September 2007


Technically, anything more than 10x magnification qualifies as Microphotography. Microphotography is a fairly specialized field, as you can imagine, and one might be inclined to think that it’s best left to the researcher, professional or hard -core enthusiast who has plenty of $$ to spend on an expensive microscope-camera setup.

However, if one is willing to settle for less than the very best and latest equipment, there are plenty of options for the stubbornly dedicated amateur who wants to put together a microphotography kit for under $100, including the illumination. The secret? Old College microscopes that appear with startling regularity on eBay. You can get a nice new microscope for about $250 -$500 these days, (mostly imports from China and India, and pretty decent optics), but that’s not being thrifty and adventurous.

Also, many of the new telescopes are made of lighter materials – they are designed for optical quality, and for the most part they are expected to be used with lighter digital cameras with a C adapter, or “in-tube” digital USB cameras that fit into the viewing tube in place of the ocular (eyepiece) and are connected to a computer display. Fitting a full size manual or film or even digital SLR camera on these newer telescopes can cause problems with vibration and shake. Older telescopes were constructed solidly. They generally feature all metal construction and this makes for a rigid camera platform.

I’d look for the full size ones that have been pulled from Colleges – stay away from the toy microscopes that have low grade optics and are 7 inches tall. The full size microscopes are HEAVY, and are about 12-14 inches tall. They weigh about 8-10 lbs. The weight is needed to support your camera… most colleges these days are pulling their Monocular microscopes in favor of the Binocular or Trinocular scopes that have built in illumination and can take a digital camera attachment. Too fancy for me… and too expensive for an amateur looking for the cheap, affordable microphotography solution.

College surplus monocular microscopes are ideal – they generally come with an 10x eyepiece (ocular) and a couple of objective lenses (generally 10x and 40x) – this gives a 100x and 400x magnification. Its important to look for a microscope with a 25mm outer diameter tube and 23mm diameter eyepieces. Luckily, microscopes were standardized early on, and unless you choose a really old antique from the 1900’s you should be okay. If you’re lucky, you might find a complete microscope, with eyepiece, objectives, stage, condenser, spring clips, fine and coarse controls AND illuminator.

Most microscopes come with some sort of illuminator – its good to have a electric source for consistent lighting needed for photography. Also, it isn’t sufficient to have lighting just on the underside – we need a bright beam focused ON the stage as well. A halogen table lamp serves pretty well for surface lighting.

I was lucky to find a German made Wolfe Wetzlar monocular microscope with a 15x eyepiece, 10x and 45x objectives, a decent Abbe condenser and an electrical illuminator with a blue filter and on/off switch. The combination gives me a 150x and 675x magnification. However, at 675x, the field is pretty dim, even with the electric illuminator.

More recently, I picked up a Japanese-made Propper microscope for a very reasonable price, (less than $20) thinking that I could just scavenge the optics off of it and throw away the frame… the Propper has a set of fine British made Cooke-Vickers Microplan objectives – a 5x, 10x and 40x, and a zoom eyepiece (10x-15x-20x), so I will just clean it up and use it for general microscopy.

Ideally, one would want 40x (or 50x), 80x, 100x and 150x magnifications for photography. Remember that high magnifications are very hard to illuminate. About 150x is easy to handle in terms of lighting. To get these magnifications one would have to keep keen tabs on eBay or other online sources for cheap eyepieces and objectives – don’t worry if it’s DIN or JIS – see the note below.

Surplus Shed is a good online place to pick up additional objectives and eyepieces. They stock lots of very reasonably priced objectives from India, and ship quickly at low cost. I was happy with their service (no, I’m not affiliated with them in any way, just a happy customer). Another place that stocks used microscope objectives and eyepieces at a reasonable prices is NY Microscope, a school supplier. They generally have other microscope parts as well, in case you want replacement parts. I haven’t bought anything from them yet, but they were quick to reply to my email inquiry, so thats a very good sign.

Here is what you can add over time, unless you get lucky and get them cheap like I did with the Propper – 10x, 15x and 20x eyepieces and a 4x and 20x objectives. Fit the microscope with the 4x, 10x and 20x objective and put the 40x and higher power objectives away, since you wont be using them much. Don’t waste your money on a 100x objective, unless you got it with the microscope – they’re usually oil immersion objectives and require that a drop of type A oil be placed on the slide between the objective and glass. This is a pain. The oil apparently becomes part of the optical system gives the high magnification in conjunction with the 100x objective and eyepiece.

At least one of the eyepieces should be a widefield (WF) if possible – these are designed for wider viewing fields and also provide greater eye relief (image is formed at a little distance above the top of the microscope eyepiece). This eye relief is for use with glasses, but serves us even better in photography since the camera will “see” a bigger field than with a normal eyepiece where only the center of the microscope field is imaged on the film.

To complete the setup, I also purchased a camera to 25mm microscope tube adapter. One end is a T-mount thread and the other end clamps on to the tube. The adapter tube comes apart in the middle – the smaller end which goes on the microscope body receives the eyepiece, and the other end receives the camera. They generally go at $30-35 plus shipping on eBay, but you can usually pick up one new for about $20 from SurplusShed.

Get a few glass slides, or even an old UV camera filter, drop it on the stage with a bug or leaf or whatever, get the illumination going, mount your trusty camera loaded with 100 or 200 film, and you’re set. Exposures will be long – 2-5 seconds at lower magnifications, greater for higher – reciprocity failure will happen anyway, so don’t worry – easiest is to set the camera on B, and give it a good 5 or 10 second exposure. The camera is mounted solidly, but since it’s all metal to metal connections, anything that will reduce vibration is a good thing. If possible, use a camera that has a mirror lockup. An old OM-1/OM1n is ideal since it has the mirror lock-up feature especially if it has a working meter. If your camera does not have mirror lockup, don’t worry about it. Minimize other sources of shake as far as possible, and use a cable release.

Note: A word about DIN and JIS – one is the German Standard, the other Japanese. The diameters, thread pitches etc are exactly the same. However, when magnification is stated, the DIN standard bases its calculation on a 160mm microscope tube length while the JIS standard uses 170mm tube length as the basis. In both systems, the standard eyepiece diameter is 23.2 mm, generally stated as 23mm. (there are 30.5mm diameter tubes as well, but they are much newer, and not cheap, so we will not get into that discussion). Now, no matter what the sellers say, the 2 systems are completely interchangeable – although magnification will not be correct – it will differ by approximately 10%. For our purposes, that’s not important.


text and images © 2007 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners.
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Here it is, in black and white – the new Sony Alpha 700 specification sheet! The compatibility with Minolta lenses was never in doubt, but for some reason, they never gave it wide publicity with the Sony Alpha 100.

Maybe they were trying to push the new Sony branded lenses over the zillions of cheap, wonderful Minolta Maxxum AF lenses out there. The Minolta lenses have a crop factor of 1.5x on the Sony DSLR though, since the CCD on the Alpha series is a bit smaller than the 35mm format size. A Minolta AF 50mm becomes a 75mm on the Sony, and so on.

Third party A mount lenses should also continue to work fine, although I recall that there were some reports of problems with a few Sigma made lenses on the Sony Alpha 100. Hopefully, this will be an isolated issue, and most of the fine awesome (and cheap) Tokina, Vivitar, Tamron and Sigma A (Maxxum) mount lenses will work well.

As for older Olympus Zuiko manual lenses, you can get a Bower adapter on eBay, which will work very well. Just remember to turn off the DSLR’s automatic lens check before mounting the adapter and manual lens.

Here is the official Sony Alpha 700 specification sheet – Minolta compatabilty is at the very top.

By the way, if you’re interested in mounting your beautiful Zuiko prime lenses (and other Manual focus lenses) on the Sony DSLR, please check out this post.


text and images © 2007 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners.
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I finally got this great old camera cleaned up and replaced the seals. I loaded it up with 100 speed film and went shooting. I even did some low light photography with the superfast 50mm f/1.4 lens opened up to f/2. The TL-Super is one of the under-appreciated classics, in my opinion. (Matt Denton thinks very highly of it too, so I am in good company).

This was a pre-Contax collaboration era genuine Yashica design with a M42 screw mount, and like all Yashicas, had lenses designed by Tomioka. At this point in time, (1966) Tominon was not yet a part of Yashica, and although they made all the Yashica lenses, Tomioka was still designing and manufacturing lenses on contract for others.

Tomioka was absorbed into Yashica in 1968, right before the Yashica-Zeiss partnering on the Contax. They changed everything, except the quality. They dropped the M42 mount and designed the C/Y mount. But this post is about the TL-Super, not Contax, so…

My TL-Super has a dead meter – I think there’s a bit of gunk stuck in there somewhere gumming up the works and until I work up enough courage to take the top off, I’ll have to manage using the Sunny 16 rule. The battery isn’t a problem, though – easily available SR44 1.5V alkaline – one the first cameras to use this now common battery. Considering that this camera is from April 1966, that’s surprising since everyone used mercury batteries back then.

Here’s a mix of shots under different lighting conditions around Montogomery County MD. I desaturated the pictures from the park (sunny at the Xylophone) because they were taken in very low light conditions, and I liked the black and white effect better than the dull grays in color.

I as particularly pleased with the pictures I took at Great falls, with the Kayaker battling the current – I watched him try several times, get close, and then lose to the river. The Potomoc is practically running dry by late summer, all rocks and hardly any water falls – but still beautiful.


Great Falls
Great Falls
Sunny
Sunny

River
River
River
Great Falls
Great Falls
Canal Boat – Charles Mercer
Canal Boat – Charles Mercer
Canal Boat – Charles Mercer
Canal Boat – Charles Mercer
Canal Boat – Charles Mercer
Sunny by the Canal
Sunny – very close, aperture wide open. Bokeh

Neighborhood Pond
Neighborhood Pond
Sunny – Germantown Park
Sunny – Germantown Park
Sunny – Germantown Park

Photographed with an Yashica TL-Super, 50mm f/1.4 lens, Fujicolor 100, Polarizer in sunlight. Sunny f/16 rule, f/11 at 1/125, f/5.6 at 1/125sec. Last 3 photographs were at f/2 at 1/125


text and images © 2007 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners.
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Light meters or Exposure meters were once an essential piece of equipment for any photographer, until the advent of in-camera meters and TTL metering.

We became spoiled, and worse, got used to accepting the “average” readings that the meters gave us, leading to photographs which were muddy grays, with no life in them… gone were the pristine whites and deep liquid blacks, and the fine gradations that characterized black and white photography in the 30’s 40’s 50’s and even the 60’s. With the in-camera meter, came the age of the drab grays… if you don’t believe me, look at older black and white pictures and you will know what I mean.

Then came color, and contrasts became less important – in fact, contrasty light which was previously ideal for textures that defined and dignified black and white photography was undesirable… and we became accepting of colors that weren’t true to life, and blamed the processor for the lack of brightness.

Honestly, I think there still a place for a light meter in every camera bag. Used meters are so cheap that there no real excuse for not having one – the solid well made feel of a rugged selenium (or for that matter CdS meter) is a pleasure to hold and use.

I’ve 3 of them – a direct reading GE PR-3 (when it works), a beautiful old GE PR-1, and a lightweight Weston Master 6. They all agree on within a 1/3 stop of each other, and the PR-1 and Weston 6 are spot on.

The Weston 6 was a little pricey, I must say, but still only cost a third as much as a comparable Gossen Lunasix. The GE Light meters are a real bargain – less than $10 most days on eBay.

When buying a light meter, remember that the older Westons used their own film rating scales, and not ASA – they are about a 1/3 stop off. Weston started using ASA ratings from the Weston III onwards. The Weston 4, 5, and 6 and the Universal meters are all good meters and worth having.

The crème de la crème, of course is the Weston Ranger 9, designed by Weston with Ansel Adams – for the Ansel Adams Zone system. The GE meters always used ASA ratings so they don’t need to be compensated.

I also have a couple of specialized incident light meters – a SPER Scientific that I’ve had for ages from my Grad school days, and a Gossen Panlux that I picked up recently really cheap from a scientific instrument seller . These are not really meant for photography, though they can be used in a pinch, if one has a reference table.


text and images © 2007 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners.
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The Honeywell Repronar 805A slide copier was made by the Heiland Division of Honeywell. The camera is an Asahi Pentax with fixed bellows lens 50mm f/4, mounted on a bellows rail with a rack and pinion mechanism for advancing the lens or the camera body. There’s more on the Honeywell Repronar in the Macro photography section.

Although the whole camera assembly is mounted on a vertical stand with the lens pointing down towards the stand base – there is a flash strobe built into the base for copying slides and such. Once upon a time, this was standard equipment for most professional labs and school photography departments.

These days, as schools and colleges close down their photography departments; I’ve been noticing these items come up on EBay and going pretty reasonably. This is a heavy beast, and the shipping will cost almost as much as the item itself.

The Repronar comes WITH the camera and lens, so what’s not to like? Also, the camera is a very early BLACK Pentax SLR without a prism. It comes with a waist-level viewfinder (actually, eye level, when the camera is mounted on the Repronar base.

The real beauty of this system is that it has a scale device attached to it which makes setting for different magnifications very easy – the magnification range is 1/2x, 2/3x 1x, 2x, 3x and 4x. Just set the required magnification, fine focus and fire away. Using the flash is simplicity itself. Turn on the flash switch in the base, make sure the camera sync cord is connected and fire. The camera assembly can also be dismounted from the base and used as a bellows mounted camera provided you can stabilize the system horizontally.

Although the system can be used for transparent and semi-transparent subjects (flower petals, insect wing details etc) with the built in flash, the Repronar really comes into its own as a Macro system if you can get enough external lighting to the mounting platform. The best way to do this is to take the whole thing outdoors and place it on a table in open (sky illumination or in sunny situation. Mornings are best. All that remains is to set the magnification and provide sufficient exposure.

The problem with macro photography with the bellows and small apertures is getting sufficient image forming light. High magnification coupled with a reasonable depth of field means using extended bellows lengths, and small apertures. I was using Fuji 100 film for greater resolution and set aperture for f/16 for maximal depth of field.

There’s no light meter or TTL metering on the Repronar, so I tried to use a chart and then tried to figure out the exposure factor to compensate for the reciprocity failure. Finally I went with common sense, and the Sunny f/16 rule. Sunny 16 rule says that for 100 ASA, I’d need a 1/125 second shutter speed at f/16. Allowing for the light loss, for 1x magnification, I figured doubling the time to 1/60 second would give me the correct exposure.

Since the Repronar is designed to always work with the Flash, I figured it probably syncs at 1/60th second fixed, so the exposure would be correct for 1x magnification at least. For magnification greater than 1x, I decided that I’d set the Pentax camera to B and guesstimate the exposure length. Since at 1x magnification, the fixed 1/60 sec at f/16 would be sufficient exposure, I used 2 seconds for the 2x, 3 seconds for 3x and 4 to 5 seconds for 4x magnification. The guesstimates turned out fine, as can be seen from the images. Next time, I may use a Weston 6 Exposure meter. Or maybe not.


Tulip Tree leaf, Leafminer Trail 1:1, Flash mode
Tulip Tree leaf, 1:1, Flash mode
Dogwood leaf, 1:1, Flash Mode
Dogwood leaf, reversed, 1:1, Flash Mode
Carpenter Bee Wing, 2:1 (2x on film), Flash Mode
Pin Oak Acorn, 2:1 (2x on film), 2 sec at f/16, Daylight
Cucumber Flower, 2:1, Low Flash Mode
Cucumber Flower, 1:1, Flash Mode
Cucumber Flower, 2:1, Flash Mode
Crushed Chili Pepper, 1:1 (1x on film), 1/60th sec at f/16, Daylight
Crushed Chili Pepper, 2:1 (2x on film) 2 sec at f/16, Daylight
Crushed Chili Pepper, 3:1 (3x on film), 3 sec at f/16, Daylight
Crushed Chili Pepper, 4:1 (4x on film) 4 sec at f/16, Daylight
US Quarter, 1:1 (1x on film)1/60th sec at f/16, Daylight
US Quarter, 2:1 (2x on film), 2 sec at f/16, Daylight
US Quarter, 3:1 (3x on film) 3 sec at f/16, Daylight
US Quarter, 4:1 (4x on film) 4 sec at f/16, Daylight
US Quarter, Obverse 3:1 (3x), 3 sec at f/16, Daylight
US Quarter, Obverse, 4:1 (4x) 4 sec at f/16, Daylight
Ghostly Chile Pepper flower, 1:1 (1x) 2 sec at f/16
Nasturtium flower, 1:1 (1x) 2 sec at f/16

Photographed with a Honeywell Repronar Asahi Pentax Camera, 50mm f/4 Bellows lens, Fuji 100 film at f/16. Exposures as indicated in captions. Flash mode photographs used the built in Repronar flash in the base of the unit. Morning light was used for daylight pictures.


text and images © 2007 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners.
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The 35mm film format has a image (or frame) size of 24 x 36mm with a diagonal of 43.267mm. This has been the standard since Oskar Barnack created the first Leica prototype using cheap 35mm movie film running lengthwise in the camera body. Although the film strip is 35mm wide, 11 mm is used up by the sprocket holes on either side, which are needed for the film transport mechanism.

Technically speaking, although most manufacturers market the 50mm lens as the normal lens, the correct “normal” lens for a 35mm camera should be as close to 43mm as possible. A lot of rangefinders and other fixed lens cameras were made with 40mm or 42mm lens back in the 60’s and 70’s, and for a very good reason. They were trying to stick to the “true” normal focal length. This focal length is extremely good for people and general photography. Try one and see the difference for yourself.

The 50mm focal length probably became the de facto standard because a lens with that focal length sees the world like the human eye sees it – with no PERSPECTIVE distortion. However, the human field of vision is a lot more than the 46 degrees afforded by a 50mm lens – it’s probably closer to what a 28mm lens sees (72 degrees) or even the 24mm lens (84 degrees). The 28 and 24mm lenses have edge-barrel distortion, however – something that our brain compensates for when looking at objects at the edge of our field of view (in our peripheral vision).

The 35mm focal length lens with a viewing angle of 63 degrees is a good compromise, and that’s why some professional photographers use the 35mm f/1.4 or f/2.8 as their standard ‘normal’ lens

An interesting side note – for the 50mm to be really “normal”, the image area or frame size would have to be 35mm x 36mm, instead of 24mm x 36mm. This would be the case if the 35mm film strip was completely utilized, including the area currently used up by the sprocket holes.


text and images © 2007 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners.
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Here are some additional pictures from the Fujicarex II camera. The office building and apartment block are in Alexandria, VA. The Orthodox church is the St. Peter and Paul Antiochan Church on River Road, Potomac MD. I used the 50mm f/1.9 interchangeable front element lens.


Fujicarex II- 50mm f/1.9
Fujicarex II- 50mm f/1.9
Fujicarex II- 50mm f/1.9
Fujicarex II- 50mm f/1.9

Fujicarex II- 50mm f/1.9
Fujicarex II- 50mm f/1.9
Fujicarex II- 50mm f/1.9, 1/125 at f/16
Fujicarex II- 50mm f/1.9, 1/125 at f/11 – slight over exposure

Photographed with a Fujicarex II camera, 50mm f/1.9 front element interchangeable lens, Fuji 100 film


text and images © 2007 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners.
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