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Microscope photography with webcam or point-and-shoot camera

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I'll describe two easy ways to take pictures through a microscope, one with a point and shoot camera and one with a cheap webcam.  I'll also explain how to calibrate the sizes of objects in the pictures.

The "afocal" point-and-shoot camera method is easier, the images are brighter and more colorful, but the magnification is significantly lower.  The "prime focus" webcam method will give you a very high magnification, quite a bit higher than your microscope normally provides when you look through it.  The color will be more subdued and resolution will be lower.

Both methods are really quite easy, but I'll go into a lot of detail.

What you need

For both methods:

  • Optical microscope (I use a surplus Spencer)
  • Samples: a number of my photos will be prepared slides that one can buy; some will be micrometeorite candidates which one can collect; some will be bits of plant matter from the yard; and I also have a meteorite sample that I bought
  • Optional: Phone or PDA or other device with backlit LCD screen and known resolution for determining magnification
For point and shoot method:
  • Camera (for many of the photos I used a Sony DSC-W55, and for some I used a Canon G7)
  • Optional (for comfort): PVC tubing or empty film canister, and easily removable tape (e.g., painter's tape)
  • Optional (for photographing opaque objects): Bright LED flashlight
For webcam method:
  • Microscope with removable eyepiece
  • Webcam which you can disassemble (I use a Logitech Chat)
  • Computer (Windows, OS X or Linux)
  • Easily removable tape
  • Optional (for photographing opaque objects): Bright LED flashlight
Note on transmitted and reflected light microscopy

There are two ways of imaging a sample.  One way is you shine a light through it, typically from a light bulb in the base of the microscope.  This produces bright images of translucent objects.  The other way is to shine a light at the top surface of a sample, and then image the reflected light.  Our microscope is built for transmitted light use and so this is more difficult--I would either illuminate with a bright flashlight or a reflection of the sun.  The result isn't ideal, but reflected light is the only way to image opaque samples, such as rocks or micrometeorites.
 
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jadi9292 years ago
do u think this could work if one just has a couple of microscope lenses? i have a lens and an eyepiece lying around and no actual microscope

other than this I can't think of any other uses for the lens
arpruss (author)  jadi9292 years ago
It should, if you find a way to mount the lens and eyepiece securely enough. You'd basically be building your own microscope. Maybe you can take a PVC or aluminum tube and mount the lens at one end and the eyepiece at the other. The objective might say on it how far the focal plane is from the objective (standard numbers range from 170mm to 210mm). If not, you can play around with around 180mm length.

Then you need to suspend the tube and lens securely in such a way that you can move them up and down to focus. If I were doing it, I would consider something like my wooden telescope focuser.  This works better with an aluminum tube than PVC, since PVC will bend under the pressure.  You'd need a fair amount of pressure to hold the weight of the camera in that focuser (I didn't design the focuser for holding a camera).  There are other options, like maybe some version of this.  Alternately, you might find some way of keeping the tube fixed and moving the sample up and down.

If you use an objective and a lensless camera (webcam or a point-and-shoot with lens removed) in place of the eyepiece, that'll reduce weight a bit.
arpruss (author) 2 years ago
Good point, though the newer DSLRs have such high resolution that even a small image circle is fine.

Still, maybe the best thing would be a point-and-shoot with lens removed (actually, hanging off to the side, or else the camera will think it's broken and not work), like some people use for astronomy but without the complications of timed exposures. The image sensor is bigger than on the webcam but small enough to nicely fit the image circle. The webcam's image sensor is so small that it makes for a little too much magnification (I suppose one could put in a focal reducer, though).
skrubol2 years ago
There are two problems I've read about with using a lensless SLR on a normal microscope. First is that typically the image sensor is way to big for the image circle that the microscope projects. Second is that it may not be possible to focus because the image sensor is set way back in the camera behind the mirror.
Micro 4/3 cameras may work, as they have smaller sensors as well as a shorter flange focus distance (no mirror.) I don't think I've looked into this since the micro 4/3 system was out though.
I like it very cool.
The first part involving the camera on the microscope is quite similar to something I have been doing for a few years for wildlife photography; I'll be entering an 'ible about it as soon as I have selected a few pictures to accompany the text.
Oddly my better half said she unpacked a really nice microscope in the charity shop she volunteers at today, guess who is going to buy it in the morning? ;-)
arpruss (author)  Nostalgic Guy2 years ago
I assume you mean that you've been hooking up the camera to the eyepiece of a spotting scope? Yes, I've been finding that what what works for telescopes tends to work for microscopes. I've done it with the last total eclipse of the moon and Clavius and a crescent moon (and Venus and Jupiter, but the results were poorer), though I think most of these are with the camera hand-held.
I just posted the 'ible I mentioned if you are interested take a look here:-
http://www.instructables.com/id/Close-Up-Wildlife-Photography-Without-Hi-Tech-Equi/
Not exactly..... :-)
I will be posting the 'ible soon you will see what I mean then.
I do like the idea though, now all I have to do is get hold of a suitable scope.
arpruss (author) 2 years ago
I wonder if you would get even better results with stacking and a webcam if you had the sample on a slowly movable stage and moved it slowly, the way astronomical images on a non-tracking telescope do.
Mike442 years ago
I must say, this is actually a very useful and informative Instructable. Very well done and lots of description and photos to back it up! There's so many instructables coming out now that are pure BS.
ChrysN2 years ago
Cool method and great photos!
ORP662 years ago
I am from Argentina. I will try your method. Its awesome, thanks.
raqqqq2 years ago
(removed by author or community request)
arpruss (author)  raqqqq2 years ago
Would be great if you post a photo or two here.
Cool!
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