The microscope is a somewhat intimidating machine that we often associate with scientists. In reality it offers a simple optical tool, which extends our creative vision into new areas! We will see new landscapes of color and texture that exist only on the wing of an insect! In order to enter this new land we will need only a few simple tools. These tools are surprisingly affordable and accessible.
A simple student grade microscope will suit most photographic needs. There are several characteristics we will want to look for: Monocular design with standard replaceable eyepieces, smooth focusing, and a mechanical stage. The stage can be purchased separately and added later. Rack and pinion focus is a sign of sufficient quality for our needs. Although stereomicroscopes can be adapted for photography, they usually do not offer the larger magnifications of a monocular design.
The microscope is attached to the camera with a simple adapter available at Surplus Shed or other photo retailers. The adapter has two pieces, one fits on the scope and the other on the camera. The microscope eyepiece will fit into the camera adapter. Once the two pieces of the adapter are attached to the camera and the microscope these two pieces connect to each other.
The lens near the microscope stage is called the objective; the lens near your eye is the eyepiece. The stage is where we will put our subject. The least powerful objectives are the easiest to work with. This is because the 4X lens is in focus at a distance of at least several millimeters from the subject. This relief from the subject gives us room to light! The 40X lens is in focus almost on top of the subject; it can only be used with prepared slides and transmitted light. Although this can be an interesting environment to photograph, it presents difficulties beyond the scope of this article. There are several different types of lenses available for the microscope.
The eyepiece or ocular is the second piece of the optical equation. In order to discover the reproduction ratio of your system multiply the power of the objective (lenses are referred to by power not focal length) by the power of your eyepiece (8, 10 or 15X) then multiply this by the enlargement of your print (an 8X10 from a full frame DSLR, like my Kodak DCS Pro 14n would be an 8X enlargement). An 8X10 from a camera with a smaller chip, like the Canon 10D would be an even greater enlargement. You can see that it is easy to get an enlargement of several hundred times!
Your exposure is controlled by shutter speed or by power output on your strobes since microscope lenses donít have diaphragms. Your shutter speeds will likely be pretty long, around one-half second. As a consequence of the long exposure times the noise level can be pretty high. My current camera is the Kodak 14n, and the latest firmware for long exposure is a real help. When I had the Canon 10D it did a good job with these long exposures. Regardless of camera noise will be an issue. Using more light on your subject will reduce the problem, but it may produce too much heat.
About Author / Instructor / Photographer, John H. Siskin
In addition, he teaches studio lighting black and white photography at Los Angeles Mission College. His studio is in Reseda California and more of his work can be seen at www.siskinphoto.com
His work has been part of many exhibits. His photographs have been shown at the Brand Library, 2nd City Art Gallery, Haroldís Gallery, Farmani Gallery, and The Atelier. He has been a participant in the Valley Studio Tour several times.
John has published quite a number of technical articles about photography. His articles have appeared in Photo Techniques, View Camera, Studio Photography and others. He has written about photographic lighting, building lenses, framing, photographic lab work, building cameras, as well as some more speculative photographic subjects. Since he is so well versed in photographic subjects, he is often hired as a consultant by businesses.