The Sawdust Factory Presents:


Dabbling With Photomicrography


Low Tech Approaches to a High Tech Undertaking





First off, when I say 'dabbling', I mean it. I have neither the time, inclination, nor enthusiasm necessary to become a truly good photomicroscopist. But I do wish to be able to take reasonably good shots for my own purposes, which include sharing occasional views with friends on the internet. 

My camera equipment consists of an Amscope MU300 "eyepiece camera", and my trusty Canon T3i DSLR.




The little camera on top of the trinoc tube is an Amscope MU300 3 MP digital imager. It may not the greatest imaging system on the planet, but it is affordable, and comes in a very nice package that includes pretty decent software, and even a stage micrometer for calibrating the measuring function in the software. I get a lot of use out of it, and have little hesitation in recommending it (although I hasten to add that it is my opinion only, and do your own research!).




A word about the microscopes: I make do on a tight budget, and work hard to get the most bang for my buck. That is why I tend to specialize in vintage AO Spencer equipment. You must learn your subject well in order to know what you're looking at when shopping, and don't forget to be patient; it can take a while to come across deals in which the equipment is in reasonably good condition, and comes at a price that's reasonable. It's usually one or the other.


Below, I'm using my great old AO Spencer Model 13 with Olympus objectives and 10X WF eyepieces, Burton Model 1100 lamp (which is an upgraded AO Spencer Model 370 clone), & Canon T3i camera w/ 18-55 kit lens. The camera & lens is fairly lightweight. Illumination here is true Kohler.




Note flip-out LCD & remote shutter trip. When using the Live Mode function, which means using the LCD screen for a viewfinder instead of looking through the lens as usual, you get an effective version of mirror lock up, which eliminates "mirror slap", a possible cause of shaky photos.

I seldom use the remote shutter trip, mostly go with delayed shutter as generally more convenient.


Modifications made to the 18-55 kit lens: a 12mm thick aircraft birch Plywood adapter, lens reverse ring & 10X WF reticle eyepiece.



The first couple test shots:



Diatom at 400X in bright field.


Diatom at 200X in dark field.



And a couple shots taken with the MU300 imager that compare normal bright field illumination with phase contrast. Seen here are three Vorticellas doing their thing in bright field.

And the same in phase contrast. 

It's always tempting to think of one as "best", or one being "better" than the other, but in reality all lighting techniques are good for seeing different things, and the more options one has the more information can be gleaned through microscopy. I think the two images above illustrate the point very well. 





My latest gig is shooting with the T3i on a photo tube mounted in the trinocular head.


If anyone wishes to take my word as gospel on anything I have written here, I want it to be this: that I am a real techno-dud, and have little, if any, true knowledge or in-depth understanding of what I am doing. I still have no working understanding of what numerical aperture (N.A.) really is, or what it means to me, for instance. All I know is to try things and see what works.

In this case, I took an AO photo adapter made for film cameras, ended up totally gutting it of all internal optics, then balanced my camera body atop it because I cannot figure out how to arrange for a proper adapter, and started experimenting. At least the camera body rests quite stably up there, and I never forget it'd take several hundred bucks to replace it, if you get the drift.

By a stroke of fortuitous good luck, this arrangement happens to be almost dead-on parfocal between eyepieces and camera on both my AO Series 10 and Series 120 stands. Phew!

Result: I am happy with the images I'm getting. I operate the camera remotely via laptop computer using software Canon provides with their cameras. I do most post processing in Light Zone, an open source photo editing program.




Gomphonema diatoms thru 100X oil imm. bright phase contrast objective in AO 10 as seen above.


Click here for my Photobucket images album





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