Since people were asking, this is my low-end videomicroscopy setup — the one I’m comfortable putting in a box and hauling out to the wilderness of a biological research station. “Low end” means, unfortunately, a few thousand dollars, but there are ways to shave that down a bit.
Don’t cut too many corners on the optics, though. I’m using the Leica/Wild M3C here, because I like what I see in it. I just checked eBay, and found a model just like it for $620. There are equivalents that don’t have the fancy brand name; look into Lomo, for instance. You might be able to find off-off-off brand scopes like this for a few hundred dollars. Hot tip: don’t look at the magnification first. If someone tries to sell you an inexpensive scope for cheap by bragging about “1500x!” or something similar, walk away. Clarity and resolution are the features you want, not raw magnification. The best thing to do is look at something in the scope; if it’s blurry or has color fringes, forget it.
I did cut corners on one thing here: back in the lab, I have a nice fiber optic dual gooseneck illuminator that’s good and bright and lets me play with transmitted and epi illumination. I left it at home today! It was my one big mistake. Instead, I brought a small cheap lamp from one of our student scopes, and it was not at all adequate to the task. Good lighting is essential!
For image capture, there’s a couple of ways to go. On this setup, I brought a simple RS-170 surveillance camera which I attached to the phototube on the scope, which puts out a standard video signal; that went into a Sony Digital Video Media Converter, which has multiple outputs, including a digital video signal that I could run into my Mac laptop. I used BTV Pro as a cheap, simple image acquisition program. The compromise here is that the camera puts out a fairly low resolution signal, but it’s easily displayed in real time on the computer, so the students could watch an enlarged live video stream. I could also capture stills, video, or timelapse with the software.
A better alternative for resolution would be to scrap the video camera and converter altogether, and go directly to a DV camera or your favorite digital camera. The old Nikon Coolpix cameras were great: they have a threaded lens, and you could buy a simple adapter that would screw on, then you’d plug it into the scope phototube. Other cameras require a somewhat fancier adapter, and I’ve even seen adapters for the iPhone. I’ve got the Coolpix system in my lab, but have discovered the unfortunate aspect of letting students fiddle with them is that they get broken.
That’s the system, it’s fairly idiot-proof and it’s quick and easy to put together. The only thing I’ll change next year is that I’ll be sure to bring the fiber optic illuminator — it was just that the Wild is so damned solid and heavy as it is, that I just couldn’t grab the similarly heavy illuminator and bring it to the car in one trip. I was lazy. Next time, two trips.