Digital Microscopy

Rapidly advancing technology has placed digital imaging within reach of every microscopist.

There are now so many digital cameras available for microscopy, it’s often difficult to choose the right one.  At Martin Microscope Company, we spend lots of time testing new digital cameras in order to be able to recommend the right camera for each customer and application.  We sell several carefully selected lines of dedicated microscope cameras, but we are also pioneers in adapting consumer digital cameras and camcorders for microscopy using our own MM and MDSLR series adapters.

Visit our Camera Comparison page…
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“Just say NO to digital microscopes”…

 

Choosing a digital  microscope camera

Dedicated Microscope Digital Still Cameras 

Dedicated microscope digital cameras typically cost more for less resolution, but they do have advantages for certain applications.  They typically allow for more precise software control over exposure, gain, gamma, color, etc.  Some are also specialized for low-light applications, particularly fluorescence imaging.  Those normally have a cooled CCD sensor for long exposure times with less noise than a non-cooled or CMOS sensor.  They also may include some software features specifically for microscopy, like background shading correction and / or simple calibration and measuring features.  They usually integrate better with image analysis software.

Consumer DSLR's 

Consumer DSLR’s:  We at Martin Microscope Company got into the consumer camera arena quite early with the development of our MM99 adapter in 1999, originally for the popular Sony Mavica cameras.  As far as we know, we were the first to make and market a professional microscope adapter for a consumer digital camera.  We recommend consumer hand-held cameras for routine micrography for their quality for the price, versatility (being useable both on and off of the microscope), and for the ease with which they can be moved from one microscope to another.  Since 2010, DSLR cameras have dominated the consumer camera market, and of all the DSLR’s we’ve tested, the Canon EOS series is tops for microscopy (for these reasons…)

HD Digital Video Cameras 

HD Digital Video Cameras:  Martin Microscope Company pioneered the use of HD video for microscopy by combining our popular MM99 microscope adapters with the first HD consumer camcorders appearing on the market about 2005.  In our experience, the primary use of HD video microscopy has been to enhance classroom and conference room displays.  We now offer some dedicated microscopy HD cameras, mainly for industrial video inspection applications, but we still find that our HD camcorder systems provide better HD output and enhanced versatility for most customers.  These systems are used as visitor displays, by researchers, and in numerable university classrooms across the country. 

Sensors 

The heart of every digital camera is the Sensor, usually either a CCD or a CMOS type.  All Sensors are analog devices, converting photons into electrical signals.  The process by which the analog information is changed to digital is called Analog to Digital (A/D) Conversion.  This can occur within the Sensor itself, or within the camera, or within the PC, as was the case with older video camera / frame grabber technology.  Our professional quality dedicated microscope cameras use CCD sensors, but CMOS technology is advancing rapidly.  In the past, CCD sensors were considered the professional choice because they offered greater sensitivity and less electronic noise than CMOS sensors, but that is changing!  As of March 2015, Sony (the world’s largest manufacturer of CCD sensors) announced that they will cease production of all CCD sensors by 2017 because their newest CMOS sensors have surpassed their best CCD’s.  Sensor size is also an important consideration.  The larger the individual pixel, the more light sensitive the Sensor should be, and larger pixels normally translates into larger sensors – so larger is better.  Some of the most advanced digital cameras, like the ProgRes C14+,  use a relatively small number of large pixels (1.4MP in a 2/3″ CCD in the case of the C14+) in a large moving Sensor that scans the image area in up to 36 increments to produce high resolution final images with very accurate color because each pixel can sample for red, green, and blue content separately.

Resolution 

The Sensor Resolution is the total number of picture elements (Pixels) forming the image.  Resolution ranges from 0.3 Megapixels (MP) for 640×480 analog video resolution up to an incredible 32MP with the Lumenera InfinityX-32.  There is a 4x jump in total pixels from 0.3MP to 1.3MP, roughly double the resolution both horizontally and vertically (0.3 x 4 = 1.2), so we can see a vast improvement in 1.3MP cameras over older video resolution cameras.  Images in this category are still relatively small in file size, so are fine for email in jpg format.  Next comes 2MP and 3.3MP cameras which are less apparent improvements over 1.3MP.  When we reach 5MP, that represents 4x the total pixels of a 1.3MP camera (1.3 x 4 = 5.2), so 5MP is the next big leap. Eight, ten, twelve MP cameras, again, are improvements over 5MP cameras, but the next big 4x step requires a 20MP camera which in most cases exceed the resolution of the microscope optics.  Indeed, we have experienced “empty magnification” even in 8MP cameras.  Generally, higher megapixel images can provide greater detail over a wider field-of-view (which makes them better for lower magnification imaging), allow for cropping more detailed areas of interest, and can yield more accurate measurements.  They can also be used to make larger photo quality (300dpi) prints.  The following chart illustrates this:

0.3 Megapixel –  640 x 480 pixels   (1.6″ x 2.13″ print size at 300dpi)  –   analog video cameras
1.3 Megapixel –  1392 x 1040 pixels (3.2″ x 4.3″ print size at 300dpi)  –  M14
2.0 Megapixel –  1616 x 1216 pixels (4″ x 5.3″ print size at 300dpi)  – IMT M20-IS
3.3 Megapixel –  2080 x 1542 pixels (5.1″ x 6.8″ print size at 300dpi) –  Lumenera Infinity3-3URC
5.0 Megapixel –  2448 x 2048 pixels (6.4″ x 8.5″ print size at 300dpi) –  Jenoptik ProgRes SpeedXTcore5
12.5 Megapixel – 4080 x 3072 pixels (10.24 ” x 13.6″ at 300dpi) –  Jenoptik ProgRes C14+
18 Megapixel  –  5184 x 3456 pixels (11.5″ x 17.28″ at 300dpi) –  Canon T21, T3i, SL1
32 Megapixel  –  6464 x 4864 pixels (16″ x 21.5″ at 300dpi) –  Lumenera InfinityX-32

Software and Compatibility 

Software and Compatibility is an area that can play a very important role in selecting the proper camera for a specific application.  All dedicated microscope cameras and some consumer DSLRs will include some software for driving the camera.  This will allow a preview image to be viewed on the computer monitor which may be of the full camera resolution or may be a reduced resolution for a faster refresh rate.  The higher the camera’s pixel resolution, the more likely that it will have a reduced resolution preview.  We might consider this the camera’s video output capability, although the rate at which the preview is output will depend primarily on the exposure time set for a given image, but also on the speed of the computer processor, and the type of connection to the computer (ie:  Firewire, USB2, etc).  Most higher megapixel cameras, because of their lower resolution previews, will offer focusing aids such as a small portion of the image (user defined) at full resolution, or a focus indicator bar.  Common menu controls include exposure time, gain, color balance, and possibly time lapse features.  In many cases the camera can automatically adjust exposure time, color balance, etc, but a manual override is critical for many microscopy challenges.  Other software features might include basic screen calibration and measuring, more commonly on the captured image, but sometimes on the “live” preview image as well.  Some cameras are compatible only with Windows, but some also support Mac OS-X.  Finally, basic TWAIN compatibility is desired (for Windows) so that other software like Adobe Photoshop can access the camera interface software and acquire images directly.  Many cameras also include plug-ins for popular image analysis software.

DIGITAL CAMERA SYSTEMS:
– CAMERA ADAPTERS
– IMAGING SOFTWARE