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Taking Photos Through a Rifle Scope: Is It Possible?

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Yes, It is definitely possible to take photos through a rifle scope. Let us talk briefly about how this works and what kind of results you can expect, then we’ll go over how you can do it using just your camera or phone and rifle scope, and finally we’ll talk a little bit about products that can help give you better results if you want to get serious about it. 

Using an external magnifier like a rifle scope, telescope, or even binoculars or a microscope to take pictures of things far away is called Digiscoping.

How Taking Photos Through a Riflescope Works

For owners of DSLRs and other interchangeable lens cameras, it’s important to clarify upfront that you cannot mount a rifle scope directly to your camera in place of a lens without a lot of technical know-how, expertise, and a fair amount of either luck or witchcraft, and even if you succeed, you will not be getting better results than if you just do it the standard way.

What is the standard way? Putting the rifle scope in front of your camera lens, which is attached to the camera. Your level of success with this strategy will depend on what you are trying to accomplish. The image from the scope is circular while your camera is turning it into a rectangle, which means you are (almost) literally trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. If you’re hoping that the image through the scope will take up your entire frame, you will not have the best luck.

Also, if you’re hoping for razor sharp imagery through the scope, you are also most likely out of luck. An expensive rifle scope can be between $500-$1,200, which is between cheap and mid-range for a camera lens. Rifle scopes prioritize magnification and utility while hunting and shooting at long distances, and that does not include providing an image sharp enough to look great when blown up on a billboard.

Credit: Pixabay

Another thing to remember is that most rifle scopes have etched reticles, which means you cannot get rid of the crosshairs or other markings that may be on the lens.

If you’re comfortable with these limitations and want to give it a shot, here’s how to do it.

Taking Photos Through a Rifle Scope Without Buying Expensive Adapters

To have success with this, it’s best to think of the relationship between the scope and the camera lens in three dimensions: x, y, and z. X is left-right, Y is up-down, and Z is forward-back. Set the scope and camera up so that the circle of the scope is centered on the X and Y axis. It does not matter if the scope is too big or small in the camera frame yet. You want to get it centered first.

Once it’s centered on the X and Y, then it becomes easy to simply move the scope closer or further to the lens to get the image you want. You can do this process with regular tripods. A camera tripod for your camera and a scope tripod for your scope.

rifle target
Credit: gan chaonan, Shutterstock

This is obviously a pain and would have to be re-done every time you even slightly move your camera. If you can rig up something so that the lens and scope can move together once they’re centered, you can save yourself a lot of time. There are ways to do this with stuff just lying around, but the cons start to stack up the more creative you try to be. Imagine trying to rig something up with dowels and duct tape.

If you want to do this, you may look into getting a cage or baseplate for your camera that comes with 15mm rods. You can then find clamps at most photography and videography stores and clamp the scope in place on the X and Y axis using the rods. At that point, it becomes a simple matter to just slide the rods back and forth until you have the framing you want.

If you’re using your phone to do this, you can still use the same baseplates as a camera, you just also need a tripod mount adapter for your phone as well.

Adapters You Can Get to Improve Your Experience

Adapters for digiscoping are admittedly a little hit-and-miss. There are a lot of “universal” adapters for smartphones that essentially just clamp the phone to the scope and allow you to adjust its position until it’s correct.

Most adapters are intended to be used specifically with a certain brand of camera and a certain brand (or even model) of scope, and support for rifle scopes is a little scarce.

Final Thoughts

To Digiscope with a rifle scope, you are probably better off putting together your own little rig rather than trying to hunt down an adapter that will work with your camera and scope combination. That said, if you’re just using a phone you can pick up a phone adapter and have a fast, easy solution.

A lot of this depends on your needs. If you’re just trying to record some of the beauty you see around you while hunting and want to be able to capture what you’re seeing in your scope as well, then a universal phone adapter is probably a great bet.

If you’re more focused on the photography side and want to use a high-end camera and take the time to set up your shots, then you will be hard-pressed to find a plug-and-play adapter that works with your combo, and you would most likely be better off just putting something together on your own. Either way, it is 100% possible to take photos with your rifle scope, and you have plenty of options to do it on your terms.

Featured image credit: MikeWildadventure, Pixabay

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.