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Saturday, February 3, 2024

How do I make good images of the microcosm?

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In the invisible world, where the human eye is inadequate, the microscope is the indispensable tool for the biohacker. An instrument that opens doors to small miracles. Through craftsmanship with a microscope camera, we capture the evidence and push science forward.In my search for the perfect microscope camera, I learned new things that expanded my world. What is needed to make good camera images of the microcosm?

Essential features

The most important thing about a good microscope camera is to capture images with high resolution and a smooth frame rate. During my search, the choice for 4K resolution and a frame rate of 30 FPS (images per second) was central. I was looking for a camera with these specifications.

Secrets

During my search, I delved into camera technology and learned about concepts such as full-frame sensors, the behavior of light, the Bayer filter and the function of an aperture. I quickly realized that light density plays a crucial role in the sharpness of the image when enlarging with lenses. If you approach the limit of light, the image becomes blurry. This happens at a magnification of approximately 2000 times. Additionally, the pixel size of the sensor also affects the overall sharpness. Cameras with full-frame sensors, which have a sensor area equal to the size of a negative on an old roll of film, are usually sharper, but expensive. I therefore focus on the low segment.

Light, color and sharpness

Another essential aspect to consider when taking microscope images is the color or wavelength of the light. Different colors of light have different levels of sharpness, with purple/blue light, near ultraviolet, being the sharpest and green the most sensitive to the human eye. Color filters can be used to get a sharper image.

An interesting technology I discovered was the Bayer filter, which is used in digital cameras to take color photos. This technique consists of a grid of color filters that filter light of different wavelengths, allowing the sensor to capture color information in standard RGB colors.

Aperture

Understanding the role of the aperture in the camera's functionality was also enlightening. An aperture is a mechanical (or digital) element that controls the amount of light in cameras. By adjusting the size of the aperture, photographers can control exposure. The opening consists of a ring with individual leaves or panels that can be opened or closed. A larger opening provides more light, while a smaller opening limits the amount of light.

Evolution in video technology

In the world of video technology, different resolutions have evolved. HD (1280x720) and full HD (1920x1080) used to be the standard, but now 4K (3840x2160) has become increasingly popular because of its sharpness and clarity. 8K (7680x4320) is still on the expensive side. In terms of frame rate, a minimum of 10 FPS is required for a smooth image, but 30 FPS is recommended to avoid choppiness. For slow motion recordings, an even higher frame rate is preferred.

Power grid and flicker

Flicker in video is also related to the frequency of the electricity grid. In Europe the standard frequency is 50 Hz, while in the US it is 60 Hz. This affects the video framerate used in the respective regions. If the video frame rate is out of sync with the power line frequency, flickering may occur on the screen. Modern technologies, such as motion interpolation, are used to reduce this problem by adding artificial frames to adapt the frame rate to the power frequency. Avoiding flicker is important to prevent visual fatigue. That is why it is better, for example, to use 25 or 50 frames in Europe and 30 or 60 FPS in the US. It therefore depends on which light source you are going to use whether it is necessary to take this into account.

Compression and storage

Compression techniques are used to store video images to prevent the storage from filling up quickly. Various video containers are used, such as MP4, MKV and MOV. The choice of video compression depends on the specific requirements, but for 4K video, H.265 compression is recommended, with the MKV container suitable for most systems.

Surprising discoveries

With this new knowledge I started looking for the perfect camera for my microscope. I first experimented with using my smartphone's camera, but quickly realized that it had limitations in terms of stability and precision. I then focused on the Bresser MikroCam SP 3.1, a camera specifically designed for microscopy. Although it produced images with a low resolution and frame rate, it was not the ideal solution I was looking for.

Through further exploration I discovered the Raspberry PI High Quality Camera, which offered a resolution of over 4K at 60 FPS. Unfortunately, this camera only delivered Full HD at 60 FPS when connected to a Raspberry PI. I was also considering repurposing an old action camera by replacing the lens with a c-mount adapter. While this solution was partially successful, the image quality of the affordable 4K action camera left room for improvement. A more expensive GoPro, which could deliver better results, was out of my budget.

My search then brought me to Arducam, a company specialized in camera technology. Their cameras with attractive specifications and an M12 fitting caught my attention, but Adrucam cameras turned out to be complicated to use and also quite technical. Arducam has great camera solutions, intended for the technician and not for the average consumer. If you are going to order from Arducam, contact them first, because apparently I ordered the wrong module and they were not open to exchanges.

Right camera

In the absence of a good budget solution, I ended up purchasing a second-hand GoPro Hero9 for 200 euros. The Internet is full of them and I managed to replace the fisheye lens with a c-mount connection. I must admit, the images are clear and sharp for both the microscope and my telescope! I did sometimes see a small color shift when using the microscope. I don't know the exact cause of this yet. I have been told that this is due to the quality of the lenses I use, which means that the different colors of light are not deflected evenly.An additional advantage of using a GoPro is that it is very easy to use. With many functions, such as connecting to a telephone or TV. Connecting to a 4K TV is essential to be able to focus, the GoPro screens are simply too small for that.

In short, my search for the perfect microscope camera was a journey of discovery. Along the way, I learned about the importance of resolution, frame rate, light density, and the Bayer filter in achieving exceptional image quality. I explored various camera options, from smartphones to dedicated microscope cameras, before finally finding the ideal solution in a second-hand GoPro. That camera allowed me to capture stunning microscope images that really showed off the wonders of the microscopic world.

If you are in the market for a microscope camera, I encourage you to delve into the world of camera technology. Explore the concepts of resolution, frame rate, aperture and image compression to make an informed decision that meets your specific needs. With the right camera, your microscope images come to life, allowing you to discover and explore the hidden beauty and wonder of the microscopic world.

Modified GoPro

You can find a second-hand GoPro almost everywhere. I opted for the Hero9, which can shoot up to 5K video and 20 megapixel photos. To adjust the GoPro, you need to loosen the lens cap and then remove the adhesive layer around the lens with a thin and flat screwdriver. Once all adhesive residue is gone, unscrew the lens with pliers. This is a bit tough. If you do it right, you leave the lens intact. That failed for me and the glass of the lens broke into 1000 pieces. I then glued the microscope adapter to the GoPro. Make sure the sensor remains clean and dust-free. It was quite a job to remove the lens, but it worked in the end.

Human hair

Sugar granule

Coin closup

The letter 'n' of 'King of the Netherlands' on the 20 euro cent coin, magnified.

The moon

A photo of the moon with the same GoPro setup, connected to a telescope.

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