by Roland Mortimer, Brazil

Looking through the various books and articles about microscopy and pondering over the many beautiful photos of protozoa etc., I thought to myself, "You must need very expensive and sophisticated equipment to manage to produce such wonderful shots". Being an amateur and collector of 'scopes I don't have this type of gear at hand but I decided to give it a try anyway.

Image right shows a filamentous algae, possibly Spirogyra.

The scope I use most is a 1941 Zeiss listed as a 'scope suitable for bacteriology (shown left). We must remember that most of the research and discoveries made in the last century or so were made using old 'scopes like this or even older so don't go thinking you need an ultra-modern instrument.

My camera is almost as old, an old Zenith SLR, for which I managed to find a set of extension tubes. These when screwed in the place of the camera lens make an excellent adapter which doesn't actually have to fit neatly over the eye-piece tube. I just hold the whole thing over the eye-piece and focus then take my picture. The tubes give the exact distance so as to fill the whole frame with the object and doesn't allow extraneous light onto the film.

Image left below: a heliozoan protozoan (Actinosphaerium?).

The first few photos were obviously pretty poor as I was practising with my new setup, the biggest problem was enough light. I picked up an old air-force signalling lamp which had a focusing tube and a condenser (shown right). I fitted a square filament microscope lamp to this and superglued a spare iris diaphragm with filter carrier to the front. This supplied with a 6 volt 3 amp transformer is now converted into a half decent Köhler illuminator.

Through trial and error I managed to get most of my pictures right but I still need more practice, but this is a common factor of anything new one tries. So you see, you don't need a huge heavy ultra modern lab. 'scope nor a very expensive camera and adaptor to get half decent photos of your favourite subjects. Try it and experiment with other bits and pieces you may pick up. You'll amaze yourself, and believe me, you'll get a lot of pleasure out of seeing your results. I know I did. With low magnifications you shouldn't have any problems with light, a good blue sky with white clouds should be sufficient, the real problem starts with higher magnifications and oil-immersion lenses.

Image right above: a diatom showing the markings on the silica frustule.
Image left below: Stentor, a protozoan.
Image right below: Vorticella, a protozoan with a contractile stalk.

The illuminator I made up has shown itself worthy even at higher mags. Some books suggest you remove the eye-piece. This isn't really necessary at all, in fact I find leaving the eye-piece in position gives better results. If you haven't got an adaptor or extension tubes for your camera, try using even a cardboard tube painted matt black inside, one that just fits a little tightly in the place where the camera lens goes. Then position this over the eye-piece so it just covers it, and try your focusing skills. Some patience and a good eye are needed to focus on the frosted glass screen of the camera but it can be done. Good luck.

Roland Mortimer


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