The Novitiate’s Odyssey

Episode Nine: Accessory Addiction, an attempt at rational justification.

By G. Joseph Wilhelm of the Florida Keys


( Editor's note: Previous episodes - part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8 )


On Microscope accessory acquisition:

“If you mean the acquisition by the Devil’s hand that taxes the resources, verily takes the milk from the baby’s mouth, denies the landlord his just due and foments the downfall of Blessed matrimonial relationships then I am against it.

But if you mean the acquisition that lifts the spirit, lubricates the inquisitive nature, puts a spring into the step and rose into the cheeks of an individual seeking enlightenment and knowledge then I am for it, and I shall not waiver in my stance.”

As I mentioned in the introductory note to Episode Eight, I had a fair stint of work related travel last year. This always is accompanied by copious amounts of overtime and a per diem. I usually stay at the more modest hotels since they all look alike when you are asleep and rarely accept my student’s invitation to “wind down” with them after work at a local pub (at my age “happy hour” is a nap). Due to a rigorous teaching schedule coupled with my circadian rhythm being in complete disarray, the single meal of the day is customarily DIY evening hotel room fare of gruel and hard tack (Campbell’s soup and saltines). The up side to all this is I get to pocket the difference between what I actually spend and the per diem allowed.

After six months of accumulated overtime / per diem, which I consider “found” money, and my oath to my mother not to be a dull boy like Jack, I could now acquire some non- essential accessories in the “nice to have” category as per the second section of the above paraphrased discourse on temperance.

I spent many an evening dreary, pondering eBay weak and weary, buoyed by the famous words spoken by Julius Caesar at the battle of Tiffany’s “veni, vidi, emi” (I came, I saw, I bought). The fact aside that I am an obsessive compulsive collector, my goal was to obtain the kit necessary to take micro pictures like Brian Johnston, replicate the beautiful polarized light images of crystals like Richard Howey, be epi illumination and observation capable, have a complete Rheinberg illumination filter set, darkfield condensers and all of the other lighting capabilities mentioned in the techniques section of the Micscape archive. I wanted to be able to make whole mount slides like Fred Enock, have a portable field microscope, plan phase contrast objectives and while I’m at it, I want to look like Clark Gable and sing like Luciano Pavarotti.

I can do this I thought (except for the Clark Gable-opera thing, the estimate for that was staggering). My destiny from that point on was to remove all doubt of my questionable judgment and provide corroborative proof of Thomas Tusser’s aphorism about a fool and his money.

I began to outfit my “Zeus” GFL (see Episode Three for the fascinating linguistic evolution of this name) with proper Zeiss accessories. A rotating circular stage replaced my home-machined stage, along with a sliding prism trinocular head and Optovar magnification changer. The four objective arm and nosepiece was swapped out with a sliding dovetail five objective nosepiece and arm. A Zeiss dark field condenser was added. Some Zeiss KPL 10x wide field eyepieces were next.

All of the objectives I have are Plan aftermarket (Chinese I think) and even though they were about one-third the cost of comparable big name counterparts they appear to be of excellent quality with clear crisp images, flat across the entire field of view, centered and parfocal. However, I have no “established” quality lenses to compare them to such as the top four, Leitz/Leica, Zeiss, Olympus or Nikon. My irrefragable logic now directed me to validate my frugal purchase by a further disbursal of funds.

After some research I discovered the Olympus BH-2 microscopes used long barreled, 45mm focal length / 160mm tube length (presumably DIN vs. JIS) objectives, the seemingly most popular being the DPlan series. I’d heard the quality of these stands was excellent and wondered how my ZEUS system would compare to a full up BH-2 thusly equipped.

With this intrigue bouncing about my cranium I managed a few days to come home. With only a short time between teaching safety classes my domicile duties such as repairs and hurricane season preparation etc took preference over my hobbies so the growing pile of accessories, uninspected, unopened, still in their shipping boxes would have to wait. The collection now included an Epi-illuminator with fiber optic light guide and four EpiPlan HD objectives. A Canon camera, a USB camera and three adaptors, a full set of Projektiv eyepieces, assorted LED light sources, color meter, lux meter, filters, polarizer’s, micrometer eyepieces, micrometer slides and the best score of the lot, a complete Zeiss aus Jena Amplival with four Plan Phv objectives and condenser ($187 but I still didn’t know its condition or extent of restoration needed).

Whilst wistfully gazing on this treasure trove my lovely wife walked into my study and a miracle happened. My wife, in her glorious past has been a registered nurse, equestrian trainer, veterinary technician, dog trainer, and now a successful property management and landscaping business owner. She has almost as many career variables as me. The main difference between us is she remembers everything she has ever learned. On this particular occasion she had taken a blood sample from a friend’s dog and wanted to use my Zeus system to check it for heartworms. Up to this time she had been somewhat ambivalent about my re-found enthusiasm for microscopy and I was keen to show off what little expertise I had. As I eagerly began showing her how to set up the system I was met with “The hand”, palm outward, fingers together pointing straight up. This I immediately recognized as the universal wifespeak sign language for any of the following: sit down, do not speak further, remain quiet, or don’t interfere. Not being one to play guessing games I complied with all (did I mention she was a dog trainer?).

I watched with amazement as she took a slide, did a perfect smear and coverglass placement, racked down the condenser swung out the top condenser lens and pointed to the objectives and asked “DIN?” Upon my affirmation she adjusted the field iris using the 4x objective, racked up the condenser, placed the slide and lowered the arm for proper coarse focus by looking at the lens to slide distance from the side. She proceeded, not missing a beat, to adjust the interpupillary distance and tube length compensation and then, without removing her eyes from the eyepieces to look for controls, she fine focused, swung the 10x into place, adjusted the condenser iris for contrast and used the mechanical stage adjustments to scan the entire slide, accomplishing all the above in about a minute. A breathtaking performance.

She stood up, smiled at me and invited me to have a look while commenting “I like that microscope, I could make it mine.”

Seizing the moment, I stammered “I could build you one for your birthday!”

Her quiet nod was the little spousal approval I needed to continue my kit acquisition.

Back to the fray.

A fully outfitted BH-2 with DPlan lenses was commanding around $2,200 to $2,700 or so and the individual parts to assemble one were not as plenteous on eBay as Zeiss parts. So I reverted back to my teenage predilection for making automotive conveyances from various manufacturers components. I figured so long as I had all the Olympus optical train components i.e. condenser, objectives, and eyepieces, it did not matter what 160mm tube length stand they were housed in, so long as it was of good quality. I managed to find another GFL stand sans head, condenser, field iris and objectives for $79 and equip it with a trinocular head for $150. Set of four Olympus DPlan lenses for $275 (Extremely fortuitous bargain there!). A BH-2 condenser for $80 and Olympus eyepieces for $100. The Zeiss field iris was a final $49. So let’s see… that’s $733 or about a third of the complete BH-2 and I have no qualms about the GFL stand being equal in quality to the BH-2. Interesting note, when I went to name this hybrid by combining the first two letters of Zeiss and the last two of Olympus I still get the Greek god “Zeus” so I know it was meant to be. See Figs 2 & 3

Fig 1

After finally completing my extended teaching tour I was able to unpack, inspect and tweak some of the accessories I had purchased. This is my original “Zeus”, without illumination, upgraded with circular stage, trinocular head, Optovar, dovetail nose piece and beam splitter camera adaptor. I’ll admit, this particular camera adaptor is probably obsolete and unnecessary overkill in light of the modern digital cameras, but I just had to have it because…well…it’s cool. Some minor machining will be required to fit my Canon to it. Can’t wait to try it out.

Fig 2

This is the GFL “Zeus II” I put together for my wife. Of course I’ll get to use it too. The field iris arrived after this picture was taken. It has four and five objective dovetail nose pieces, degree graduated circular stage, trinocular head, four Olympus Dplan objectives, Olympus CWHK 10x/18L eyepieces and Olympus condenser. This stand also has its own Optovar, and Epi-illuminator with four EpiPlan HD objectives and nosepiece thread reducers in order to use the standard RMS thread EpiPlan lenses. No filters for the illuminator yet. I rounded it out with two camera adaptors with five Projecktiv eyepieces from 2x to 6x, again, I can’t wait to try it out.

Fig 3

The Zeus II accessories

As with most used parts/equipment there is always some minor adjustment, functionality issues and in this case adaptation problems to overcome and I am slowly working my way through these with the above stands. But the first order of business when I got back was to finish the renovation of my Laboval 4 and newly acquired Amplival. This took me about a month of weekends. The Laboval focus and condenser rack mechanisms were working famously but the Phase Turret/Condenser rotation was seized and would require complete disassembly to rectify. (Russian grease should be on the terrorist watch list!) Working slowly and without instructions I managed to avoid all the engineering landmines the aus Jena designers devised and got the turret disassembled, degreased and reassembled without any left over parts! See Figs 4 & 5

Fig 4

As you can see, the Phase Turret is fairly complex with an abundance of small parts that can easily disappear like socks in a washer. Notice the jeweler’s screwdriver is pointing to a small screw framed by the iris carrier. This screw is so tiny I had to take my smallest watchmakers screwdriver and hone it down to size. I discovered this screw in a barely noticeable counter sunk hole and it was the key to the total disassembly of the turret. All of the centering springs, pins and adjustment screws were caked in hardened grease as well as the main “axle pin” for rotation. The grease was replaced with light oil or light lithium grease.

Fig 5

This is the axle pin and some of the screws, springs etc that had to be soaked in solvent then brushed gently, washed, dried and re-lubricated. Not losing any was my main concern.

The Laboval 4 is now in perfect working condition complete with the centering tools and phase telescope. I will be selling it if I can get the Amplival up to snuff. The Amplival is a step up because it has Plan Phv objectives, the stand is more modular (if you can find the components for sale at a reasonable price). This stand was suffering from major seizure of everything and the turret had even more parts than the Laboval. See Fig 6.

Fig 6

As with the Laboval the routine was exactly the same.

I am happy to say the Amplival survived the dissection just fine and has joined the rank of my “accessories” as a complete system. Time permitting; I hope to have the entire collection up and running soon with some reports and comparisons on the individual components performance. The complete custom Rheinberg filter set arrived yesterday and some LED lighting solutions are coming to the fore. This is a bit like having a garage full of cars that you have never driven.

I’m off to San Francisco for a short class and then hope to return for an extended period.

As always I’d love to hear from anyone who has comments suggestions, ridicule or just wants a pen pal.


Joseph Wilhelm



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