Swarovski TLS 800 photo adapter

Digiscoping is a well-established technique in modern birding, with the majority of practitioners using compact digital cameras with their telescopes to produce good-quality bird images. Less widely practised is the coupling of digital SLR cameras (DSLRs) to telescopes, despite the fact that the results can be even better.
The hardware to make this possible is surprisingly simple and effective. In Swarovski’s case, it amounts to a precision-engineered metal tube with eight coated lenses which replaces the telescope eyepiece, and which at the other end uses a standard T-mount ring to connect to a DSLR body. I tested the TLS 800 with a Canon EOS 50D, acquiring the appropriate T2 ring for under £10 online.
Assembling the kit was straightforward, with the photo adapter plugging straight into an ATS 80 HD scope body using the same bayonet fitting as the eyepiece. Once the T2 ring has been screwed onto the other end, attaching the 50D was as simple as changing any lens on the camera body. However, be aware that doing this in the field could result in dust entering the camera (this is not a problem with the ATS scope, which is sealed against dust and moisture intrusion).
In use, the adapter worked well and helped achieve decent enough results for this novice, as well as being a welcome major weight reduction compared to my 500 mm f4 telephoto lens. The prime optical system of the ATS 80 HD doubles up here as an 800 mm f10 telephoto lens, so what you photograph is literally a reproduction of what you see in the field (subject to any limitations of the camera). With practice, it should be possible to achieve technically excellent results, something which I aspire to do in the future.
On a practical point, the overall assembly is long and slightly unbalanced, the naturally centred design of the scope on a tripod being offset by the addition of the photo adaptor and DSLR. That means wind-free conditions are best for photography using this set-up, which is prone to minor shake; a cable release would also help. Furthermore, the low f-stop means that you either need to use it in bright conditions, or rack up the ISO rating to compensate accordingly.
Another important point to note is that, as there are no electronics in either the scope or the adapter, there is no auto focus – you have to focus the scope manually just as you would when using it for observation. This should be second nature for every birder, and thus digiscoper, but it’s surprising how counter-intuitive it now seems when using a DSLR.
Overall, for such a compact piece of kit I was impressed. Any birder with a Swarovski scope and a DSLR who wants to avoid the hefty outlay on a long telephoto lens, not to mention the weight, would do well to investigate this option.
Dominic Mitchell

Price: £399
Length: 141 mm
Weight: 240 g