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Posted by aaron at 04:01AM, Tuesday, November 02nd, 2004

Fun with USB Microscopy and Tiny Diamonds

I just got a USB microscope. It's a Digital Blue QX5. After connecting it up to the Mac with miXscope (highly recommended), I started taking some pictures. It seems like a great idea, and it's a lot of fun, but the optics and controls, sadly, could be better.

I started out by looking at a few of the "samples" provided with the microscope, and then moved on to interesting-looking things around the house, like a cat claw:

That got me thinking, and, next, I did what any audiophile would: I looked at the stylus from my Shure V15VMR phono cartridge. (Here at the max, 200x magnification)

You can see in that shot that the lighting included with the microscope isn't particularly great, and, more importantly, the depth of field is extremely limited -- only one tiny portion of the diamond is in focus. This is not the most useful angle to look at the stylus, so I rotated the cartridge (and switched the magnification back to 60x):

What's that grunge? I zoomed in to 200x and focused as carefully as I could:

At this point, I start to realize that the included lighting just isn't up to snuff, and grab Brian's super LED flashlight:

Ewww. Maybe it's time to clean the stylus.

Well, that's a little better, I guess.

By now I was a little bored with trying to gaze at the needle, so I looked around for something else. Unfortunately, the kit didn't include any microscope slides, which makes looking at samples a bit difficult. It does have some "specimen boxes," so I squashed a leaf between two of these:

The line with the distance scale is a (cool) feature of miXscope. I'm merely assuming the measurement is correct. I'll have to test that out, later. The software also lets you record movies, which is even more exciting. I'm disappointed that you can only barely see the cell walls in this shot. This is the kind of thing that used to be much cleaner with the microscopes I had as a kid: I remember my Dad found me an old Nikon once, which was outstanding. The lighting was bright and consistent, and the focus adjustment was very smooth and predictable. Turning the focus knob gave you the same sort of feeling of precision control and quality you get from a nice 70s Nikon camera lens, like an FE2 or something. I saw the most astounding things in pond-water. I'm not sure that would be possible with the QX5.

On the other hand, I'm excited about looking at things through microscopes again. I want to get a nice, old-fashioned microscope now, and an adapter for an SLR camera.
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