Photo Notes

April 19, 2010

Using a Microscope

Filed under: Micro Photography — John Siskin @ 5:28 pm

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First, unless someone wants to give me an electron microscope, this will be the last blog about macro/micro for a while. I am going to discuss the microscope, and I hope you’ll find it interesting. I’ve written about this before, and the best copy of the article is at, here’s the link: There are more images in this version than the version on my website. Anyway, I hope you’ll look, because I’m not going to cover everything here.

The microscope is a compound system, that is there are two sets of lenses that work together to create a large degree of magnification. Telescope and binoculars work the same way. The objective is the lens near the subject and the eyepiece is at the top of the microscope. You multiply the power of the two to get the power of the system: a 4X objective and a 10X eyepiece give you a 40X enlargement. A basic student grade microscope will cost you about $120 and reach an enlargement of 600X. In theory anyway.

The problem is that when you use powerful objectives, any thing over 4X, the lens is too close to the subject. You just can’t get any light on the subject. Still this will work well if the subject is translucent, because microscopes are designed to light things from below, so the light goes through them. So I often use a 4X objective and a 15X eyepiece, which gives me 60X. 60 times life size is pretty damn close! I use quartz lights to illuminate my subjects from above, or rarely from below. I have also used strobes successfully, but you need to have a bright modeling light to see the subject. Seeing the subject is a big challenge.

You need a standard monocular microscope like this one: Then you need the adapter. This allows you to use a T-mount to mount your camera to the microscope. Here’s the adapter: Here’s a T-mount to Nikon: and for Canon: and there are others.

Please check out my classes at BetterPhoto. You can still sign up for the current session!
An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio

Getting Started In Commercial Photography

Thanks, John Siskin

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  1. […] As you may know, from this blog and my magazine articles, I make a lot of abstract images with the microscope.  I was asked to participate in a show last week, and I will probably bring these abstract […]

    Pingback by Controlling the Viewers’ Eyes @ Photo Notes — September 5, 2010 @ 8:39 pm

  2. I don’t normally comment on blogs.. But nice post! I just bookmarked your site

    Comment by Sofia — June 27, 2011 @ 5:30 pm

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