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January 2009

Well here it is a New Year and the club now has a new piece of equipment! We (o.k. - it was me, hemming and hawing) finally ordered, for $375, the 5 megapixel microscope camera by AmScope through an eBay store. The equipment was as described and shipped promptly.

Information from the eBay pages:

  Brand Name: AmScope      Model No: MD900
Retail Value: $1,200

eBay Seller is Precision*World

You are bidding on a brand new 5.0 Mega pixel, high resolution, color digital imaging system that is especially designed for microscopes.

Different from other sellers' models, this new microscope imaging system comes with a standalone design that allows independent operation for high-definition digital imaging at a hardware resolution of 2592 X 1944 effective pixels without using any image capture card, optimizes real-time acquisition and fine-tunes exposure to achieve the best balance between resolution and contrast.

This digital system accurately displays the images of the observed specimen or samples on computer screen. Working perfectly with all kinds of optical microscopes, including biological , metallurgical and stereomicroscope, it will be able to turn any microscope into a modern digital one that will enable you to take high resolution pictures and further analyze your images.

This new imaging system is comprised of a digital camera with a color 5.04MP CMOS sensor interfacing with a computer via high-speed USB2.0, easy-to-use Windows 2000/XP/Vista compatible AmScope software, step-by-step user's instructions, and 23mm, 30mm, 30.5mm, and C-mount adapters.

Its built-in reduction lens gives your PC screen the same field of view as the one you see through the eyepiece. Capable of streaming live video, this 5.0 MP imaging system offers full-screen displays and the best resolution your computer monitor can offer.

In addition, the multi-functional AmScope software allows you to preview live images, record videos, capture still pictures, edit captures, or save them in BMP, TIFF, JPG, PICT, PTL and other formats very easily, as well as conduct length, angle, area, and other measurements.

This product is very simple to use, one end plugs into your PC USB port the other fits on the ocular tube or standard trinocular tube. It is ideal for medical, educational, and engineering uses.

It comes with a one-year full-coverage warranty and a life-time of free software upgrades. We have no doubt you will be impressed by the superb resolution and wide range of applications that this newest USB model offers you.

The camera slips into either ocular of your microscope or into the trinocular tube if your microscope is equipped with one. It includes adapters to help it nestle properly with standard size receptacles. It fits perfectly into the club scope. It plugs via standard USB into a personal computer.

On a pleasant afternoon visit to Tom Mortimer’s house we found that it fit his microscope as well with no need for either adapter. The visit to Tom’s was rather enlightening. What we (or, at least, I) learned is that proper lighting is essential. I have been using a small gooseneck halogen light. It is good, but Tom’s lighting equipment was so much better, the images improved immediately.

Back at home I continued on with the gooseneck halogen and have learned to tweak the software to accommodate appropriately. The camera does require software to work with a PC. Operating system must be Windows 2000 or newer. Software install was a breeze on the laptop I usually bring to MMNE meetings.

The AmScope software is pretty good. It's certainly not as polished as the products by Microsoft or Adobe, but that doesn't present any problems. Installation was a breeze. I had to select the device once and from then on, the software remembers my choice. There is a settings button which allows us to tweak contrast, gamma, red, green and blue, reverse the image horizontally or vertically to replicate what is on the microscope stage. With a blank sheet of white paper under the scope you can auto set the white balance, although my results have not been perfect, I end up manually changing settings to get the best appearance.

Once the specimen is on the scope, I will get a general focus through the eyepiece and then turn to the PC. Focusing the scope while looking at the PC seems to be the best way to go. There is a capture button right there. Each time you have what you want, click capture and the image is saved behind the main viewing screen. You can capture as many times as you like. When done with the specimen, I review each image and save the keepers.

Options during the capture phase are minimal. Once a captured file is reviewed we have a slew of options similar to a run-time version of Photoshop. Tweaks ranging from contrast to sharpening become available as well as options to measure, add vector lines, overlay text.

Another thing I learned at Tom’s was that a camera is not a human eye. It’s depth of field is very limited, which led us to a discussion of stacking software – the type of program that takes multiple pictures of the same subject with different areas in focus and tries to merge them into one super picture. I remember Joe Marty explaining this idea at a past symposium. His micro photos are superb! Tom already bought a copy of Halcyon stacking software for himself. I think it was $30. Being the frugal (i.e. cheap) type, I downloaded the newest version of CombineZ, a UK program that is free and pretty good. I don't know which Joe Marty uses.

You can download CombineZ here (right click and save to your PC)

NOTE:

  • It's a zipped package.
  • There is no install program.
  • Double click to open it,
  • Save the contents to a folder (I recommend under programs making a folder named CombineZ)
  • Create a shortcut to the CombineZ.exe file and place on your desktop
  • Memory intensive, you can't run Amscope capturing software and CombineZ at the same time.

The stacked picture above is a composite of 3 or 4 pictures taken as the camera and scope focused on the top of the apatite crystal then worked its way down. Taking the pictures is pretty quick. Since they are digital is is easy to accumulate a lot of photos very quickly! It became apparent that naming these photos would be critical. I started naming them with the collection number followed by the specimen name, locality, and, if I was planning on stacking pictures, I followed this with an incremental number.

In the above sequence, you can see images 1, 2 and 3 have been combined to create image 4. The AmScope image capturing software creates 5 megapixel images that are visually pretty large, I am sure they could easily print photo quality at 9" x 12"; yet surprisingly, the files are typically only about 250k in size each. When the CombineZ program does it's magic on say three 250k images, we end up with a 2.5 mb size file.

There will be many more pictures on the MMNE website very soon. Remember, the camera is club property. If you are a member in good standing and have a decent computer and a microscope, you are entitled to borrow this item. It’s great to be in the Micromounters of New England!

Special thanks to Ron LePage for pointing us in the right direction.

 


 

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