When choosing a microscope intended for shooting images of mineralogical and
gemological objects such as crystals, gemstones and their inclusions one has to
think "light". To be able to get nice images, enough light has to get through to
the CCD (or film if shooting analogue) to keep the exposure times within
reasonable limits. The only way to accomplish this is to use as good and clear
optics as possible.
When I started this rewarding and exciting task again, after 10 years of
rest, I went the cheap way and bought me one of the abundant chinese stereo
microscopes with two magnification grades of 20x and 40x. Together with my fixed
lens camera (Canon S3 IS) and a home made adapter fitting over the ocular tube I
started shooting. I got some really nice shots and was pretty satisfied with the
After publishing some of the images at a couple of websites where I got a lot
of unexpected positive feedback I also learned that there are ways of getting
the images clearer, more in focus and even more live like regarding colours.
People at Gemology Online Forum who like myself really seemed to like
photomicrography, and also showed some awesome images of a quality I didn't
think was possible, was much more familiar with microscope qualities and optics
than myself and willingly shared their knowledge. A new world opened up and I
soon learned that it is better to buy a used quality microscope than a new low
budget model. What brand one buys (if sticking to the major brands) is of less
importance as long as it has good optics and is well built. Unfortunately
building quality seems to getting worse even in many new "quality brands" today.
This leads to the conclusion that sometimes a good used scope is better than a
new one regardless of brand. At Gemology Online Forum there are many threads
discussing this. A good place to learn the basics about microscopes is
Used microscopes are not especially hard to come by at online auction sites.
Many times prices are great. Always ask the seller questions about what shape it
is in and what the shipping charges to your country will be, before bidding! Also take into
account that in some cases also import taxes and customs duties are to be payed.
A built in photoport is not necessary but gives you the freedom to accomplish
parfocality (item in focus both through oculars and camera simultaneously). Zoom
function is also nice to have as you can place the object in the right "size" in
the image much easier.
To be honest I was not really convinced the difference in optics could be
THAT big between a new chinese microscope and a used scope from a quality
manufacturer until seeing it with my own eyes. After I got hold of a Wild M400
and had it set up I was really astonished. The sharpness of the images was
almost unreal. Light transmission is so much better than before that exposure times has
decreased to less than half. An image which earlier needed 8 seconds for
exposure can with my present setup be shot at 2.5 to 3 seconds.
My setup »
Description and images
of my present setup(s).
Light Sources »
Description and thoughts
on different types of lights.
Description and thoughts
on different types of cameras.
Links to sources of importance »
Links to many nice places dedicated to microscopy and photography.