by Walter Machielsen
March 20, 2018 (updated October 5, 2023)
My name is Walter Machielsen and I've been fascinated by microscopy ever since I got a toy microscope for Christmas when I was 9 years old, now 40 years ago. I consider the combination of digital photography, the connectivity between the camera and the PC, and focus stacking as a revolutionary development resulting in lots of new exciting discoveries.
About 14 years ago I tried to start taking microscope pictures with the first Canon DSLR, (the EOS 350D), back then the camera was not able to "talk" with the computer, and in my case I soon lost interest. Three years ago I gave it another go with a new generation Canon DSLR - being the EOS 70D. From then on, I've been very enthusiastic about the opportunities offered by this camera combined with associated software and consider taking pictures through a microscope as a great addition to microscopy as a hobby in general. Recently I've added a Canon EOS 5D Mark II to my setups which is particularly useful for taking pictures through the Lomo Lumam fluorescence microscope. As said, microscopy and photomicrography are my hobby. Besides that I like to travel to nature and wildlife sites, or go out on my racing bike. I live and work in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
A little while ago, after successfully testing the retrofitted epi-fluorescence Lomo Lumam microscope (see below) , I was searching for an interesting follow up for the test images I made with moss. The answer was lying in the middle of the street: a loose branch with moldy bark completely covered with algae, lichens and moss. I used the opportunity to give it a closer look; in The Netherlands at this time of the year the amount of interesting plant material is limited. Lichen are well known for their ability to with-stand harsh climate conditions, and can be found everywhere nowadays (also in unexpected places like the middle of the city or in industrial plants). One or two decades ago this used to be different, I get the impression that the efforts to reduce air pollution has lead to this positive result.
Lichen by fluorescence microscopy
Under the microscope at low magnification an interesting miniature world can be seen, including inhabitants like small mites spiders and tiny worms that cannot be seen with the bare eye. The first three images I took with a Leitz Orthoplan microscope and a 4x objective. In this setup a DSLR camera is looking through the microscope eyepiece -like an eye- producing an image on the camera sensor. In the first 3 pictures I've used a red led light combined with white reading lamp, to create a bit more of a 3-dimensional image.
Lichen by fluorescence microscopy
The next few images were all done with the fluorescence microscope and show a very different picture. Besides the surprising colours produced by fluorescence induced radiation, also new details pop up. The Russian emission filter has not got a narrow bandwith (also called a long-pass filter), therefore various wavelengths of radiation are visible.
Determination: probably Xanthoria polycarpa (2 & 4) and Physcia tenella (3) and Xanthoria parietina (6). (1) looks somewhat different compared with (2), with deeper and more narrow crevices.
Because of the limited depth of field at higher magnification, photomicrography benefits from focus stacking software. Focus stacking is "combining multiple images taken at different focus distances to give a resulting image with a greater depth of field . " The cominbation of a proper DSLR setup and correct use of this software can result in fantastic photographic opportunities, that would not have been possible 2 decades ago.
Leitz (now Leica) is well known for the incredible quality of their instruments, the iconic Orthoplan is no exception. It has been Leitz flagship microscope from the sixties until the eighties, and could be found in many laboratories worldwide. It even made a trip with the space shuttle being a reference instrument. This quality came at a very high price, but it is well known Leitz never made money with the Orthplan; it was even more expensive to produce. Fortunately for the amateur these days, second hand Leitz Orthoplans are affordable.
Lomo is a russian manufacturer of microscopes and other optical instruments that could utilize the knowledge from the East-Germany branch of Zeiss (Jena) in their production. Therefore Lomo was able to create a wide range of microscopy related components of very good quality for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe (scientific) market. Today Lomo microscopes and objectives are still popular with amateur microscopists, often offering very cheap, good quality alternatives for the other big brands. The fluorescence pictures in this article were made with the "Lomo Lumam R1" which I retrofitted with a Nikon Optiphot mercury arc lamp. Russian microscopes can be nice, the associated electrics can be tricky though. :). Whether it's moss, lichens, ants or spiders, fluorescence often has a surprising effect on the examined object. The very specific wavelength of light creates radiation in the lichen, which also depends of the combination of filters that is utilized. Here the "green" and "blue" filter block were used with specific "exciter filters"
Walter Machielsen is a photographer from Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Microscopy has many different aspects, including a connection with nature photography.
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