Smart phone microscope photography

I’ve been doing some work under the microscope lately that I wanted to photograph. We do have connectors for both our dSLR and micro 4/3 camera, but they’re a bit annoying (the dSLR doesn’t have a live screen, so you have to peer down the viewfinder, and the 4/3 I think might have slightly the wrong size connector which results in a slightly fuzzy photo on the sides, and overall it’s not that crisp for some reason—very happy to have someone tell me what to do to fix that). Usually what I do is aim my phone camera at an eyepiece and advance slowly until it’s all in focus, but this is awkward: too close and the image is messed up, so you have to hold the phone steadily about 1.5cm away from the eyepiece and take the picture at the same time.


I made an entertaining little template out of cardboard: a ring taped around the eyepiece that extended the right distance (I think it might have been 1.7cm or something similar) away, with a little corner glued on so that I could advance the phone into that corner, and rest it, so that at least I could hold it steadier. It was fairly DIY, in the scheme of things, but it took 10 minutes to make and served me well. And then I thought someone must’ve had this problem before (although in all honestly I did actually think I was only the only one pointing my phone down an eyepiece) … so I searched the internet, and lo, the internet gave me:

The words you want are “phone adaptor for microscope” but in the end, after longer searching than I anticipated, I settled one this one because (1) it’s not specific to a certain diameter eyepiece and (2) most importantly, there is a slight adjustment you can make in the distance between clamp on the eyepiece and the lens of your phone—therefore with this, rather than the microscope adaptors I first found, I could make sure my phone was a suitable distance away. It’s not ideal—a bit slippy in the tray, and it’s annoying that tray width and sideways position (and tilt) are all controlled by one screw, so you can’t release the phone without also losing all the positioning. It’s also missing a stop for the bottom of the phone that I think would be helpful, although with my phone case on, things were reasonably secure.

I actually think, if I could accurately measure the ideal distance from lens to camera, that the least fiddly thing would be to get a phone case, cut a length of tube the right size to slip over the eyepiece and extend the right distance, and glue it on the case in the right spot—so all I’d have to do is switch my phone case for that one—but then it’s specific to this phone version (size).

However—we’ve got this now, and I’m thrilled. I’ve also realised it makes for a live video screen of the microscope so I don’t need to squint down the eyepiece for hours, and I also saw a tip from someone to plug in headphones with the volume change buttons, because you can set off the camera with those to avoid shake. To avoid the vignette effect that you get at first, you can get the phone in the right position, then zoom in on the picture until it fills the screen. Below is the set-up, and the original then zoomed-in images that the phone captured.


Tools of the Trade, Part II: Weights

Starting the new year out right with some new tools: these are blocks of Monotype type metal, left over from my letterpress days. They're just the right size and weight for paper repairs, with a few modifications: a coating of Paraloid B-72 in acetone to prevent the soft lead rubbing off on hands or objects, and a thick felt pad on the bottom to cushion the object and absorb moisture. (The felt is also recycled, an old etching cushion from my printmaking days that I knew would come in handy... seven years later.) When I worked at Columbia we all had really nice sets of thick glass rectangles, slightly bigger than this, with rounded edges and corresponding felts—but apparently the glass guy vastly underestimated what a pain it would be to round all those edges, and said he would never make them again. 

These join my small collection of type weights, which are little boxes filled with damaged lead type that can't be used anymore for printing. The white one was the first one I made, and has a thin foam base (stupid, once I thought of using felt, but I've never gotten around to changing it), and the grey ones have thin felt (old sizing catchers!). For these thin was okay, because the box is flat, but it needed to be thicker for the Monotype weights, which are pretty uneven on the bottom.

There are some much bigger versions of these, made with old sash weights in them, but they're in use now so I can't move them to get a photo. Same idea, but bigger, and in purple buckram! Finally some thick Perspex strips, useful for light weight. These are about a foot long; smaller is useful as well.