For a PVP environment, the D-Scanner is one of the most useful tools available to you in Eve Online. Along with Local (in K-space) it provides a huge amount of information about the situation in your current system and has a wide variety of uses from getting a general picture of nearby ships to keeping yourself safe while ratting and from catching targets or evading a hostile fleet to avoiding bubbles to name but a few.
It requires no skillpoints to use but does require an understanding of how it works and practice to use effectively. Some people are satisfied with using it as a general intel tool to find out which ships are in space nearby but with a little experience you can quickly learn to identify a target and narrow down its location within a matter of minutes.
This article is intended to provide an explanation of how the D-Scanner works and how it can be used to locate a ship in space. Reading this article alone will not make you an expert though - you will need to go out and practice to quickly find targets.
This section describes how to find D-Scan and the basic controls, it can be skipped if you already know this!
The Scanner can be opened by clicking the middle right button next to the capacitor (or pressing Alt-D). There are three tabs in the Scanner window: System Scanner, Directional Scan and Moon Analysis. We'll focus on the Directional Scan (D-scan).
Once you have opened the D-Scan tab, you will see that there are several controls at the top of the tab. Moving from top to bottom and left to right, these are:
Use Active Overview Settings - this checkbox will tell the scanner to pick up only those object Types from your current overview, or to pick up all Types which can be detected.
Tracking - This toggles whether the in-game camera is in Tracking mode or not. You can also toggle this from the Selected Item window or by pressing "C" (default).
Range input - This allows you to set the maxium range to which the scanner will return results, in km. It has a maximum range of 2,147,483,647 km or 14.4 AU. To quickly input the maximum range, fill the input with any digit (except 0).
Angle - This allows you to set the conical angle within which the scanner will return results, in degrees. It can be set to 5, 15, 30, 60, 90, 180 and 360 degrees only. I wish those choices weren't scaled so setting 15 is so fiddly...
Scan - Press this button to scan!
Basics of scanning
Again, this section can be skipped if you are familiar with the concept of scanning in a direction and what changing the angle / range actually means.
So how does the scanner work?
Scanning creates a snapshot of all objects (of the Types you have allowed via Overview settings if that box is checked) within the range and angle that you have selected. If you set the angle to 360, the range to maximum and uncheck the "Use Active Overview Settings" box, it will detect all objects within 14.4 AU of your ship.
Range adjustment is fairly self explanatory - the only mild complication is that you have to be able to convert between AU and km. Set your distance to 150,000,000 (and leave the other settings the same) and you will only detect those objects within 1AU of you. If you are at a planet, you know that anything remaining on scan is probably at a moon, belt or station around the planet. Anything which disappeared from scan will be elsewhere in the system.
Don't forget though - the scan just gives you a snapshot of where objects are at that moment. If someone is in warp towards your location from several AU away, your 1AU scan won't detect them but they could be on Grid in a matter of a few seconds!
Angle adjustment can be a little more difficult to understand initially. If you set the angle to 60 it will be useful in the following explanation.
When scanning at an angle which is less than 360 degrees the scanner operates within a cone of space, rather than a full sphere. The point of this cone is situated on your ship and the direction which the in-game camera is pointing determines the direction of the base of the cone.
To demonstrate this, open your Map Browser (F11 by default - under the Window group of shortcut keys). In the bottom right box that now appears, you should see a wide white sector (a section of a circle) which indicates the direction your camera is facing. If you move the camera around your ship, the sector will move too. If you now adjust your D-Scan angle (to anything else, then back to 60) it will show a green sector within the white one, indicating the scanner coverage. Obviously the Map Browser is a 2D image while space in Eve is in 3D so the actual coverage is a conical shape.
So how do we find which objects are in a particular location?
As the camera facing determines the coverage of the scan you need to point your camera towards the object you wish to scan. If you are using a very narrow angle (5 degrees for example) then you will need to adjust the camera until you line up your ship in the foreground with the object's bracket in space.
Using a combination of a narrow angle and adjusting the range, you can therefore determine what ships are near a certain object (such as a planet). You do this by pointing at the planet with the camera, using a 5 or maybe 15 degree angle. This will tell you all ships which could be at the planet if you set the range for a little further than the distance to the planet. If the planet is (for example) 4AU away, you set the scanner for 750,000,000 km (approximately 5AU). You then set the range a little under the distance to the planet - 450,000,000 (3AU). Any objects which were previously on scan and now disappear are very likely to be near the planet. Of course, they may be at a belt, moon, station, the planet itself or just somewhere nearby - you would then have to start the process again from the planet itself by pointing the camera at the various objects around it. Hopefully this demonstrates the mechanics of how you can determine what is in a particular location using the scanner, however.
The Tracking Camera
The Tracking Camera was a new feature added in the Retribution expansion. It is a huge advantage in quickly finding targets as you can use it to point in the direction of various celestials quickly and accurately.
The default keyboard shortcut to toggle "Tracking" on and off is "C". It can also be toggled in the D-Scan interface (described above) or through the Selected Item window. Turning it on points the camera at the selected object - it will then move to point at any new objects selected until you turn it off.
Using the Tracking Camera, you can quickly scan celestial objects (like planets) by selected them (either in space, or on the Overview), turning Tracking on and scanning with a 5 or 15 degree angle. If you do not play with any camera offset, this should work by default.
If you do have an offset camera, a little one-time setup is needed. For example, I use 1.3 widescreen monitors for Eve, with the remaining area of my second monitor for Dotlan. This means that to ensure my ship is in the middle of screen 1, I have to offset the camera a little. In order for the Tracking camera to point at a planet with enough accuracy to get a hit with a 5 degree scan, first turn Tracking off and using the options button at the top left of the Selected Item window, "Set Tracking Onscreen Position", move the icon directly over your ship. Secondly, turn Tracking on and do the same thing (move the Tracking Onscreen Position icon to line up with your ship). This should result in 5 degree scans achieving a hit on whatever planet you have selected so try it out!
As hinted at above, the Overview is very important for the use of D-Scan. When "Use Active Overview Settings" is checked, the scanner will only return objects of the types allowed by your current active Overview. Note that it cannot differentiate between States - allies, fleet members, hostiles and neutrals will all show up and the scanner itself cannot tell you which is which.
At the very least, your scanning Overview should have all ship types selected. Other than that, it really depends on your own personal preference and method of scanning so its difficult to give a definitive setup. It's very common to have planets, stations, belts, gates and stars included but as you will see below, that might not be the best setting for you!
All of the above describes the mechanics of the scanner, but doesn't really explain how you use it to find a target, at least in any reasonable time!
There are a wide variety of methods of hunting targets using the scanner, and most are viable. It will ultimately come down to personal preference and the method which "works" for you. The following is the method I personally use at the time of writing. Even after a significant number of flying hours as a skirmisher, I'm open to learning new tricks, so there is no guarantee this will be what I use forever more!
I'd also point out that in reality, you'll be using Local and Grid as well as intel from your fleetmates and knowledge of the area as part of the thought process - this description will mostly ignore those other sources but you should not!
I use two Overview tabs for scanning. The first is used to narrow a target down to the vicinity of a large celestial, the second is to fine tune the location down to the exact belt, moon or whatever else.
Overview 1: This includes Beacons, Planets, Stargates, Suns and of course all Ship types.
On entering the system, I'll do a maximum range 360 scan. If there is no ship on Scan, I know any ship in space is over 14AU away and will therefore look for a celestial on my Overview (which is sorted by distance) which is at least that distance away. Let's assume there is something however.
Unless the target is not at a celestial (in which case we will need probes to find it anyway) it must be near one of the large objects on my Overview within 14AU. Asteroid belts, moons and stations are always within 1AU of a planet so we aren't interested in those initially.
I first narrow the options down with a 180 degree scan - assuming the target remains on Overview I'll go down to 90, 60 and then maybe 30 degrees. If the target disappears I will cover the rest of the area where I last knew him to be (on the assumption he has not moved). For example, if at 90 degrees he disappears, I know I am at least facing roughly the right way as he was there at 180 degrees.
If at some point I have the target and only 1 celestial on my scan result, I'll know it's there. If I still end up with several planets / the sun by this point, I'll try a 5 degree scan towards the remaining planets by turning on Tracking and quickly selecting and scanning the remaining planets. It is certainly possible that there will still be two planets on a 5 degree scan in which case I can quickly adjust the range to exclude one (e.g. 1 planet at 5 AU, the other at 10AU, do a 900,000,000 km - or 6 AU - scan and you'll know from the result which planet the target is near).
Once I know the large celestial it is near I warp to that celestial (for example a planet). During warp I switch to Overview 2 and set the scanner distance to 150,000,000 or 1AU.
Overview 2: This includes all of Overview 1 PLUS Stations, Belts, Moons, Force Fields and Customs Offices.
I now repeat a similar process in order to find exactly where the target is. I shouldn't get too much clutter on the Overview as I've reduced range down to 1AU and (assuming the target hasn't moved) I can quickly narrow it down to a small number of locations, before checking each using the tracking camera. Depending upon other factors (like guessing that I'm hunting a belt ratter) I might guess a location once I've narrowed it down a little although that was more necessary when 5 degree scans were fiddly (before tracking camera!).
As I said at the start of the article, the only way to really get used to scanning is to practise. You may find that you prefer using range more than angle, or you use the Tracking camera exclusively rather than narrowing it down a little manually. You may prefer different Overview settings such as having Stations on your first Overview, or only using 1 to scan with.
This skill is useful to all PVPers and even PVEers who are in hostile space (such as nullsec). It is particularly vital for Agony skirmishers and there are several topics on the Wiki which might be of interest if that is a role which appeals to you.