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Digital microphotography guide: The purpose of this paper is to help microscopists and other photographers take high quality digital photographs, store them for easy editing and retrieval, and use digital microphotographs as an information or forensic database. We discuss using modern digital cameras and transmitted-light microscopes together.
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PAAA 2005 Symposium, University of Tulsa, Tulsa Oklahoma -
June 2-5, 2005 - updated 02/23/2009
This article discusses the selection of cameras that adapt well to microscope eyepieces or trinocular heads, and on camera settings and procedures to obtain best quality photographs. We also discuss image resolution and size settings and make recommendations. Cameras used as examples in this paper include the Nikon Coolpix series 990, 995, and 4500.
The techniques discussed in this paper work well with digital cameras and any type of microscope, low power stereo zoom to high power forensic polarized light microscopes.]
Before specifying a camera choice and recommending camera settings let's review the purposes of digital microphotography of particular interest to aerobiologists and other microscopists:
Start with a well prepared slide, choosing a mountant with good optics for the particles being examined. Fungal spores or pollen grains may benefit from hydration but not excessive hydration. Heavy use of colored stains risks obscures natural colors and features needed for identification, though we may succumb and use fuchsin, lacto phenol, or even India ink for occasional development of certain features.
After a well prepared and clean slide, be sure the microscope is properly set up for Koehler illumination, and be sure the objective is clean.
Select a camera which has a very good lens - among the current crop of 3+megapixel cameras, this is perhaps more important than a higher number of pixels. Lens resolution in macro mode and with the camera focused at infinity are both important.
Post processing of images may improve the image color balance, sharpness, or contrast, but no amount of processing can produce accurate image data if that information was not captured in the first place.
Even excellent photomicrographs are not useful if they cannot be located later for reference purposes. A good photographic data base system is important.
What this list means is that the quality of the end result of photomicrography is limited by the weakest link in the image-formation chain. For example, no amount of camera pixels will provide a sharp image of an object which is not resolved sharply in the microscope nor will a high-pixel camera produce a sharp image if the camera's lens is of limited ability. Beware: not all high pixel cameras have equally sharp lenses, so the "resolution" in megapixels can be misleading. High megapixels defines how many data points of image are being recorded. But if the lens and other steps in the image formation chain are not producing a sharp image, high megapixels means you're recording a lot of fuzzy data.
With these preliminaries, let's look at choosing a camera, selecting camera settings, using mounts, etc.
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Technical Reviewers & References
A Short Course in Nikon Coolpix 990 Photography, Dennis P. Curtain, http://www.shortcourses.com - RECOMMENDED
Resolution of Digital Photomicrographs from Scanned Film, Theodore M. Clark, Microscopy Today, Feb/Mar 2001 http://www.couger.com/microscope/Ted-Clarke/papers/FilmScanner/
Light, Michael I. Sobel, University of Chicago Press, 1987, ISBN 0-226-76751-5
ThumbsPlus® image software, provides highly functional image database including basic editing, cropping, enlarging, enhancement of photos, image organization, keywords and comments attached to each image, and search capability - HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for PC platforms. Typically less than $100. Network support available.
® image editing software, provides sophisticated image editing, available for PC and Macintosh computer platforms. Not recommended for reference library use - this is overkill for image editing and lacks good database functions. Typically more than $400.
iPhoto® image software, provides easy user interface and limited function to organize and print photos for MAC computer platforms - not recommended, limited function, very wasteful of disk space, lacks good database functions. Free included with new Apple computers or operating systems.
Photo Explosion® image software - free from Microsoft with other OS purchases. Untried.
Picture Easy software from Kodak - free with some Kodak cameras, simple organizing and photo manipulation.
Nikon View® software - free from Nikon with purchase of Coolpix cameras, easy image import and simple image manipulation and printing. Great for printing contact sheets of photos (which themselves are pretty useless).
 Thumbs Plus image data base software from Cerious software, www.cerious.com is a top choice low-cost option), and will be searched-through for reference purposes