Take Digital Photos Through a Microscope Without Any Special Lens or Adapter




Introduction: Take Digital Photos Through a Microscope Without Any Special Lens or Adapter

The secret is to use "macro mode", a feature nearly all cameras have nowadays. It's intended to take closeup pictures of things only a few inches away from the lens, but since that's the apparent distance of what you see through a scope, it works for that as well.

Step 1: The Standard Icon Representing Macro Mode Usually Involves a Flower and Sometimes the Letters "MF" (for "macro Focus").

Step 2: For Quick-and-dirty Work, You Can Use Nothing More Than Your Hand to Hold the Camera Lens Up to the Eyepiece

Make a ring with your fingers keeping the lens and the eyepiece about a half-inch apart.

Step 3: Center and Focus

Then look at the viewfinder LCD of your camera and you'll see a round blob of light that moves in the opposite direction from what you'd expect.

You want to keep things steady and try to center this blob. You'll probably find that you need to adjust the distance between the lens and the eyepiece a bit before your camera will be able to focus properly.

Step 4: Then Take a Picture

This creature was crawling around on a leaf in my front yard. Pretty frightening, especially if you are an oak tree.

You can, of course, crop the image to remove the black circle (which is called "vignetting", and is a side effect of not spending $100 on an actual lens adapter.)

Step 5: Use a Tripod

After awhile, you'll find that keeping everything centered and steady is a fair bit of work, so if you want to take more than a few images, try using a tripod to maintain the lens-to-eyepiece distance for you.

Step 6: Make Some Videos

Since my digital camera will also take short videos, I was able to get moving pictures of the nasty oak-eating insect crawling around on a small screwdriver ...

Step 7: Telescopes and More

All of this will also work for taking pictures through a telescope, although you'll probably find that a tripod is more necessary for stability, and that many cameras will have trouble with dark subjects (like the night sky). It works well for terrestrial pictures in daylight.

Thanks to nospleen (Erich Brandeau) for taking pictures of me taking pictures.

(Instructables user davidmerrill used this technique to illustrate his wonderful explanation of how to hand solder SMT chips (https://www.instructables.com/ex/i/0E9564B43CE71029AC23001143E7E506/?ALLSTEPS). But the technique is so useful and little-known that I thought it deserved its own Instructable.)



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    21 Discussions

    I made a 3D printed adaptor for a Galaxy S4 smart phone that does this really well. You can find it on: www.shapeways.com/shops/Euge. The aperture on a smartphone camera is much smaller then on a point and shoot, closer to the size of a human eye, so you can get the whole field of view into your camera instead of just a ring in the middle.


    I do this now with my iPhone and a neat little adapter from http://visionproshop.com

    very cool, i've been really meaning to try this.

    this may be a really stupid question... but how well does this work with DSLR cameras? is there just more fiddling around to be done?

    Just picked up an old reflector microscope at a flea market for $25. Within a few minutes of getting home we were looking at peacock feathers, dead skin cells, leaves, etc. Having read this instructable before, we got out the digital camera, selected macro view and were taking photos through the microscope in minutes. Later, we got out the tripod to simplify the image stabilization. Worked like a charm! Thank you! Next, though, we'll look for a web cam solution so that we can view in real time on a monitor.

    1 reply

    what if you use a piece of electrical tape with another piece of electrical tape so that they meet at the sticky sides and leave a sticky bit protruding at one end. then you curl it around the lens of the cam and eyepiece then tape the last bit up with the sticky bit?

    Cool, thanks. I've been wondering what else I needed to use a microscope & camera...I guess most adapters are more mechanical than optical.

    The Flower icon is the 'macro' part.

    MF is more likely "Manual Focus" vs. AF for Auto-Focus.

    MF mode usually (on the cameras I've used) accommodates the full range of focal distance from macro to infinity.

    I haven't tried it yet, but I imagine AF might be annoying if it keeps 'wandering'.

    Good way to take photos through microscope if you don't want to spend anothere dime.  I used Celestron universal camera adapter instead of the tripod since it is fixed on to the camera.  See the picture here: www.squidoo.com/photomicrography#module77952561.  It costs around $35 on Amazon.  Highly recommended.

    Um, the black circle in the photo isn't vignetting, that is the actual rim of the eyepiece (hence why you can see outside of the eyepiece in the far left of the picture). It is a result of holding the camera too far away from the eyepiece allowing light from the room to enter the camera's lens. Vignetting is a much more subtle grading into darker colours, just pop it into google images to see.

    i did this a while back but i was useing a 35m slide loupe at 9x
    i was takeing pics of my eyesit was very bright

    Believe it or not we utilize this type of technique at our forensic laboratory to document evidence and tests that we perform with the various microscopes not already equipped with an inline camera. Because adapters/couplers are expensive and also specialized for particular camera types, we had to come up with a method to cut down on the light that comes in around the lens and eyepiece which could distort our photographs. So, we utilize a toilet paper cardboard roll (or paper towel roll cut down) placing the ends around the camera lens and the eyepiece. It's surprizing how this improves the photographs.

    this also works with camera phones and higher power microscopes. i use it for my forensic science degree since it is far more accurate than sketching. these were taken on an N95, but i also a K800i, with superior results due to better processing. this is a picture of a habbit hair at (i think) 100x magnification. the middle part is called the medulla, and in this picture of this hair it is a fragmented medulla. buy measuring the width of the medulla and dividing this by the total width of the hair, all multiplied by 100. This is an arbitrary unit, and can tell you if the hair is human (less than 33) or animal (over 33). you can then cross reference it to a database of animal hairs and identify the animal it came from. interesting huh? the second is a picture of a cross section of human intestine, at (again, i can only guess) 40x magnification. note the bottom of the picture is the inner lumen, and the villi are visible. the top shows the muscle tissue. inside is fibreous tissue for strength and structure.

    rabbit hair.JPGintestine.jpg

    You can take super up close pictures of stuff using a binocular lens. the one that is adjustable and can be unscrewed that goes up to your eye


    Very neat. I saw the local drugstore has some kid's microscopes for sale and I thought about buying one to take pictures of bugs and plants for my gardening blog. The reason I haven't bought it is because I'm sure the quality isn't very good. Anyway thanks for the cool instructable.

    That bug is not an oak-eater at all---I'd bet its a ladybug larva, a beneficial insect that eats aphids and such.


    12 years ago

    this trick also works on a pair of binoculars


    12 years ago

    the macro setting is obvious but i didnt know it could work with a microscope, that pretty neato

    I'm not so sure that the macro setting is a secret... I mean, it fully explains it in the user manual that all of 4 people read :P But col nonetheless ;)

    You can also use a digital camera coupler to eliminate some of the vignetting (black circle on the outside) and improve the stability. Diagnostic Instruments makes a set of couplers for consumer digital cameras to attach to microscopes. I am not sure if you can purchase online. http://www.diaginc.com