The prodigal spider returns, and my cabinet of optical curiosities

I reported yesterday that the tiniest of my juvenile spiders had vanished, and I feared that she had escaped. I was wrong! She was still there, tucked away under a crossbar of the frame, being shy and quiet. Either that, or she had just taken off for a day to fight crime. She was famished and immediately chowed down on a fly this morning, so that is a possibility.

I also mentioned that in my ongoing lab clean-up efforts, I had unearthed another assortment of microscopical oddments that I tucked away in my cabinet dedicated to antique optics, and threatened to show you some of it. I now make good on that threat.

My predecessors at this university in cell biology, Drs. Abbott and Gooch, collected a few gadgets and were clearly imaging people. Some of it was just lying around in boxes, and when I find it, I fish it out and toss it onto a shelf. It’s really just junk at this point, and I have no use for any of it, but once upon a time these things cost a lot of money and I have a fondness for old technology, so as long as I’ve got the space, I’ll hang onto it.

Here’s the whole cabinet. It’s just a hodge-podge, not organized at all.

Look at this — a real treasure. That’s a Konica (now Konica-Minolta) Hexanon camera lens! Those, once upon a time, were high-end optics — now though, they don’t fit any camera I’ve got, and you can’t even get adapters to make them work with DSLRs, since the focal length is too short. I’ve thought a few times about collecting old lenses to play with photographically, when I get rich, but this one…nah, sadly, not something I could use, unless I were to also collect old camera bodies. Nope.

There are also a few cheap video lenses in view, and I’ve got a few CCTV cameras that seem to work, if ever I wanted to image stuff with RS-170 again. Ooh, 525 lines of fuzzy resolution. Also lenses from Cosmicar (a division of Pentax) and Computar (which is still around, making lenses), and several C-mount adapters for various microscopes.

I have a couple of Zeiss lamp housings and this tube for a fluorescence microscope. Someone was doing some nifty stuff in the 1970s, I suspect. There are also a couple of massive illuminator bases with interesting clamps — part of an optical bench setup?

These were some other curiosities very neatly packaged in solid boxes with faded velvet padding: something called an optibeam, a name I associate with antennas, but this has a couple of lenses, so I have no idea what it’s for. There’s also a massive syringe of metal and glass, very impressive, I might have to use it to terrify the grandchildren.

Not shown: I also have some mystery boxes of my own, with DECtape reels and Zip drives, which were all the rage in the 1990s. They seem quaint now — 100mb on a clunky plastic drive when I’m carrying around a terabyte in my pocket, on little thumbnail sized chips? Nah, they’re about as obsolete as all the junk on my shelf.

If you see something in those photos that get you excited, though, I can probably make arrangements with the university bureaucracy to ship them out. Otherwise, I predict that my successor someday will just sweep them all into a box and send them off to a landfill.


  1. larrylyons says

    Ever thought of using EBay or something similar to sell the stuff? Also some places like B&H Photo do buy used and old equipment.

    Just a thought.

  2. Fran Guidry says

    Just in case you find an opportunity to invest in a new camera body, the move to mirrorless system cameras gives you an opportunity to adapt C mount glass to a modern body. I’m a fan of Panasonic Lumix but there are systems from all the major manufacturers these days.


  3. billseymour says

    I, too, love older technology.

    I stopped by a computer repair shop earlier today and noticed a wonderful Tektronics oscilloscope on the shelf.  I haven’t done any wires-and-pliers work in ages, though, so I had no reason to own it. 8-(

  4. birgerjohansson says

    When clearing out a lot of junk from a hospital administration place, I made sure some of the more interesting items got adopted by new and loving homes.
    Syringes: I was surprised to learn that veterinarians in places that still have working elephants use syringes that are not significantly larger than ordinary syringes.

  5. kestrel says

    So cool. I will threaten to warn you that I might possibly send you a photo of my father’s microscope, which is indeed a fossil, or I might not. (It is slightly possible that you were at UofU at the same time he was. I know David Suzuki was there for a while as well. My father used to regale me with tales of what David Suzuki was up to, this time.)

  6. says

    billseymour @ 3
    “noticed a wonderful Tektronics oscilloscope on the shelf.”

    Please, no. Nightmares I tells ya. I get a laugh when I see an old Tektronix used as a movie prop but I have no nostalgia for them whatsoever. I remember the monster 500 series units we used in lab. Beasts. I much prefer the new multichannel DPOs. I guess there is something to be said for the simplicity of old tech, like a model T.

  7. barrysoames says

    Second using ebay to sell the stuff. The zeiss epi-condenser alone is probably worth maybe $100 or more

  8. brucej says

    Fran @2

    Yeah I have a (now sadly out of production) Pentax Q series camera (stop giggling! this came out long before the loons stole that letter :-) with an adapter for C mounts and my old screw mounts that can take my old film camera and 8mm movie camera lenses.

  9. says

    Where I worked for nearly 30 years we used to have this dreaded exercise known as the annual audit where we had to account for every item of equipment in the labs. Of course many items were passed around between workers and different labs and it was a real hunt to fond some of it. Great fun was had one year when we were expected to find some chemicals which had been used up. Some scientifically illiterate clerk had put them on the list because the purchase price was above the threshold for listing assets. Explaining 5that should have been easy but bureaucracy never works that way. There was also a requirement to list the obsolete equipment for disposal. Most of it was already obsolete but with no money for replacements it never made the list. For stuff that did ,disposal rarely happened and it usually ended up gathering dust in a cupboard. When the bean counters from treasury ordered us to shut down our musem which had existed for over 120 years I discovered that almost every instrument ever used was still there. Beautifully crafted brass instruments going back to the Victorian era, some of the earliest Geiger counters, early spectrographs and old analytical balances This included a beam balance from the 1920s with the original purchase order still in its weight drawers. Even those surprisingly had all their weights in them. I even found an old dust measuring instrument with the business card of the person who used it. Rather than dispose of them at auction we salvaged some of the early display cases used in the museum, cleaned them up and now have some nice historical displays in the foyers of our laboratory and offices.

  10. stroppy says

    I went through quite a rigamarole to adapt an enlarger lens to my digital Nikon, what with adapting to adapters and whatnot. Seems to work well enough. Haven’t given it a proper inspection though.

    Reminds me I was going to add a reversing ring to the stack…

  11. whheydt says

    Re: brucej @ #9…
    The old 8mm cine camera I have takes D-mount lenses (and I have all three the finders are set for: 12.5mm, 25mm, 37.5mm). It’s the 16mm Kodak Cine Special I that can take C-mount, and I’ve got a couple of nice ones. A 4″ (102mm) f2.5 and 63mm macro focusing f2.5.

    Because old cine film was slow (the original Kodachrome had a speed of…8) prime lenses for 16mm cine tended to be fast. There were at least a couple of versions of normal (25mm) f0.8 lenses made.

    For still work, my fun lens is an f8 600mm catadioptric.

  12. whheydt says

    Occurs to me to note, since PZ has used some of the gear… The latest (came out last year) Raspberry Pi camera comes with a CS-mount and a C-mount adapter (which is just a 5mm spacer, the thread size and pitch are the same). You can get just about anything to C-mount adapters (I picked up an OM to C one), so those old lenses could be coupled to a Raspberry Pi for extreme telephoto and/or closeup work for itty bitty spiders.