Monday, April 12, 2010

Celestron Digital Microscope Imager - A Deal!

I've purchased and tested seven different digital imaging products designed to be used with a microscope. The latest is the brand new Celestron Digital Microscope Imager item #44421. While I had a love/hate relationship with the Celestron Digital LCD Camera, I can truthfully say that my relationship with Celestron's latest offering is all love.

I love the price. At just $49.95 retail it is the least expensive of all the digital microscope cameras. And, by a wide margin.

I love the software interface. It's intuitive and easy. And, it is the only software of the offerings I've tested that will work with Windows 7! Plus, it is supposed to be able to be used with the Mac using one of the Mac's image capture programs. Testing for that will have to wait until a few weeks when I visit my granddaughter's and try it on their Mac.

I love the adjustable collar that permits me to synchronize the focus of the camera with the eyepiece when used with a microscope having a second eyepiece tube, like the MF-04 Dual-View Microscope from C7A Scientific.

I love the video quality. If you have a fast enough computer you can even save video at 1600x1200. Of course, 640x480 is the preferred balance between speed and resoluton. The video is astonishingly good due to an excellent auto-brightness algorythm. It generally seems to get the right brightness for the subject under the lens. Not all the cameras I tested handle that chore all too well. By the way, if you have a microphone and want to record sound with your video, the software permits that as well. Again, the only micrscope camera I've tested that seems to offer this capability.

And, I love the still image capture as it allows easy single image capture or a burst of multiple images. The user determines how many images will be captured with each burst. The normal image capture is 2mpx or 1280x1024. This is more than double that of its closest competitor.

Here is a short video that demonstrates the versatility and simplicity of the software provided with the Celestron Digital Microscope Imager.

Here is a link to a Flickr gallery where you can see some of the test images captured with this product. My interest is in helping parents and children enjoy microscopy. So, I try to use good value microscopes that are in the price range that most parents could afford. Most of the images and videos were captured using a microscope that can be purchased for under $60 on the web, the My First Lab Duo-Scope. While I always recommend a microscope with fine focus and a mechanical stage, the Duo-Scope is great to demonstrate the minimal quality one should expect from a video imager.

Celestron Digital Microscope Imager - Flickr Gallery

I purchased two units. One was purchased from Adorama and the other from Celestron's web site. Both were $49.95 and Adorama shipped it free.

If you do purchase any microscope imager, here is a helpful hint. It's important to line up the imager so that the image moves up and down as the specimen is moved forward and backward on the microscope stage. But, these cameras tend to have bulky cables that can make it hard to keep the camera lined up. I've found that if I wrap a rubber band around the camera before putting it into the microscope eyepiece tube that the camera tends NOT to rotate easily after it's lined up correctly.

The bottom line...

This is one great bargain. And, it will extend the fun and usefulness of your microscope well beyond what would normally be expected for such a modest investment. Buy and enjoy!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Celestron LCD Digital Microscope Camera - Review Part I

Part I - Setup

This is the first in a series of reviews planned to explore low and moderate cost consumer options for capturing images from microscopes. We are starting with the Celestron because it is one of the few options that is essentially standalone. It does not need to be connected to anything to capture images. For this reason it is probably one of the most convenient options and certainly among the quickest to grab and set up on an ad-hoc basis.

The unit used in this review was purchased commercially, from existing stock, through Adorama for $234.95 with free shipping. The first thing one notices when opening the outside shipping box is that Celestron paid serious attention to packaging this product. This is an important consideration for a microscope camera is probably going to be spending a lot of time in its storage box. The box is protected by an outside wrapper that also holds the documentation.

Sliding off the wrapper reveals a substantial box with plenty of foam padding to protect the camera and keep the components readily available. The LCD monitor and camera head is stored on the right side.

The left side of the container holds the pieces with which the camera will be mounted to the microscope and one of the power plug options. The Projection Mirror Tube can be see at the very top of the next image. This unit screws onto the LCD monitor. At the bottom left is the adapter that screws onto the Projection Mirror Tube that allows it to be mated to the eyepiece of standard 23.2mm eyepiece tubes.

The rest of the power block and additional plug options are stored within a drawer under the component section. The power block is built to take plug options by simply twisting and locking the selected plug onto the power block.

When the LCD has been attached to the Projection Mirror Tube and the appropriate eyepiece adaptor it is time to focus on the the most important switch on the unit. This is the DV (Digital Video) and DSC (Digital Still Camera) Switch. This sets the type of imaging that will be captured by the unit. When the switch is set to DV the camera captures video segments at 640x380 pixels at 30 frames per second. When the switch is set to DSC then still images are captured at a pre-selected resolution. The highest resolution is nominally 2048x1536 pixels.

The power block also plugs into the right side of the LCD unit.

On the left side of the unit, there is a video output jack. A cable to attach to an external monitor is included. The signal at this output is always at standard video resolution. But, it is selectable between NTSC and PAL. A cable is supplied with the unit. I learned to value this capability becuase the low resolution of the LCD makes it very difficult to use it to obtain precise focus. An external monitor is very helpful.

The face of the LCD monitor includes several buttons used to navigate the menus and capture images. At the bottom right is the power button. In the test unit, pressing this button often did not bring up the camera as it should. The small red pilot light would come on; but, the image would not appear. The other buttons are the Menu, Trig (Trigger), Mode, OK and some directional buttons for navigating the menus. The trigger button does NOT work on this particular model and the Celestron web site sites the description for this button as a error in the documentation. It's too bad. They could use what the documentation described... the ability to externally trigger the camera.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Do they see what you see? Part 1: Dual View Scopes

One of the issues that come up when our students and children are using a microscope is whether or not they are really seeing what they think they are seeing.

It's especially difficult with live specimens in fluid. We can locate an amoeba and put it right in the center of the field of view only to have the table or scope jostle slightly as we transfer from our viewing to the child viewing. A lot of debri has been erroneously identified as an amoeba!

One of the best ways to ensure that our students and children are seeing what we expect them to see is to use a dual view scope like the Premiere Microscope MF-04.

The MF-04 has two monocular heads with two 10x eyepieces. Two people can view the target subject at the very same time. The MF-04 can also be used with a regular digital still or video camera with the proper attachment with the camera being attached to the top head without prohibiting the user from directly seeing the same image the camera sees.

At the time of this review the MF-04 seems to be selling at just under $300. But, we believe this scope is well worth the investment. In fact, this is our favorite microscope for middle and high school students precisely because it ensures that the child is seeing what the parent is expecting them to see.

From a long term investment point of view the features of the MF-04 put it well above most student monocular microscopes. It's a member of the Premiere Advanced Microscope series. And, a little known secret is that C & N Scientific has a binocular head that fits the frame of the MF-04 perfectly, extending the usefulness of this scope well beyond the high school level. It turns the monocular dual-view MF-04 into the MF-02 Advanced Binocular Microscope.

While we could run through a laundry list of the features of this scope, that information is available on the many web sites that sell this microscope. So, we'll just point out a couple of the special features beyond the dual view capability.

One of the unique features of the Advanced Microscope Series (MF-01, MF-02, MF-04) is the separate locations of the course and fine focus knobs. This actually has real value for younger students because the macro focus and the micro focus operations are less inclined to be confused. The four objectives are nominally parfocal and parcentered, in actual practice a little touchup on the micro focus is usually necessary.

The other unique feature of this series is the 5W fluorescent illuminator. We like viewing live protozoa and the fluorescent lighting is cooler for the specimens than the incandescent lights common in most scopes.

All in all this is a wonderful way to ensure that our students and children are really seeing what we want them to see and learning what we think they are learning. We dual view fans.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Somebody's Eating My Raspberries!!!

Even snacks can be an opportunity for discovery!

This little caterpillar had been happily chowing down on a box of raspberries until he found himself under the lights of a stereo microscope. It was kind enough to arrive just as my granddaughters came for a visit. The video was taken with a Casio EX-P505 attached to a Premiere 10x stereo microscope with a Digi-T connector. The Digi-T does the job; but, it's difficult to align precisely... as you can see by the off-centered image.

What was important about this find was that my grandchildren, 6 and 4, instantly called for me to break out one of our microscopes so they could see the hitchhiker up close and personal. Timing is critical in encouraging exploration and inquisitiveness. Normally, finding a 'bug' in one's food isn't a cause for celebration. But, in this case, it became an opportunity to see an amazingly beautiful creature eating and doing a little exploring on its own.

The Special Gift
The beginning of DiscoveryScopes

Perhaps most people remember that one special gift that they recieved that was prized above all others. For me it was a microscope.

It's wasn't a great microscope... just a simple toy made by Tasco. But, it was enough for me to begin discovering a world of tiny creatures and plants that I have never tired of exploring to this day, some 50 years later.

As a former elementary and junior high science teacher, I have never ceased enjoying watching children's excitement and enthusiasm for exploring nature's wonders. The love of discovery is there at an early age and with just a little bit of encouragement from parents, teachers and grandparents it will never fade.

As I begin this site, I'm experimenting with linking a digital camera to some microscopes. I hope to be able to provide better and better images as examples of some of the potential for discovery that microscopes provide. I also hope to use images and videos to explain to those that might wish to purchase a microscope what the options are and the strengths of various type of microscopes.

But, 'scopes' in the context of the pursposes of this site aren't just limited to microscopes. We'll also include magnifiers, binoculars, telescopes and digital cameras... anything that can help a child 'SEE' the marvelous world of the Creator.

DiscoveryScopes is a trademark of Tom Meeks
The Leaf
Learning Observation

“It’s Green.”

I’m sure that as that student ‘finished’ their homework assignment that they were confidently smug that THIS teacher was going to be a pushover. After all, his first homework assignment took just a little over the time it took to pick up pen and paper.

Others in the class went the extra mile and added things like, “It’s long” or “It’s big.” But, from experience I knew what to expect when I gave me first homework assignment to the Life Sciences students at my new school. The assignment seemed deceptively simple to a seventh grader. Pick a leaf off any tree and describe it.

It was no shock, as one by one the students read their papers, that most of the descriptions were amazingly shallow. It was always like that. But, no matter how shallow they were each was praised for having seen SOMETHING. After, all they HAD completed the assignment. But, now it was time for another. Describe that same leaf without using the observations you made previously.

At this point, the students that had made several observations about the leaf were thinking that they had made a BIG mistake. They could have used some of those observations for today’s assignment! What they didn’t know is that this was going to seem like a never ending task as day after day the assignment was the same… Describe that same leaf without using the observations you made previously.

The reactions were always the same. First the howls… then the resignation… and finally the realization that they were finally ‘getting it’. Where once they saw just ‘green’, they began to see different shades of green. Where once they saw ‘long’, they began to see serrated edges. Where once they saw ‘smooth’, they began to see tiny hairs. Of all the things that I enjoyed about teaching, recalling this transformation in my students is the most satisfying.

Repeating this assignment for as long as necessary was not a waste of time for it set the foundation for the entire year’s adventure in discovery. It also provided a framework for observation that would last them a lifetime… start with the macro and move to the micro.

The process they followed was to use their eyes to see the larger features and then expanded their ability to observe by using tools like magnifiers, low power microscopes and compound microscopes. But, as the teacher, I wanted to be sure that they did not move from each level too soon. It was important to see as much as they could by simply observing the leaf more closely with their naked eyes before moving to using a magnifier. Similarly, it was important not to move to the microscope from the magnifier too soon because one might not have a microscope available in the future.

Today, I would add one more tool. I would use a digital camera as one of our ‘scopes’ using macro photography and various 3D photo techniques to add to their ability to ‘SEE’ new things about them.

And, “Seeing” is what DiscoveryScopes is all about!

DiscoveryScopes is a trademark of Tom Meeks