Almost exactly a month ago I posted a photo of a sow bug (order Isopoda) I created from a stack of 57 separate images (see Image stacking revisited: macro photograph a sow bug—take 3). At the time I didn’t think the photo was all that great and mused on the need to invest in more equipment. I noted that I had ordered a 4X microscope objective off Ebay and was planning to build a precision focusing rail from a Zeiss Microscope Focus Arm. I’ve mentioned a couple of times since that I was working on the focusing rail. The lens I ordered was a 4X plan achromatic objective from Cnscope (see 4X plan achromatic objective on Ebay). At $20 with free shipping it was a real deal!
The focusing rail is now functional (see below) although not finished—I still have some cosmetic details to complete. I actually had it done over a week ago and happily tried it out for the first time by stacking images of a cricket’s eye. However, the resulting photo was still not good enough. I had resolved some of my equipment problems, but clearly I still needed to work on my technique. Most importantly I needed to find a better way to light my subject. I needed to provide soft, even lighting to a tiny specimen positioned only 14mm from the front of the lens while simultaneously avoiding lens flare. I also needed to find a suitably photogenic subject.
I caught a fruit fly and left it in the freezer (to humanely kill it) while I peeled off the label from the yogurt tub, cut a hole in the bottom and set-up my equipment. I pushed a fine sewing needle through a scrap of green foam core and then carefully impaled the deceased fly on the point of the needle, taking care not to push the needle all the way through the minute critter. This wasn’t the easiest thing to do with my bad vision…it took my reading glasses, a 5X loupe and several tries to get it done. My caffeine jitters from 3 cups of morning coffee didn’t help! The foam core was held in place with an alligator clip. I also made a simple lens hood for the objective using a strip of black construction paper and tape.
Eventually the specimen and the yogurt container were positioned. Lighting was provided by my trusty Vivitar 283 positioned directly above the yogurt container…creating a miniature white box!
Photographing the fly was a slow process. I took a total of 43 pictures, adjusting the focus by 25 µ (0.025mm) between each. Then the images were stacked and retouched in Zerene. The final image was further edited in Photoshop Elements 8. Interestingly, the picture looks much better if you zoom in on it—on my computer at least. I don’t think the screen of my laptop has good enough resolution to do justice to the fine details otherwise. Below is another (closer) look at the photo.
This is the first stacked photo that I am really satisfied with. The focusing rail worked perfectly and the yogurt container white box produced exactly the quality of light I was looking for. Now I need to practice. It’s a pain-staking technique that can produce amazing photos when it all comes together. And of course I am already saving my pennies towards my next lens purchase…something to provide even higher resolution, higher magnification, or both…
The technical stuff:
Camera: Olympus E-620 digital SLR mounted on Olympus OM auto bellows
Lens: Cnscope 4X plan achromatic microscope objective
Settings: manual exposure, shutter speed= 1/125 sec
Lighting: Vivitar 283 flash and VP-1 Vari-power adapter (1/8 power)