Photomicrography is something I started playing around with at high school. By opening up a world not visible to the naked eye, it built upon macrophotography as a catalyst for my current career path.
In the beginning, I had my Pentax DSLRs hanging off the eyepiece of my venerable Zeiss Standard 14 microscope using a Pentax K Mount to Microscope Adapter. Now, I work with an eBay-sourced adapter and my Micro Four Thirds bodies for fun, and book time on a departmental microscope for research applications.
Microscope, camera and adapter choice varies based on application. When I started out, it was just for fun, so a DSLR with an adapter mounted over the eyepiece sufficed. Now, however, I have to choose between imaging for work (which I’m unable to publish here) and imaging for play.
Since none of the manufacturers of Micro Four Thirds equipment make a suitable microscope adapter, I have been forced to use one from eBay with my current digital bodies. While this does work, it has issues: alignment is difficult to achieve and repeat; the structure is very light; and the eyepiece is slightly offset. Combined, these degrade the image quality compared with the more thoroughly engineered Pentax adapter, as you can see in the pictures. Slight optical misalignment, or transmission of shutter vibrations, is enough to cause a significant loss of image quality when working at high magnifications. However, for having a bit of fun, it’s perfectly acceptable. All up, a passable microscope and adapter costs about as much as a high-end new camera body and lens.
The best option (which I resort to for research applications) is to use a microscope with a photo port and dedicated microscope camera. These give the best image quality, while also adding extra interpretation and annotation features, often required for publishing. Two prominent examples would be merging photographs of a specimen dyed with two fluorescent stains and viewed at different wavelengths; or merely adding a scale bar so that relative cell sizes may be accurately determined. Sadly, precision comes at a cost: most research microscopes equipped for imaging will cost more than a brand new car. There’s a reason I book time on a departmental research microscope…
As with anything in photography, it’s a good idea to see if you’re interested in photomicrography before making any financial commitment. There is a trove of images available online, frequently accompanied by detailed descriptions. Looking through these should give you some idea of interest. It’s also worth looking into any available courses, and should you decide to take it up, researching what is and isn’t safe to work with. Outside of a lab with the appropriate physical containment level for the risk, I won’t work with anything I don’t know the source of; the bacteria and yeast in this post were photographed in the lab and disposed of in biohazard waste; the rat intestine was fixed in a lab and contained under a sealed coverslip (safe for home); I collected the algae myself, and thoroughly dried it before disposal (to ensure it was dead).
Photomicrography documents observations of a world we can’t normally see. It comes in many forms, at many costs, and with many degrees of success. The process is fun, and the successes are rewarding; it has been, and continues to be, an enjoyable part of my scientific journey.