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Microphotography - Imaging micros with a stereo microscope

Posted: Mar 22 2006 on LTS forum:

cnb:  "Has anyone had experience with photographing microshells (or other micro objects) through a stereo microscope? Is it feasible to use some type of adaptor to connect a digital camera to one of the eyepiece tubes on a scope that doesn't have the third tube that's made for camera attachment?

I have a zoom stereo microscope that's great for observing, but I'd like to get some images I can keep and share."

Marlo:  You can do it with film cameras rather cheaply. And, some of the work I've seen proves you can get fair pictures. I don't know if you can adapt a digital thru the eyepiece. Here's a great site run by Ken Bauer. Give him a call or email. Truly helpful. Mention my name. I recently bought a digital microscope from him. It didn't work out and he graciously took it back after a month, worked with me to choose another, and provided me one I like very much.

cnb: Which of his microscope models did you try, and why didn't it work out?

I thought a microscope to which you could attach an external digital camera might provide more flexibility, as it doesn't have to be physically near your computer and doesn't limit how high-resolution a camera you can use.

Marlo: The consumer model digital microscopes use 2 megapix cameras. It's OK for the classroom using slides and circuitboard examination, but just does not provide the resolution or depth of field for three dimensional specimens. Lighting is also an almost insurmountable problem. These cameras just can't take the lighting necessary to properly eliminate shadow. Flaring and horrible color rendition were the two worst problems. I worked with the tech support folks for two weeks and we never achieved any really credible results. I was working with a National 10X 40X zoom stereo microscope with builtin 2.0 megapix camera. It's about the best one available in the $1,500 - $2,000 range. It was really great having the specimen live on the computer screen, but no where the clarity of what you see thru the scope.

I replaced it with a 10X 40X zoom stereo trinocular and some day will probably try again with a digital SLR body, as you suggest. However, the cost of this approach is a serious consideration unless you already have an SLR to use with the scope. I don't have a digital SLR now. If you have a film SLR Ken is offering his scopes with a camera adapter included at no extra cost and all you'll need is a T-ring for your specific model camera.

When I decided to return the digital scope, I still wanted to do some closeup work. So, I researched the inexpensive ($250 - $400) 8.0 megapix prosumer digitals, bought one and this is what it can do:

Lyle: I am fascinated by the digital I want one. I'm not sure whether to thank you or consider you a bad influence! *L* just kidding of course.

I actually had a microscope for years when I was in my teens and early 20's. But it was an oldie that I had bought from my old junior high school but I remember it provided me hours of peeking thru the sights and seeing weird things the naked eye couldnt. I think I ended up donating it somewhere in my travels.

Well now I should get another one, I especially like the feature where you can hook it up to the computer and actually view on screen what you see thru the sights. Sounds pretty neat.

when you mentioned you bought an inexpensive 8 megapixel prosumer, were you referring to a digital camera or a digital scope.....I need to get another camera as well and I need something with higher you noticed my shell photos are not that great, they seem a bit fuzzy and not crisp as I'd like them, but I need something that will take pictures of both very small shells as well as larger shells too in detail. Any suggestions?

Marlo: First, if you buy a digital microscope, whether in the cheap range ($1,500 - $2,000) or a more professional one (>$5,000), be sure to get it from a supplier that will allow you to return it (as I ended up doing). And, if you only have one computer, I'd recommend against it unless you have a large work space for your computer and microscope (and ancellary supplies and equipment). I used my laptop with the microscope at my shell work station, so I never had a problem since my regulatr PC workstation was in another room. Depending on all the adapters, etc. you might need to use a digital microscope all the wiring in addition to a normal PC workstation eats up a lot of space and is a nightmare.

Unless you just want an expensive toy, a 2.0 megapix digital camera built into a microscope just doesn't do the job in my opinion. If you can afford the models with at least a 6.0 megapix capability, then I'd say go for it and let us know what results you get.

I was referring to a digital camera. I selected a Canon Powershot A620, mainly because of its macro mode and the fact that I already had an A60 and was familiar with Canon design and contols. The Olympus 500 UZ was also highly recommended. Cameras are such personal things I don't like to make recommendations. I really don't know that much about digitals. And, it's really more a matter of how much you want to spend. Any of the "best" rated cameras in your price range will do as good as another - depends on features and personal preferences.

cnb: Were the impressive pictures you posted on the jaxshells site taken using just the macro mode on your new camera or through your new stereo trinocular scope? If the latter, what kind of adaptor did you have to use?

If you still have your old digital camera, could you post pictures of your setup for taking the macro shots with your new camera and of the camera attached to the trinocular scope (if you use it that way)?

Marlo:  Yes The Canon Powershot A620

I've had the Canon A640 for about a month.

I just put the camera on a tripod (or hold it when in the field)


I haven't used the trinocular yet.

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