Microscopy

A whole           in a drop.

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I have a background in science and engineering but mainly on the maths, physics and electronics side. While I still enjoy tinkering with electronics, I had been looking for another hobby that was science orientated, with a good practical element and wasn’t going to break the bank. I recently took up microscopy and I am finding it absolutely fascinating, these web pages document my journey into this amazing hobby.

 

So why microscopy?

 

In truth my first port of call for a new hobby was actually astronomy, I think it is one of those subjects that sums up man’s desire to find out where we came from and where we sit in the grand scheme of things. However, after doing some research on the Internet and reading some books and magazines, my initial enthusiasm for astronomy was tempered somewhat by the practical and financial limitations. The following sections explain my reasoning for choosing microscopy over astronomy. This is not to say one hobby is better than another, it is just me being realistic about what I would get out of the hobby on my budget (approx 400 Euro).

 

Great expectations:

Lets be honest, if you’ve got to a stage where you are looking to invest some money in a new hobby, you are probably harbouring some ideas of what you will be able to do or see with your new kit. Your appetite will have probably been whetted by images and articles on the net and in glossy magazines. The  images I found from light microscopes seemed to be a very much in the vein of ‘what you see is what you get’. Very nice pictures by hobbyists and some professionals were often taken using nothing more than a compact camera held to the eyepiece. I found the images below on amazon.co.uk, submitted by someone who had bought the Apex Practioner microscope. The Practioner is a budget biological microscope costing around 120 Euros (Sept 2013).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                    Head Louse Trachea 400x                            House Fly Mouth Hairs 400x

       Images from Practioner microscope taken with a compact digital camera held to the eyepiece.

 

 For astro-images on the other hand, the list of equipment and post-processing was altogether much longer and more complex. Perhaps more worryingly, it appeared that many astro-images could only be seen by using expensive photographic equipment and lots of  post-processing. The same objects viewed directly though a budget amateur telescope would probably just appear as rather un-impressive, fuzzy blobs. One amateur astronomy site I found had a section on buying your first telescope. It more or less said, ‘prepare to be under-whelmed’ (see actual text below), which was a bit of an eye opener for a site promoting the hobby, but refreshingly honest.

 

Quote from   www.my-spot.com

“The views through your telescope simply will NOT match what you see in astrophotos in magazines or even on the box of your scope. Period! First, you will not see nebulae in color, planets will look tinier than you expect and will lack most of the color and contrast you see in books and magazines. Most people that look through a telescope for the first time are somewhat disappointed about what they see, or what they don't see. Don't get me wrong, you will never forget the first time you see Saturn or the Moon in a telescope and the "Wow!" that escapes your lips will amaze you also, but the "faint fuzzy" stuff often disappoints first time viewers.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are good physical reasons why it is easier to obtain images from microscopes than telescopes. Ultimately it comes down to the fact that with a microscope you can control the amount of light available to form the image. With a telescope the light available is fixed; if you want to capture more of  it you need more sensitive equipment and/or a bigger telescope. Needless to say, manufacturing bright light sources for microscopes is significantly less costly than producing high-sensitivity cameras and large optical components for telescopes.

 

Things to look at:

Whatever route you choose there is obviously the question of ‘what is there to look at?’. Whether astronomy or microscopy the answer is ‘an almost limitless number of things’. With a budget light microscope you can see things as small as bacteria and larger cell components (e.g. Nucleus, Chloroplasts and Chromoplasts), for viruses you need an electron microscope which is a bit beyond the reach of the hobbyist. Of course you can take a close-up view of anything on the planet that is bigger than bacteria, and that’s quite a lot of things! With a budget telescope it seems you would get a good view of the moon and be able to make out the larger planets and some galaxies. Realistically however, the vast majority of things you’ll see with a budget telescope will be stars, the same small points of light you can see with your naked eye, just more of them.

 

Finding the time:

The other issue was finding the time for another hobby. Although I do have a reasonable amount of time to pursue hobbies, it does tend to be at odd times of the day, I certainly can’t guarantee to have lots of  evenings free. Combined with the vagaries of the weather, light pollution and the time required to set up, I could see a telescope just looking pretty in the corner of the living room, like so many others I’ve seen..  A microscope by contrast, after the initial setup, just requires switching on and you are ready to go, whatever the time, whatever the weather.

 

Taking the plunge:

What finally made me decide to buy a microscope was finding the online magazine Microbehunter.com, a free to download magazine edited and written by enthusiastic microscopists for other enthusiasts. It really seemed to embrace the true sentiment of a hobby, I was amazed to see what could be achieved with fairly modest equipment and some inventiveness. The microscope I bought was an Apex Scholar trinocular, shown in the picture below. The reasoning behind choosing this particular microscope I will cover at some point in a ‘buying the microscope page’. For good general advice there is an excellent beginner’s guide on the Microbehunter.com website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apex Scholar trinocular microscope

 

Summary

After using my microscope for some 6 months I can honestly say that it is everything I hoped it would be and more. I think if you already have an absorbing interest in an area and want to take it further just go with it, your enthusiasm will make up for any limitations imposed by your time and budget. If  you are un-decided and have a limited budget I can thoroughly recommend microscopy as a hobby. If like me this has led you to wonder why it is not more popular as a hobby, I put together a little article titled “What happen to microscopy as a hobby?” to explore some possible reasons.

The document is in .pdf  format and includes some useful links and references if you decide to have go yourself. It

can be downloaded here : Microscope Hobby.pdf

 

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www.my-spot.com

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Introduction

Why I chose Microscopy

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