) glass. This is the very best optical glass available.  This fluoride based material provides the absolute state of the art in color fidelity, resolution, and contrast. There is none better. Additionally, the scope has been provided with Leupold’s exclusive “Index Matched” lens coating system which customizes the coatings to each of the different optical glasses used throughout the scope. This optimization of the coatings to the various glasses provides an impressive light transmission capability which translates to a super bright image at the eye. Indeed, when I looked through the eyepiece, I found the image to be one of the very brightest images I have ever seen in a 60mm. In fact, it was about as bright as you would find in many larger scopes. Resolution was also very crisp with no softening around the edges of the objects being viewed, and color fidelity was dead on with no tinting of any kind.  Additionally, I saw absolutely no fall off in picture quality until I got to the very extreme edge of the image.

     Way off on the sides (perhaps the last 5% or so) I detected a slight out of focus condition. After a call to Leupold and a little research I found that this is a normal characteristic of this particular type of lens and mirror design - just one of those engineering trade offs. I had to really strain to see this area, so I strongly suspect that 9.99 people out of ten won’t ever see this, much less be bothered by it.

     As usual, I subjected the Leupold to my home made resolution chart which consists of several lines of “O’s” printed across a page of printer paper in decreasing sizes. I usually check resolution at fifty yards because the mirage on my hot, sandy range is a serious problem at least 10 months out of the year. This particular day, temps were unusually cool with a bright overcast, and mirage was nonexistent, so I put the chart out at 100 yards. The Leupold ED was able to resolve 14 point type at that distance. Many scopes do well to resolve 14 point type at 50 yards, so to have one that can do it at 100 yards is truly exceptional performance. 
     I also trained the Leupold on an eight line electrical transmission tower 300 meters away. Fine detail such as bird droppings and rust patterns on the structure were readily observed. One of my favorite observation features on the tower are these rows of metal spikes above each of the high voltage power lines. The purpose of the spikes is to keep birds, squirrels, etc. from getting on the wires. With some scopes the individual spikes tend to blur into each other. With the Leupold, they stood out in sharp detail. Even the tapered points of the spikes were easily seen. As mentioned before, color fidelity was also picture perfect with no off shading or color bleeding along the edges. This is as good as it gets. 
     Additionally, strong lightweight magnesium construction, suede like textured rubber armor, full immersion water proofing, 30 mm eye relief at all magnifications (an outstanding feature), and shock proof toughness makes this a scope that can be used anywhere under any circumstances.

The camera adapters and base unit insures that a wide variety of digital cameras can be used with the scope

     Ok, so how do we get our digital camera on the scope? The first thing to do is make sure the lens housing on our camera is threaded to accept accessories. Simply select the correct size adapter plate from the kit and screw it on to the front of the camera lens. Now screw the  furnished base unit on to the adapter plate/camera combo. Next, remove the rubber eye cup from the scope’s eye piece. Then slide the camera with the attached adapter & base unit onto the eyepiece and move it forward until it hits the stop (around a half inch). Make sure the camera is horizontal and now tighten the large clamping knob on the side of the base unit. The camera is now fully secured to the scope and you’re ready to start taking pictures. Of course the images can be reviewed immediately on the camera’s display screen or better yet, later downloaded to your computer to be viewed and subsequently stored if you like. (BTW, if you should later trade your digital camera in for another with a different sized lens, no problem. The adapter plates provided in the kit can accommodate just about any digital camera lens with a threaded lens housing on the market.)
     Let me also comment a bit about the quality of the accessories in the kit. The materials and workmanship are all premium grade. In many kits, accessories are often so-so quality or sometimes even kind of rinky-dink. Not here. The compact aluminum tripod for instance is extremely well made and sports lots of heavy duty metal castings in all the right places. It also has a ball joint on top to give maximum flexibility to how the scope/camera combo can be pointed. However, I found the length of the tripod to be somewhat puzzling. On one hand I found that it was too short to be used when standing, and on the other hand too long to be used as a bench tripod even when fully compressed down to its shortest length. It did seem to be just about right if one were sitting down on the ground as when in the field.
     BTW, the cloth cases for the scope and tripod are made from thick, high quality, heavy duty fabric - not the paper thin nylon stuff you often see. The scope’s zippered case is especially heavily padded. The adapter plates, and base unit are also made from heavy, machined aluminum - no plastic parts here. Even the hard sided carrying case itself is a thing of beauty. The sides are jet black with a diamond plate pattern, while the aluminum frame is a contrasting gun metal gray. The Leupold logo in a tasteful shade of gold is printed on the side. The foam inside is also contoured to securely cradle each item. The whole package is really very nicely done, and is actually pretty classy besides.
     All and all, this a totally premium quality kit with everything you’ll ever need to get into digiscoping. It’s a bit expensive, but it’s a good, solid investment that will definitely serve a lifetime. If you have any interest at all in recording an exact record of your shots during a practice session or during a match you should seriously consider a Leupold digiscoping kit. Birding, nature photography, scouting for the hunt, amateur astro photography, long range photography at sporting events, etc. are just some of the other possibilities for this kit. I know my family would have loved to have something like this to record the ceremonies from our seats way up in the top tier of the bleachers when my nephew graduated from Marine Corps boot camp this last summer. This kit opens all kinds of possibilities that weren't previously available. I have a strong suspicion that I’m going to be using this kit a lot, and if you get one too, so will you.
     (Note: if you don’t want to buy a complete kit, Leupold sells the scope, the adapter plates, and the base unit separately. If you want to save even more bucks, you could opt for the standard version of the 12-40x60mm scope without the ED glass.)
Good luck and good shooting, Todd

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Warning: All technical data mentioned, especially handloading, reflect the limited experience of individuals using specific tools, products, equipment and components under specific conditions and circumstances not necessarily reported in the article or on this web site and over which IHMSA, The Los Angeles Silhouette Club (LASC), this web site or the author has no control. The above has no control over the condition of your firearms or your methods, components, tools, techniques or circumstances and disclaims all and any responsibility for any person using any data mentioned. Always consult recognized reloading manuals.