Reviews of digital microscopes for insects

This topic is for sharing reviews of digital microscopes used to photograph immobile or specimen insects. There are at least 3 main kinds:

  1. Endoscope-type digital USB microscopes which don’t use ordinary objectives are least expensive. I tried Jiusion 40x to 1000x. The magnification is somewhat good but the resolution is somewhat low (examples: ordinary bee; minute wasp). Are more expensive ones like Dino-Lite AM3113 (10x-50x, 230x) any better?

  2. Stereo/dissecting microscopes with a camera attached to trinocular or eyepiece (using a mounting adapter to connect ordinary cameras, or using cameras specifically built to attach). I tried Swift S7-TGL-CA05, WF10x eyepieces, 7x-45x mag. with Swift USB camera. The microscope was acceptable but camera resolution was lacking, and the camera-view subject (shown on computer USB was plugged into) wasn’t in focus at the same time the microscope objective-view was (whether camera was attached to eyepiece or trinocular).

  3. Some photographers use regular digital cameras with attached macro lenses like microscopes, sometimes as part of a system using a rail or robot arm (example here).

Please give names of microscopes, camera bodies, and macro lenses if sharing experience or reviews, and example photos are ideal.

9 Likes

I just want to say, I use broken binocular lense(as macrolense) I don’t care about photo quality as long as they are identifiable but it works well in focusing mobile camera on small things.
here are some pics using that lense

3 Likes

I’m not sure what you refer to when you say “digital microscope”. What you explain sounds like a regular microscope to me that you used to take photographs (which can be done with any microscope and if it’s just by photographing through the oculars). I also don’t really understand “didn’t focus at the same time”. Shouldn’t the focus be changed by manipulating the distance between the objective of your microscope and the specimen that you are viewing and not by the camera that is sitting on your microscope? Even though I don’t really understand your question in detail, I can still write a few things about microscopy/microphotography.

Basically any trinocular microscope (two oculars for your eyes and one for mounting a camera) can do the job. There might also be some binocular models (1 for the eye and one for mounting a camera), but having two oculars for your eyes is certainly much more pleasant if you are using the microscope for longer periods of time. USB cams are usually crap (the basic ones from Amazon at least). If you want good quality you’ll either have to invest in a good dedicated microscope camera with a good resolution or mount your photocamera body on the microscope. It really doesn’t matter which photocamera you want to mount. There are usually adapters for every brand (Canon, Nikon, Sony etc.). This approach is of course mainly useful for dead specimens. And if you use a continuous light source, the images might not look as nice.

If it’s just about taking brilliant photographs and not so much about having a microscope to investigate morphological characters for identification purposes, then I’d go with a regular interchangeable lens camera. With such a setup, you can also achieve microscopic results in the field. There are some camera lenses that reach a magnification of up to 5x (Canon mp-e 65mm, Laowa 25mm 2.5-5x Ultra Macro). These lenses can be used in the field and if paired with a flash they’ll give you incredible results if you figured out how to use them properly. Although, you’ll “only” get a maximum magnification of 5x, paired with the high resolution sensor of an APS-C or fullframe camera you’ll get much better results than with a 10x microscope objective and a crappy USB camera. The flash also helps to freeze moving subjects and give you much better image clarity than a continuous light source at a stationary microscope. Going beyond 5x magnification requires dedicated microscope lenses that you have to mount to your camera, but such setups make it necessary to stack and are almost unusable in the field without a tripod. However, you can of course also mount microscope objectives to your camera body and use a macro rail (preferably an automated one) to get incredible results. But for such high magnification work you need motionless/dead subjects.

1 Like

Macro-rail, mirrorless camera and microscope objectives with or without (depending on objective) tube lens does indeed give very nice results. The image below is tympanal organs of Idaea neglecta.

I don’t recall just what objective was used - it could have been Mitutoyo MPlan Apo 10x with Raynox DCR-150 as tube lens, but it could have been some other combination as well. The camera was Canon RP and the illumination was with three Yongnuo manual flashes. A microscope I don’t have. :wink:

As was previously mentioned, automated macro rail makes things so much easier. I’d say it would have been pretty much impossible to do this with a manual rail. The required accuracy just isn’t there. With a microscope focusing block it could be done, but it would be tedious. There are kits that can be used to automate also the microscope focusing. Those allow even more accuracy than automated rail.

As far as microscope objectives and cameras go, a full frame camera is NOT the optimal choice when used without a microscope. The image circle of most objectives is not sufficient to fill the frame - at least not with a fully sharp image. A way to overcome this (when using infinite objectives) is to use a tube lens with longer focal length. This results in higher magnification and the lenses tend to be much more expensive than the cheap and very good Raynox.

3 Likes

Please recheck above now, I’ve updated the topic to describe three categories with examples.

Yes, but the camera attached to the trinocular was responding to manual objective focusing, but slightly out of sync with it as well as tilted in a different direction, seen on my computer screen it connected to by USB.

This post mostly focuses on an specimen-like microscope uses. Although I’m also interested in field photos (whether I use the same or different approaches to each). I don’t yet know how to attach a microscope objective to a camera lens, but if I were doing so I meant using a high end digital camera and macro lens. That isn’t my main focus, unless it turns out to be easy to construct and would be better than others ways.

Any suggestion for which camera body to use with Canon mp-e 65mm macro lens? How does it compare to using Canon 100mm or 180mm macro lenses for magnification and resolution? I read the 100mm is often highly regarded as the only with image stabilization (an advantage for handheld field photography), and the 180mm allows photographing from further distance. Could the mp-e 65 lens be used for immobile microscope purposes too, how would it compare to regular microscopes?

2 Likes

My bigger concern with those is the software to run them. On my old computer, I got my cheap USB microscope to work by downloading ViewPlayCap; but on my current computer, my antiviral software is convinced that it is a virus (despite numerous websites stating the contrary), and refuses to allow it to install.

So I paid for the legit MyPackage from Microsoft. According to its description, it “runs most USB microscopes on the market,” so – as you’d expect from a description like that – it doesn’t recognize the presence of mine; I plug the microscope in, and the program responds by instructing me to plug the microscope in. All the while, the computer’s diagnostics show the microscope working correctly.

The microscope may be crap, but I feel like the software is even more so.

So, at this point, I’m prepared to pay for a better-quality microscope – but only if it is guaranteed to work with MyPackage.

1 Like

It doesn’t work that way.

There are two main methods to use microscope objective directly (as opposed to via microscope) with a digital camera. Finite objectives simply need a fixed amount of extension tubes and adapters that connect camera to the tubes and the tubes to the objective.

Infinite objectives are fixed in front of a normal camera objective, but that objective is focused at infinity and is not usually a macro objective. In that case you need a set of step-down adapters, which starts at your filter thread and ends with the thread in the microscope objective. The hard part is finding an objective that works well and doesn’t vignette with the microscope objective.

The Raynox I mentioned is not a camera objective, but if you fix it with tubes its focal length away from the camera sensor, it will essentially become one focused at infinity as was required.

That was the simple part. Getting enough light / eliminating vibrations and doing the focus stack is the real problem.

MP-E usage starts where the others end. With the other lenses (some exceptions have appeared lately) the maximum magnification is usually 1:1. With MP-E that is the MINIMUM magnification. So that selection is forced by the size of what you want to photograph. The choice between full frame and APS-C also has an effect as 1:1 with APS-C is 23mm and with full frame it is 36mm. While MP-E is very good at 1:1, it is somewhat soft with 5:1 on full frame and even worse on APS-C … or to be precise, it appears so due to smaller pixels on APS-C.

If you don’t need stabilization, Sigma 70mm Art is even better than the EF 100. I don’t know about the new RF 100.

The microscopes are often problematic with smaller magnifications and begin to work well above 5x or 10x. So the choice is again made based on the size of you photographic target. Nothing wrong with MP-E for static subjects … but that needs stacking as well - particularly for the higher magnifications.

1 Like

It really depends on what you want to shoot and how you want to shoot. The mp-e 65mm is more useful for animals that are not as skittish because you need to get relatively close to the subject. For skittish ones you will probably need the 100mm or 180mm. Unless your main focus is butterflies and/or dragonflies/damselflies, the 180mm would be overkill in my opinion. Lens-intern image stabilization is rather unimportant I would say. For close-range photography a properly diffused flash is highly recommended and when you photograph something that is further away you should rest the camera on some kind of surface or use a tripod, which makes the stabilization obsolete. I never found image stabilized lenses a big help in macrophotography. But it always depends on your style I guess. Generally a 100mm will be able to cover most situations and if you pair it with a Raynox DCR-250 you also get a magnification of approximately 2:1. If you are interested in really small stuff like collemboles, mites, or minute wasps, then the mp-e 65mm would be a good choice.

Could an mp-e 65mm be used as an immobile “microscope” at home? Sure. But it’s far from ideal. My point of view is the following: If you want to investigate or observe a specimen, use a microscope. If you want to take photographs, use a photocamera.

I attached a few examples that demonstrate what’s possible with a camera and a high magnification lens.

Two mites (size approximately 1mm) photographed with a Sony A6000 (APS-C Sensor) + Laowa 25mm 2.5-5x Ultra Macro used in the field with a diffused flash on the camera:


The same setup as a bove but used at home with a macro rail. It shows a lace bug which has a body length of 2-3mm:

Mounted specimens photographed with a Sony a6000 + Mitutoyo 20x Microscope Objective:


Detail of the head of a weeil (Curculio sp.)

Detail of the head of a ground bug (Gastrodes grossipes)

The photos with the Laowa Ultra macro could very well be done with the Canon mp-e as well (in the field and at home).

9 Likes

You have some nice photos there. Would it be possible to give some rough price ranges that cover all the gear required to take each shot? Some of the example photos given by @bdagley were taken with a $25 USB webcam, so it would be interesting to make a comparison relative to that.

The 20x Setup is around 5k € - it contains lots of Novoflex gear which is highest quality but also comes with a price. A used old microscope lens and a different macro rail would already lower the cost significantly (probably around half) and could still produce similar results. Using a Raynox lens as a tubus lens would also lower the costs more.

Sony a6000 + Laowa 25mm Ultra Macro + Flash is around 1.1k € if bought new.

2 Likes

Other ultra-macro photographers told me although the MP-E is significantly more expensive, it isn’t so different to the Laowa 25mm so I bought the latter. I’ve been totally blown away by it. An incredible lens.

Here are some members of the same family (Dolichopodidae), but with different lens/body/approximate cost combinations for comparison :



Nikon D850 (2000 euros)
Laowa 25mm (400 euros)
Speedlite flash (150 euros)



Nikon D850 (2000 euros)
Sigma 105mm (300 euros)
Speedlite flash(150 euros)



Lumix GH2 (150 euros) + inbuilt flash
Sigma 105mm (300 euros)
Cheap diffuser(15 euros)
Extension tube (50 euros)



I´ve not tried the GH2 with the Laowa yet but the difference between the 105mm with the GH2 vs the 105mm with the D850 was very disappointing - certainly not worth an extra 1800 euros in my book! My guess is that the GH2 with the Laowa would still be almost as great - it’s just a stunning lens.
This setup would be a 600 euro or so total cost.

For a lower 400 euro mark, I’ve heard quite a few swear by the bridge camera TG5 and it’s inbuilt stacking. This is what UK dipterist Ian Andrews uses for specimen shots at home - with exceptional results. Check out examples of his work here. Searching for this I just saw on Twitter that even the microscope makers GTvision appear thrown by the photo quality he gets.

3 Likes

Good replies so far. Since there are so many different combinations for options and some are technical to get or setup, it’s hard to choose without having tried them first, and I’ll have to read and think more. I also originally brought up microscopes which have a brand name camera designed to be used for microscopes (slightly different from connecting an ordinary camera of another brand). Has anyone used ones like those, even if not the best approach?

Photographers may also be interested in the macro camera setup used for the documentary My Garden of a Thousand Bees, which may be the best I’ve seen. I don’t know the lens details, but it’s discussed in the video.

Whether or not I get a higher end camera, I’ve been thinking a TG would be useful to try out too. Those specimen photos are really good. It’s interesting that they seem better resolution than I’ve seen in other examples of TG photos.

I’ve tried this camera and didn’t get to grips with it myself. I also know another dipterist who tried to reproduce the setup and didn’t get as good results. Ian’s magic touch perhaps. But I’d guess just that he has a decent lighting setup apart from anything else. He goes into the whole process in detail in a recent edition of Dipterists Bulletin - but it’s not one available to download just yet.

I’ve used a similar setup to the one you mention in the original post part 2 and I had similar results by the sound of it. I’ve also used a DSLR through a stereo microscope for moss and been more impressed - naturally, a different ball game in quality.

Each to their own, but for me, I´m not one for studying anything at home which I can study in the field… and I’ve found all these sort of microscopy setups comparatively fussy and limiting in general. Even with the moss sample I gave up getting the key angle I needed through the microscope and returned to shoot directly through the DSLR. Probably just habit and lack of experience, but for me I am much happier with the versatility of the Laowa 25mm+DSLR in that respect. For keying out insects I struggle to manipulate something so small under a microscope when you can mount then shoot from any angle whatsoever with a DSLR.

I’ve also used 3 or 4 different brand, cheap USB microscopes as you mention in original post part 1 too and again, had similar results to you with all. Really noisy. The pricier ones seemed no different in quality a few years ago. However… I just bought a new one of these last month - a Velleman - and it seems from what my students have told me that the quality is significantly better - the image resolution is 1920x1080p - but slightly higher price tag - at 200 euros or so.

Thanks for all the info in this thread, I was considering buying one of those digital microscopes to try out and was glad to see all of your feedback. Instead I’ve ordered the Laowa 25mm and will try using that for macro shots of plants and insects.

I’m also interested in the idea of using a microscope objective as a camera lens on my Sony a6000. I’ve seen examples of people doing this online but I’m having a hard time figuring out what is actually required to connect an objective to a Sony E mount, can anyone break that down for me? It looks like everyone does it differently and I’m not sure why.

I’d also interested in any specific lens recommendations for longer macro lenses. I’d like to be able to shoot insects and things from at least a few feet away without spooking them. Not anything terribly small like mites, but flies and the like.

Let’s see…

First of all, there are two kinds of microscope objectives: the (mostly) older finite kind and the infinite kind. For the first kind all you need is a set of tubes and adapters that puts your microscope objective the required distance from the camera sensor. As it happens the distance needed for the nominal magnification is roughly 10mm shorter than what is marked on the microscope objective. :roll_eyes: Small variation won’t usually matter except that it will give you somewhat different magnification. It is pretty difficult to say exactly what adapters you need as there are almost infinite number of possible combinations - it just has to start with your camera bajonet and end with the threads for the microscope objective you happen to use. For many finite objectives that thread is RMS, but not for all.

For infinite (identifiable by the infinity mark on the objective) objectives additional glass is needed. The light coming from the objective to camera is formed as if it were coming from an object infinite distance away. So you need something else which focuses that image on the sensor.

The easy way is to use a normal camera objective and use step-down rings to go from your filter thread to the thread of the microscope objective. Then just take the picture with the camera objective focused at infinity. That’s the theory. In practice it is hard to predict which objectives work without vignetting or chromatic aberration. Usually large aperture (and high price) helps. The focal length of the of the camera objective defines the final magnification. The markings on the microscope objective tell what focal length is needed for nominal magnification. If you use shorter, you will get less magnification … and correspondingly smaller sharp image circle. That smaller circle is even sharper, though. If you have problems with image circle (quite common with full frame), you can use longer camera objective. You are not getting any more resolution from the microscope objective, though. So considerable longer than nominal focal length is recommended only for very high quality microscope objectives.

It is also possible to use a dedicated “tube lens” instead of camera objectives. The ones from the microscope manufacturer are usually pretty expensive, but Raynox DCR-150 is very good and close to nominal focal length too. That one has standard filter threads at both ends. Fixing the microscope objective to the Raynox is just like fixing it to camera lens filter thread … and fixing the Raynox to the camera is just like fixing finite objective to the camera. Keep in mind that the Raynox has to be about its focal length (208mm) away from the camera sensor. An added complication is that the optical center of the Raynox is not marked anywhere. It is best to set it so that you can adjust the distance and focus the moon on the sensor.

Some microscope manufacturers make/have made their objectives so that the tube lens or eyepieces make optical corrections to the image. Those won’t work with any other than the nominally intended parts. Usually it is better to avoid those.

Are "tube lens"es the same as a “zoom tube”? I have a “zoom tube” which is basically a microscope with a USB CCD camera attached to the top instead of an eyepiece (although because it’s a standard size I guess you could attach an eyepiece instead of the camera if you wanted to). I’ve been meaning to get the mount adapters for a DSLR for a while now because my CCD camera is only 1.3M pixels which is fine for what I use it for but I’d like more detail and although I could get a higher res CCD camera I’d prefer to use what I already have; i.e. a DSLR

1 Like

The term “tube lens” stands for the optical system used to focus the light rays coming from the microscope objective to the sensor. It could be zoom as well, though avoiding vignetting with those is even more difficult.

It is also possible to capture the image after microscope eyepiece with additional optics. For manufacturers using corrective eyepieces, this is the only method. That method has more optical components and is more complex, but the manufacturer may have drop-in parts available.

As to what method your zoom-tube uses - I don’t know. However, if the in-built sensor is small, you are unlikely to get very large image on the camera … at least without adding magnifying optics in-between.

1 Like

Yes, that’s a good point and you’re right… I’d forgotten the effect that sensor size has on everything. I’ll email the supplier of my zoom-tube and see what they say, and also what they recommend for my dissecting 'scope (but that’s made by a different company). At the end of the day it doesn’t matter because 1.3MP is fine for my current purposes but worth knowing because the only way I can even get 25% close to the magnification of my zoom-tube is using a Canon MP-E65 which I find extremely difficult to focus compared to the zoom-tube