Compromise photomicrography

There is no reason to run out and buy anything, for the below I used only what was already on hand. -K

Provided one has a microscope and a camera, no additional equipment is absolutely required. In a pinch a photomicrograph may be produced by holding it to the eyepiece and hoping for the best. Some simple steps may be taken to ensure the best possible result of this slipshod technique. The chief argument against holding a camera to the eyepiece is that the stability of ones hands is not so reliable as one might prefer. Overcoming this difficulty is not so complex as it may first seem.

The microscopists eye replaced with a consumer grade 35mm camera.

The microscopists eye replaced with a consumer grade 35mm camera.

In a slim text titled Photomicrography put out by the Eastman Kodak Company an excellent method of positioning a camera at the eyepiece is illustrated. In the text it is recommended that one fabricate a simple wooden board with an appropriately sized hole to accommodate the lens of ones camera. Once placed through the board the body of the camera is held firmly in place by rubber bands. The whole is then suspended over the microscope on a standard laboratory ring stand so that the lens of the camera corresponds with the eye-point of the objective.

Once the microscope is focused normally, the camera may be swung into position. On some varieties of camera the regular sight would then be used to verify focus, or a ground glass focusing plate might be substituted for the regular camera back. The large digital displays of modern cameras provide an added convenience when it comes to focusing, and widely available software for tethered camera control as well as wireless remotes eliminate the risk of misalignment during exposure. Additionally, the absence of any mechanical shutter eliminates a common source of vibration which was the bane of many an amateur photomicrographer.

With a ring stand it was the work of a moment to position a camera over the eyepiece of a microscope oriented fully vertical. If one did not have a ring stand or similar support on hand, one might easily utilize a standard photographic tripod towards the same end. Adapting the method for use with a microscope with a permanently inclined eyepiece (such as the B&L Dynoptic, pictured below right) required no more effort than trading the ring support for a utility clamp mounted on an intermediate boss-head.

Vertical microscope with ring supported digital camera.

Vertical microscope with ring supported digital camera.

Considering briefly, one might see how this same general method could be adapted for use by an individual possessed of nothing but a standard microscope and camera. Manipulating the microscope so that it is fully horizontal permits simply sitting ones camera on any convenient support that will elevate it to the height of the eyepiece.

Fixed angle microscope with camera held at apropriate angle.

Fixed angle microscope with camera held at appropriate angle.

Presently, all manner of custom mounts and accessories have been manufactured and marketed to the amateur that simplify arranging and aligning photographic apparatus-from cellular phones to expensive DSLR’s-at the eyepiece of any optical equipment from microscope to telescope. Such equipment is largely unnecessary as has been demonstrated above.

But are the images produced by this method acceptable? Without specialized equipment or complex software the below image was produced. In all it took longer to walk to the shelf on which the ring stand was stored than it did to arrange the equipment and take the photomicrograph. In the image below one can see that ample room for improvement exist. Having lately been playing around with an old Russian range-finder lens which was mounted to a Nikon 1 J1 body, it was the camera used. Looking at the lens afterwards I note that it was focused to about 10.5 meters and the aperture was fully open. In any case below is the image produced of a traditional test object for low powers, the scales of a butterfly, as seen with a 10x objective and 10x ocular.

Be warned the full size image is ~4MB.

Be warned the full size image is ~4MB.

In the next post methods of achieving optimum image formation with the above method will be discussed.

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