Use a Red Dot Sight for Locating Subjects with Super Telephoto Lenses

Photo enthusiast Chris Malcolm needed a better way to aim his 500mm lens at fast moving subjects (e.g. birds in flight), so he upgraded his lens with a DIY sighting aid by attaching a non-magnified red dot sight:

They’re designed to clamp onto a gun sight wedge mount, so some kind of adapter is required. I played with the hot shoe mount, but it was too flexible — the sight needed re-zeroing at every mount, and was easily knocked out of calibration. The degree of precision required to aim the central focus sensor at the target via the dot also made parallax error a problem on the hot shoe. So I decided to mount it directly on the lens. Least parallax error, plus the geometry of the lens barrel and the sight mount naturally lines it up with the lens. To protect the lens barrel I glued the sight clamp to a cardboard tube slightly too small, slit open to provide a sprung grab on the lens body. The slit also handily accommodates the focus hold button on the lens barrel.

Malcolm reports that the site “works amazingly well”, making it “trivially easy to aim the lens at anything very quickly”.

Here are a couple photographs of seagulls that Malcolm shot using the red dot sight (they’re cropped from the originals):

He says that prior to using the sight he was only managing to capturing a photograph once every twenty times a gull flew past, and that afterwards he was successful during almost every flyby.

Red Dot Sighting Scope (via DYIP)

Image credits: Photographs by Chris Malcolm and used with permission

  • Craig Nash

    What a total and utter waste of time. All these were taken without a red dot sighting scope.

  • Ken Gilbert

    craig: you can also dig the foundation for a house with a table spoon.  it doesn’t mean the backhoe is a waste of time.  ;)

  • Drew Garraway

     I’m going to guess there is a nicer more constructive way to make that comment.

  • xpirex

    Craig your bird shots are simply gorgeous… thanks for sharing. I love birds. :)

  • qlakk

    Thanks Craig for letting us know that it is possible in 2012 to take some decent photographies of flying birds, I was not aware. More seriously, you may indeed make comments in a much more positive way and you may also admit that, like any other photographer, your gear’s limits prevent you – sometimes – from taking some great pictures. So unless you prove us the added value of Chris Malcom is negligible, I don’t see the point of your very rude comment.

  • Stuart Croy

    You can buy readymade red-dot finders with a hot-shoe adapter. I got mine in Tokyo – they are sold in astronomy and birding shops.

  • Nobuo Griffin

    Actually, instead of a red dot sight, I want to build a laser targeting sight, mounted on the hot shoe.  As you take the shot, the laser disengages so that it doesn’t affect the picture (^_^)

  • Guest

    And blinds the bird. I think this is a very bad idea.

  • Robert Korn

    even easier, I rotated my tripod ring 180 degrees and mounted a red dot right to the tripod ring…of course only works when using handheld