Starting Out

Starting Out

Postby Chris Johnson » Thu Aug 12, 2010 9:33 am

Hi All,

The day is approaching when I will be in a position to purchase a compound microscope and dedicated digital camera. I have read all of the foregoing posts on the subject and gleaned a lot of useful information. I have also been round many of the websites on the subject and read the manufacturers' blub, taking account of possible bias.

However, there is no substitute for hands-on experience and unbiased appraisal and I would like to ask members for their latest recommendations and also what to avoid.

Richard Scott has probably got the most recent equipment and has received several fine compliments on his photomicroscopy, so I would particularly like to hear from Richard chapter and verse on the equipment he is using: microscope, camera, software, measuring equipment, etc. if this isn't too much trouble.

Cost is an obvious governing factor and although I can't afford a Leica set-up, I do have a reasonable budget.

Many thanks,

Chris
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Re: Starting Out

Postby Leif Goodwin » Thu Aug 12, 2010 11:35 am

I think numerous people gave useful answers on an earlier thread which should not be hard to find. My view, and I think one that is shared, is that the best value comes from a used microscope. The old non infinity optics microscopes, even though they might be 20+ years old, still have decades of use in them. The big names are Leitz, Nikon, Olympus and Zeiss, but others such as Vickers are very good. The Olympus BH2 is one of the best, but costly. Avoid the bottom end instruments from the big names, as some were too basic. Modern Chinese microscopes are hit and miss. Some are good, some aren't. If you are inexperienced, then a company such as Brunel Microscopes will guide you. But their selection of used instruments is limited. There are some very good ebay sellers, although caution is advised, as a broken instrument can be near useless. I would only trust a few sellers. The real advantage of an old used non infinity optics microscope is the huge range of accessories available at bargain prices. Try getting an APO 100x objective for a modern infinity optics microscope and you'll faint at the price.

Brunel microscopes sell dedicated digital cameras which work well. But the software stinks, so get Micam which costs peanuts. I think these cameras can be used on an eye port in place of an eyepiece (do check), but really it is best to get a trinocular microscope with a photo-port. Alternatively you can use a compact digital camera, and eyepiece projection (I've never done it), or attach a DSLR to the photoport, which is what I do. I think the best quality is from a DSLR, but a dedicated camera is more convenient. If you do get a DSLR, it MUST have mirror lock up. That is crucial. Also it helps if the microscope has a bright lamp, which helps reduce exposure times, and the risk of image blur from vibration.

My own choice would be an old microscope from one of the big names such as a Leitz Ortholux or an Olympus BH2, with a dedicated DSLR. I have a Japanese Meiji scope, but the optics could be better, and I do not recommend it. I think a used instrument would have been better. I think Meiji make microscopes for institutions such as teaching labs which need a large number of identical decent quality instruments and they cannot buy used, as it is impossible to find a set of identical instruments, and they do not want to pay big money for Leica et al.

I too am interested to hear what Richard is using, as he has clearly made a decent choice.
Fungi and Nature Photography: http://www.leifgoodwin.co.uk/Fungi/Fungi.html
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Re: Starting Out

Postby Richard Scott » Thu Aug 12, 2010 2:20 pm

Chris,
The first thing to say is that I have only been studying fungii since autum 2009 and hence am no expert on any aspect of it (as can be seen by the number of posts on "What is it?".
Furthermore, when I bought my microscope this is the first time in my life that I have used one.

Ok, so I followed the advice of members and consulted Helen at Brunel Microscopes. She was very helpful and after quizing me about usage, experience etc. she suggested the SP100 with the 4 standard objectives of 4x 10x 40x 100x. At first I had difficulty seeing anything with any detail but then I realised that the bottle of oil provided with the microscope was not for greasing the mechanism but actual for putting on the slide cover when using the 100x objective (Doh!). This made a phenomenal difference and stopped my frustration. I also bought a 5mega pixel purpose bulit camera (Scopetek DCM510) which fits in the 3rd tube of the microscope, this resulted in even more frustration to the extent that I was ready to send it back to Brunel. I then followed a thread about the software and downloaded MICAM, this made a world of difference and I started to get some half decent microphotos (by my standards). One thing again that was not explained to me was that what you see through the microscope binocular is not what you see on the computer screen, you have to find your subject and then re-focus for the camera. This is slightly frustrating but according to Brunel to avoid doing this would be a very much larger investment in the DCM and I already have to present myself regularly to the wife for an audit of my expenditure on shrooming!

I have found that the key to getting a good microphoto is the slide preparation and the time spent looking through the scope for good subjects. There are much better people to help with slide preparation than me but attaining the skill of getting a small enough specimen, using the correct dilution of stain ( I nearly allways use Congo Red), using KOH or NH3 to help soften harder specimens, and the crushing of the specimen using a rubber ended pencil are essential.

When going out looking for specimens, at first I would bring back maybe 4 or 5 different subjects for study. Beware of doing this because even now, the careful micro-examination of a subject can take me over an hour. Furthermore if you leave the examination for a day the subject has generally degraded enough to sometimes force false conclusions. I normally take a sample of the gill edge/side, the cap cuticle material and sometimes a piece of the stem and put all 3 on one slide seperated as much as possible. I then put stain/chemical on each and put a seperate slide cover on each of the 3. This saves on slides and helps organise the specimen. I find using water as the medium for the stain does not work as well as KOH, you get many more air bubbles. However if you do use KOH or NH3 be aware that if you do not examine your subbject quickly enough you will get crystal formation under the slide cover. Please see next thread I am having trouble seeing what I have written on this one.
Last edited by Richard Scott on Thu Aug 12, 2010 2:39 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Starting Out

Postby Richard Scott » Thu Aug 12, 2010 2:36 pm

On the subject of the camera. I already had a Canon 400D DSLR which has 10mega pixels. I started with the standard lens 18-55mm and the telephoto 55-200mm but very soon found these inadequate for taking field photographs. My first port of call after this was to buy a fairly cheap macro lens that screwed to the end of the 18-55mm lens. This was a big mistake, the depth of field was incredibly short so few of my closeups were of any use at all.

I then bought a 2nd hand Sigma 105mm fixed focal legnth Macro closeup lens from Ebay, this was almost unsed and I got it for £210. Again at first my lack of photography skills resulted in much frustration, poor depth of field and shaking being the main reasons. So I bought a Giotto Monopod (£50ish) and with this I got SLIGHTLY better results although still embarassingly poor. I then read various threads on ABFG and other sites and came to the conclusion that I was doing most everthing wrong. So I then bought a Hama mini-pro tripod (£50ish again) and a Canon remote trigger (£16) for the camera. I also set my camera to AV (fixed aperture) at 45, and I have rarely moved it from this setting. Even when the subject is so dark that the 30" warning on the camera flashes I still get good depth of field and so long as I use the tripod and remote trigger I get a really quite acceptable result. Beware though, you must remove any grass stalks etc which might get blown by the wind when using a long exposure time.

There we are I am now 95% happy with my setup. The 5% dis-satisfaction are a result of the amount of clobber I have to cart around, and a, probably unjustifiable, urge to get the Canon 550d 18 mega pixel camera for getting better blow-ups.

By the way I forgot to say that the microscope and DCM camera cost about £760. If you can afford it though get the 550D or equivalent. Hope this diatrybe helps.
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Re: Starting Out

Postby Chris Johnson » Thu Aug 12, 2010 6:09 pm

Leif and Richard

Many thanks for your detailed replies, it has certainly given me something to think about not to mention homework. I had considered a secondhand instrument but was rather wary, not knowing very much about them. Being rather remote, it is something of a handicap when it comes to looking at equipment. However, so much commerce is now done via the internet. I take Leif's point about better images coming from a DSLR but this is something I really wanted to avoid if possible. My field camera is in constant use and it would be quite a nuisance to take it on and off the microscope. I would also be concerned with wear and damage. Richard is taking some very acceptable images with a dedicated camera, so I will follow this route.

When I checked the Brunel website recently, I could find no mention of the Scopetek cameras. Perhaps they have been discontinued; I will give them a call. Richard, when you say 'a very much larger investment (I like the word investment rather than cost, especially when talking to the wife!) in the DMC' are you referring to the Infinity range, which is the only non-Chinese range I have found that is readily available, and would this overcome the focusing problem? How do you measure and then enumerate your spores on the image? Is that a software job?

Great tip, having three samples on one slide.

Thanks again,

Chris
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Re: Starting Out

Postby Richard Scott » Thu Aug 12, 2010 7:04 pm

Chris the DMC (dedicated microscope camera) is a Chinese product and is ok. The link to the same series (Minicam) is here http://www.microscopyimaging.co.uk/digital.html.
I purchased a multi function scale micrometer from Brunel which I then used to calibrate both my eyepiece measure and my DMC camera on the PC.
Originally the Brunel stage micrometer was a bit under par but the 3 scale one is good.
If you get the DMC510 and you want a hand setting it up them email me via ABFG and I will send you my telephone details.
When you say "remote" where are you?
Richard
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Re: Starting Out

Postby Chris Johnson » Thu Aug 12, 2010 8:11 pm

Thanks for the link Richard, Brunel's website isn't the easiest to navigate. I will let you knowm how I get on, I'm sure there will be many more questions.
I live in the Outer Hebrides.
Chris
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