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Photography with a microscope article

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Photography with a microscope article

Postby Jne_K on Thu Dec 18, 2008 7:20 am

We here at OpticsPlanet are proud to share this fine article sent to us by a good friend, Ingrid Naiman

Dear Colleagues,

This is a new private list for a few people who have an interest in microscopy. This email may be very simple for advanced users, but I hope it will nevertheless cover some areas that are rarely discussed elsewhere. It is divided into two sections, the first having to do with selection of the camera for use with the scope and the second with the arguments for video vs. still cameras based on what is observed rather than the usual perspectives, some of which are irrelevant to what I want to discuss. If you do not want to receive any more of these emails, just send me a note and I will remove you from my list. It's a small list so don't panic.


The camera serves two purposes: (1) it allows you to keep a photographic record of what you have observed, and (2) it enables the use of an external monitor that can be used an educational device.

It can attach to one of the eye pieces in a binocular scope or to the optional accessory that converts a binocular scope to a trinocular scope. To attach the camera, it is generally necessary that the camera has a threaded lens or some other form of attachment feature that does have threads.

The normal diameter of the place where the camera is attached is 23-30 mm so the modern consumer cameras with much bigger lenses require a more complex adapter. This adapter is not just a hollow tube with threads on one or both ends (usually only one end); it contains optics some of which magnify and sometimes, they reduce. In short, they could be 0.5x to 2.0x but are usually 1x or 1.5x.

Video or Still? This is the question!

If you look at the normal teaching materials for microscopy classes, all the pictures are stills. Obviously, this includes wall charts, textbooks, and most web material. Like anything and everything else, the stills can be very interesting and informative but when I tell a story about a parasite that eats only the lipid membrane of erythrocytes and that the jaw of the parasite clamps down on the red blood cells, one at a time, and spatters the hemoglobin into the plasma, people raise their eyebrows as if to say, "and you have proof of this?"

No, unfortunately, I don't so it means using a different camera, being sure it is connected to a hard drive with enormous storage capacity, and waiting for the observation to repeat itself. I have often compared myself to Marie Curie who after first observing radioactivity transported coal from the schoolyard to her a lab a spoonful at a time. This said, without this kind of dedication and determination, the experience remains mine and mine alone. Moreover, if I go from this point to the next, it becomes very clear why so many professionals are silent. Their jobs often depend on grants and these have a strange way of drying up if they step too far out of the box. Thus, I believe, it is up to those with the most audacity to drop the gauntlet and see if anyone will ever pick it up.


The older darkfield scopes sold in the U.S. were mainly equipped with very low tech video surveillance cameras, nearly always black and white, and this seemed adequate given that darkfield is generally a shadow show with silhouettes, but there are some colorful objects so I definitely do prefer color. The problem with the surveillance cameras is that the output was not very good and the maximum size used to be 480 x 360 but tends now to be 600 x 480, still rather pathetic.

A dedicated microscope camera works differently from a consumer camera because it is generally controlled by software. Let me try to explain this. The camera is only sending a digitalized image to a capture card, a frame grabber card. In a desktop computer, this is installed in one of the empty slots, but there are PCMCIA frame grabber cards for around $500-1000. There are some much less expensive (and dare I say less adequate) variations of this using Dazzle or Hauppauge that convert an input to something readable by a computer.

In my opinion, if you are going to use video, you ought to use a microscope camera. I do not think the camera will become obsolete as computers become more sophisticated. You will just have software upgrades. The software can be very interesting. It can, of course, allow you to edit a film or flash presentation or create stills from film, but you can also do time lapsed photography. Some of the software is so brilliant that you can ask it to take a picture only if and when it detects something. Let's say you leave your lamp on overnight and keep the camera connected to the computer and while you were sleeping a parasite egg hatched or a parasite ate all the erythrocytes on the slide or a macrophage ate all the bacteria. You really want a record of this and having a camera that is controlled from the computer instead of vice versa could be hugely interesting and presumably will one day break down some barriers to truth.

Other Considerations

For me, I first put together the research system for use in Germany with the intent of presenting a PowerPoint slide show to a large audience. I therefore looked for a camera that created magnificent and huge files. The camera and adapter were $7500 but the images captured are publishing quality. They exceed the demands of normal office use where all you want to do is get the image on the external monitor. If you want to publish, you will want a good to great camera.

The External Monitor

I have used about a dozen different monitors. The quality varies tremendously so you might want to study the ones on display in large stores with lots and lots of demos TVs or you can look at a scientific model, usually produced by Sony, occasionally by JVC. These have more lines per inch so, of course, the camera must support the monitor.


I have read a quite a number of microscopy books and books on hematology and parasitology and I honestly do not think that any of the books are adequate. Most will, off the record, agree that the blood is not sterile and that objects that are referred to as artifacts are quite real and definable. A few have pointed out grievous errors in the normal curriculum presented in universities. Many know that if they are outspoken, they will be labeled and probably exiled from mainstream academic and medical science.

When I started, my intent was to create a global forum for sharing experiences but the site is not really as dynamic as I hoped, largely my fault. There are lots of subscribers but I haven't mastered Joomla.

In the meantime, I would try to answer the questions that have arisen in the last weeks by saying that the right camera for you is the one which meets your needs. If you are doing only clinical work and using the camera to teach others, all you want is one that transmits an image that allows you see the objects that are most faint, such as lysing erythrocytes, cations, and mold. You also want very good contrast so you can see the movement of the chromatin inside the white blood cells. Not all cameras and monitors display this well and sometimes you can prove this by going into a photo editing program and using different kinds of filters to see what is too faint for the naked eye. If you depend largely on what you see on the monitor, you will no doubt miss some things.

Likewise, even though what you see through the eye pieces is invariably brighter than what is seen on the monitor, the objects are much smaller so I generally see some things that I missed when only using the eye pieces.

Klaus, my Swiss microscope advisor, always has his ears to the ground and he keeps me current on new technology and possibilities. I can share this with anyone interested, suffice it to say that the prices of an adequate consumer digital system run from around $600 plus adapter ($195-395) to $1200, but I think the professional microscope cameras are still generally much better and the system Klaus is presently recommending cost me about $2500 wholesale.

Best wishes,
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Postby Steven_L on Fri Jan 02, 2009 4:55 pm

Thanks, Ingrid.
Aim Hard!

Steve at OpticsPlanet

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