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.