Many Hats of Me: Photographing Gems with a Microscope

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Photographing Gems with a Microscope

Sourcing the Microscope Photo-adaptor

Since purchasing my new (used) microscope in early January, it has taken over a month to source all the components to attach my digital SLR to the microscope. The main problem is the microscope's photo-port: it has no tube and the opening is a non-standard 27mm wide, which is just over an inch.

Trial and Error


I Googled "aluminum tube"and came up with a company, Online Metals.com, that sells tubes of various shapes, size, and materials at specific cut lengths. I purchased a 1"OD (outside diameter) and .91" ID (inside diameter). 









The tube arrived with very rough ends, sharp enough to cut skin. I took my jewelry files and smoothed out the ends. It fit very well into the photo port.

For the next two weeks, I searched for an adaptor that would fit the tube. Most were between the $50 to $80 range, but I finally found one for $25 from a small online surplus store, called Surplus Shed.


When I tried to fit the tube into this adaptor, the opening was too small, even though the published specs were for a 1" tube. Crap. 

My next purchase was a "T" or telescope to camera adaptor suited specifically for my camera, the Sony NEX-5N. I found one for an amazing $5.50 on eBay! It arrived a week later, but it did not fit my camera. I was really bummed. I complained to the seller, and he replied that he would refund me my money if I returned the item. As postage to Hong Kong with tracking is around $25, I retorted that if he didn't refund my money plus shipping, I would report him to eBay. The threat worked. FYI, if an eBay seller makes a mistake with your order and it costs more than the item to return, insist on a full refund without returning the item. And always ask for a full refund (cost of item + original shipping).

Burned once twice shy, I found another adaptor closer to home from Amazon.






I still needed a tube to fit into the photo port but came up with nothing. Just as I was about to give up and spend $500 on a specialized microscope adaptor, my husband found a microscope adaptor on eBay that had a .965" tube with a male T-connector. PERFECT.






Here is the all the components fitted together with my camera. Yeah!





 
The camera installed into the photo-port of the Bausch and Lomb Stereozoom 7


The Meade tube was a bit wobbly inside the photo-port, so my husband wound teflon tape around it to tighten the fit. It's just a stop-gap solution for now.

Here are my first photos using my new setup:





3 carat Spessartite Garnet





2 carat Oregon Sunstone with copper schiller





Close-up of the copper schiller





30 carat Rutile Quartz





Close-up of Rutile Quartz





2 carat Tsavorite Garnet




Close-up of the Tsavorite Garnet


Focusing problems

Although the above photos are quite sharp, my attempt at a darker stone was quite poor.





5 carat Sapphire




Finger print inclusions in the Sapphire. Fuzzy from camera-shake

Compared to the other stones, the sapphire is quite dark and the exposure time was very long (2 seconds). I attribute the camera shake to the fans running my computer, the cold light source, and my external hard drive, which are in close proximity to the microscope. I will need to relocate the microscope away from all these devices and to a rock-steady surface.

Total Cost:


Stainless steel tube: $30 (complete loss since I can't return. I plan to use it as a ring mandrel)
T-adaptor from Suplus Shed: $25 (will return)
Sony NEX-5N to T-adaptor from Amazon: $10


More Reading

Photoatlas of Inclusions in Gemstones Volumes 1, 2, and 3. A definitive book of gem inclusions with truly amazing photos. A must read for any gemologist.

Gemstones of the World, 4th edition. A good gemology primer for under $20.

Chapter 5 "Inclusions", from the book, Ruby and Sapphire, provided by the Author, Richard Hughes.
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