A Closer Look

(journaling the quiet, on-going adventures of my microscope and me)

At age seventy-five and a half, I knew I needed to find a new learning edge.

Poser compositions and Java programming (both personal obsessions for years) were getting stale.

I considerd astronomy, then remembered how cold the winter nights can get and that merely tilting my head

backwards triggers sudden vertigo that topples me if I don't immediately grab something stable

and look at the ground.

2018's April nighttime temps regularly fell to the mid-20's,

so I thought some challenging night-or-day indoor hobby would be best.

Then I bought a microscope, and here it is:

[right-click on any thumbnail image; then "open in new tab"]

A biologist friend had recently introduced me to "phase contrast,"

and I'd done enough on-line research to know the hardware "essentials"

and this mid-range priced scope had them all.  Since I intended to make still photos and videos of my work,

 I also bought this 14 MP microscope camera:

It took days for me to learn enough of the microscope/camera's technology to get 'closer looks' good enough

to begin a permanent collection of images.  My first project involved a misadventured wasp that I found crawling

pathetically on my living room floor.  When the insect finally died at the bottom of the open glass I'd collected it in,

I began observing one of its feet at four magnification levels:

[right-click on any thumbnail image and "Open in new tab" to enlarge it]


The last of those images is actually a composite of 99 "stacked" photos - each taken at a precise distance

from the most distant point in the focal depth, stepping forward until the closest in-focus image has been found.

The software that makes this otherwise impossible view possible is Helicon Focus.

I highly recommend it to all photographers or microbe hunters who wish to share their work.

It took me a couple of days to get the phase contrast condenser occuli adjusted;

then I realized that phase contrast is primarily for viewing the internal details of transparent specimens

(and my wasp's foot was not transparent - so I switched all of the phase contrast objectives

and condenser back to the regular ones.)

Of course, I wanted to explore the video possibilities of the microscope's camera,

so I made a very amateur 10x vid of a portion of the wasp's wing.

Here's the Helicon Focus image:

As of April 9th, I am two weeks into my microsopic adventures.

Every new specimen offers surprises.

( What non-entomologist would have guessed that the feet of insects bear claws

or that wasps' wings have barbs? )

Then a hapless stinkbug landed near me.

 ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_marmorated_stink_bug )

After it took a quick dip in a capful of alcohol and had dried sufficiently,

 I looked at its foot and compared it with the wasp's:


I then discovered that the stinkbug has four wings - two outer, more opaque ones

and two inner, more transparent ones:


Among the many things I learned quickly was that higher magnification

(40x or higher) is sometimes less preferable than lower magnification.

High magification reduces the visible area of the specimen,

reduces the depth of field (how much is in focus), and may create focusing challenges

including deciding exactly what to focus on.

Helicon Focus eliminates much of the problem but also takes more time,

since each "stacked" layer must be "captured," saved, and processed.

There are many fine online galleries featuring Helicon Focus microphotography.

Here is one of them:  http://www.fotofind.eu/fauna/mikrofauna/

I've also discovered that exploring different options with both

microscope and software can yield dramatically different results.

Here are some of my explorations with stinkbug antenna and "knee" joints: