Buying a microscope - questions

Discussion about cameras, microscopes, stains, and gadgets, along with useful tips for preparation of fungi samples
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Ganoderma resinaceum
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Buying a microscope - questions

Post by Ganoderma resinaceum » Mon Dec 19, 2016 6:42 pm

The time has come for me to buy a microscope - there's no getting away from that reality. The amount of fungi I find means I need to rely on myself to identify them, and not others (unless I am really stuck). Plus, it's an amazing way to learn more about them.

I know that there is a sticky listing suppliers but I have a few queries as this really is new to me:

1. I want to be able to connect my microscope to a computer - is this done via USB, and does this come built-in to microscopes or is it an add-on to a purchase?

2. What sort of price range should I be looking at for buying a microscope that allows look me to look at the spores and provide the measurements that are shown aongside many images of spores under the microscope (and to produce images like other members here produce frequently - up to x1000 magnification I seem to recall)? I have prepared myself for at least £1000 to be spent on a microscope and accessories, though realise it could be far more. If I am honest I would rather buy a higher end one as I do learn very quickly and don't want to find a more basic one quickly becomes redundant.

3. Are dyes and chemicals a mandatory thing with all fungal slides, or do they simply accentuate / define samples?

4. Are any particular blades needed to cut very fine samples for slides?

5. Can slides be prepared fresh or do they need to always be pre-treated?

6. Is it best to buy from within the UK due to shipping costs and potential damage?

7. Is insuring a microscope a good idea?

Huge thanks in advance for any help!

Chris


Two ones I am looking at are these, though they are not as expensive as I had anticipated:

http://www.apexmicroscopessecure.co.uk/ ... rcher.html

http://www.apexmicroscopessecure.co.uk/ ... duate.html

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Re: Buying a microscope - questions

Post by Leif » Mon Dec 19, 2016 10:37 pm

Hello Chris

Afew answers to your questions, and to some questions you did not ask.

My view is that a used scope from Zeiss, Leitz, Olympus or Nkon is best, and without infinity optics, which means an old one. Infinity optics are very expensive, even used. Objectives and eyepieces for non infinity scopes are much much cheaper. Yes you can buy a modern Chinese scope, but old ones from the big four are better. But, you must buy from a reputable seller, or one on ebay with good feedback who accepts returns. I saw a lovely Olympus CH2 scope in almost new condition (that was the claim) recently sell for £400 on Ebay.

Why do you want to connect a scope to a PC? I have a trinocular scope with my Nikon DSLR on the photo port and transfer images via the SD card in the camera. You have three choices.

Place a camera over the eyepiece, I've never done this.

Place a normal interchangeable lens camera on the photo port. The problem here is vibrations specially with the 100x objective. You can solve this using a cable release with high ISO or an electronic shutter. The latter solution is much much better. Not all cameras have an electronic shutter.

Place a dedicated digital microscope camera on an eyepice tube or on the photo port, and connect it to the PC so you can see images directly on the PC. I have one such camera, images are mediocre. However, it is a bit old, and others here can tell you how recent cameras perform. I believe the quality can be very good.

Stains are used in part to accentuate low contrast detail and in part as a diagnostic test. You MUST use Melzers. Some species have spores that go blue/black, or brown, whilst others do not change colour. That test is crucial for many species. For some genera such as Lactarius a stain is crucial for seeing spore ornamentation.

KOH is also worth having to apply to the flesh to test for a colour change. No microscope needed!

You should also get a stereo microscope, to make taking samples for microscopy easier. And you will need tools. Buy some large needles, flatten the ends with a hammer, and polish with a grindstone, and you'll have some nice cutting tools.

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Re: Buying a microscope - questions

Post by Lancashire Lad » Mon Dec 19, 2016 11:47 pm

Just to chip-in with a few points worth noting: -

The answers to all of your questions have been discussed in some form or other within the topics already posted in this forum.
There are far too many points to bring them all into one post, but they are all useful, so it would be well worth your while reading all the threads in this forum.

Re stains. - Yes, samples can be viewed fresh in just plain water.
In fact that's the best way to look at anything initially, before you try any chemicals or stains of any sort.
This link gives some useful info on chemicals & stains: -
http://www.britmycolsoc.org.uk/mycology ... /reagents/

Re blades. - just one thing is paramount - they have to be exceedingly sharp!
I started with scalpel blades, but quickly discovered that they weren't the best - both in terms of sharpness and expense!
I Now use one or other of these: -
Single sided razor blades (which I buy in bulk 100 blade packs).
and most often this set up: - viewtopic.php?f=5&t=337#p2498
It is incredible how quickly a blade will lose its edge, and I generally don't make any more than half a dozen cuts with any given blade before I bin it.
With the hobby knife and cut up razor blade set-up, I generally use a fresh "mini-blade" section for every individual sample.
At a cost of round about 1p per cut, it ensures that I'm always working with the best & sharpest edge possible, and works out at less than the cost of a cover slip. (which I also buy in bulk and treat as disposables).

I also use home made dissecting needles, as I couldn't find anything fine enough available to purchase: -
viewtopic.php?f=5&t=336#p1736

Regards,
Mike.
Common sense is not so common.

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Re: Buying a microscope - questions

Post by Ganoderma resinaceum » Tue Dec 20, 2016 8:06 pm

Hi Leif & Mike,

Thanks for the replies.

@Leif:

Neil Mahler echoed what you say about getting from one of the well-respected manufacturers, and thus that'll be the route I take. The connection to a PC perhaps displays my ignorance on the matter, as an SD card would be the way I'd transfer the images. When buying a microscope, I'll thus ensure there's scope to transfer images this way, though I'd expect any higher-end one would provide such a built-in capability. I wouldn't want to put a camera over an eye piece, for fear of poor photos and scratching either the lens of the camera or the eye piece.

Stains will be on my to-buy list (alongside identification books, which are expensive but worth it and will be piecemeal additions to my library of - largely, at present - arboricultural publications), and from reading your site it suggests Melzers is hard to obtain.

@Mike:

Thanks for the link on stains and water (and blades / needles)!

As for the blades, I recall the first time I got my current Swiss army knife I plunged the blade deep into my thumb trying to cut a slice of Pseudoinonotus dryadeus. I'll be careful with this, therefore - but your thread on it shows it's not at all costly to sustain as a means of taking samples. :lol:

I was prompted not to decide on anything this side of Christmas, so I'll begin researching now and purchase in the new year. Lots to read up on first, certainly. Last thing I want to do is buy a microscope then find out it is either sub-par or can't do what I want it to do (look at spores, transfer images to my pc).

:P

With regards to books, I was considering buying volumes 1 through 9 of British Fungus Flora, as these prove far less expensive than Fungi of Switzerland. Then, I'd initially supplement with Fungi of Northern Europe, and eventually buy the larger tomes. Once Poroid Fungi of Europe is repressed in winter/spring I'll also grab that. Does this seem like the best way forward, to more experienced individuals?

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Re: Buying a microscope - questions

Post by Leif » Tue Dec 20, 2016 10:16 pm

This chap sells some stuff including cameras. He might be able to provide example images from cameras he sells.

viewtopic.php?f=5&t=773
Ganoderma resinaceum wrote:Once Poroid Fungi of Europe is repressed in winter/spring I'll also grab that.
I think you mean 'reprinted', but I like your expression. :lol:

I would recommend Funga Nordica if you can get a copy, no pictures, but you can find those online at the more respected sites, such as Malcolm Storey's. You already have Alan and Paul's tomes, which is an excellent base for splats. Geoffrey Kibby has some modestly priced works. The Fungi of Northern Europe series are first rate. Not sure I'd recommend BFF as a first choice, yes they are good works, but FN covers much of the ground. That said, I do use them a lot. You might want to look at the Fungi Europeai volume on Polypores given your job. However, I had not heard of Poroid Fungi of Europe, and that may well be the better book to buy first. I think I will put it on my to buy list.

Regarding a camera over an eyepiece, it is known as eyepiece projection, and you can buy clamps to hold a compact camera in place. I agree it is not the best solution. I did recently see a dedicated microscope camera plugged into an eyepiece socket, feeding a live image to a PC, all very impressive. It does have the advantage that a trinocular scope costs more than a binocular, and on the used market trinoculars from the big four makers are harder to come by.

Oh, and not sure if this has been mentioned before, but ideal magnifications are typically 400x for hyphae, cystidia etc, and 1000x for measuring spores and observing ornamentation. I use 100x for locating stuff on the slide. As for objectives, they can be described as achromatic, apochromatic (pricey), plan (a flat field) and so on. I'm not too fussy as I do not produce exhibition quality photomicrographs.

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Re: Buying a microscope - questions

Post by mollisia » Wed Dec 21, 2016 1:37 am

Hello,

don't know if it is okay to give my twopence here too, as I sell microscope myself, but in my opinion the todays "china-microscopes" are often (not always!!) not so far away in quality from an Olympus model. The objectives of a today Zeiss microscopes are produced - guess where - in Mexico and China ....
For usual amateur mycologues purpose such a microscope is well enough and costs approx. 900 Euro = 760 Pound with a trinocular tubus and measuring eyepiece, I sold about 50 of them the last 4 years and all of the owners are happy with them.
On the other hand you get an Olympus CH2 or a Zeiss Laboval for a little more than half the money - but with binocular tubus.
It is a matter of personal choice, wether you really want a NEW microscope, or wether you can live with a used one and then have a good brand.

And one has to admit that the "cheap" microscopes ARE not as good as more expensive ones - of course! The questions is, how much more you get for how much more money? And there you only can decide yourself wether the plus in quality between a 800 Pound microscope and a 2000 Pound microsope is important enough for you to spend that money.

best regards,
Andreas

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Re: Buying a microscope - questions

Post by Pitufo » Wed Dec 21, 2016 10:24 am

I agree with Andreas - a modern microscope can be the best option for a mycologist. A good one will have decent quality achromatic objectives, LED illumination (and a guarantee). This is perfectly adequate for normal use and the best solution to take for a weekend away (of course, I have an interest in saying that I also sell them. However, after trying, testing and carrying a lot of microscopes over the past few years it is what I do myself). If you want to take good digital photos - use a green filter in the lightpath. Get a trinocular if you can as taking photos through an eyepiece is tedious.

Having said that, if you want the very highest imaging optics available (to produce images for publication or to print posters, etc) then an old big-name microscope with flourite (semi-apo) or apochromatic glass is probably your best bet. It is quite easy to pay £300 - 1,000 for a single high-quality objective. Achromatic objectives from the big four manufacturers are still achromatic.

If you do go down the old microscope route, then preferably get a complete microscope from someone who is a genuine microscope user who can vouch for it and let you try it. Speak to them on the the phone if possible. Inspect the objectives for scratches and other damage. Check the focus mechanism (very, very old microscopes are usually best avoided for this reason unless you are very keen). Everything can be replaced and rebuilt if you are the sort of person who doesn't mind doing some reading and getting involved.

Unfortunately, lots of old microscopes are sold stripped of some or all of their objectives as it may be possible to make more money selling these separately. Objectives are also easy to plunder if the microscope has been left in a workshop or liquidation sale. Be prepared to spend a bit of time hunting around and paying for the right objectives and/or condensers. You really need at least 4x, 10x, 40x and 100x objectives. A 60x objective is also very useful for a mycologist.

One disadvantage of old research microscopes is the weight. Collecting one once with your car is fine but you would not want to move one on a regular basis.

If anyone does want help casting a critical eye over a used microscope, especially Nikons, then I'd be happy to help and point out any areas that may be of concern or need further investigation. Send me a pm.

Kind regards,

John

P.S. Nikon now also produce at least some of their objectives in China.
Last edited by Pitufo on Wed Dec 21, 2016 11:48 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Buying a microscope - questions

Post by Leif » Wed Dec 21, 2016 11:14 am

Pitufo wrote: One disadvantage of old research microscopes is the weight. Collecting one once with your car is fine but you would not want to move one on a regular basis.
Not just old ones. My recent Meiji trinocular compound microscope is a bit of a beast, not easy to take to a microscopy workshop! You make a good point about size and weight.
Pitufo wrote: P.S. Nikon now also produce at least some of their objectives in China.
Not just Nikon. I know Leica, Zeiss and Nikon (and presumably Olympus) sell entire microscopes made in China, I think they tend to be the lower end ones. That said, the quality and design are controlled by Leica/Zeiss/Nikon(/Olympus ?). And of course Made In Germany/Japan really means that a certain percentage was made in Germany/Japan, with some components outsourced.

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Re: Buying a microscope - questions

Post by Chris Johnson » Wed Dec 21, 2016 1:33 pm

Pitufo wrote:I agree with Andreas - a modern microscope can be the best option for a mycologist. A good one will have decent quality achromatic objectives, LED illumination (and a guarantee). This is perfectly adequate for normal use and the best solution to take for a weekend away (of course, I have an interest in saying that I also sell them. However, after trying, testing and carrying a lot of microscopes over the past few years it is what I do myself). If you want to take good digital photos - use a green filter in the lightpath. Get a trinocular if you can as taking photos through an eyepiece is tedious.

Having said that, if you want the very highest imaging optics available (to produce images for publication or to print posters, etc) then an old big-name microscope with flourite (semi-apo) or apochromatic glass is probably your best bet. It is quite easy to pay £300 - 1,000 for a single high-quality objective. Achromatic objectives from the big four manufacturers are still achromatic.

If you do go down the old microscope route, then preferably get a complete microscope from someone who is a genuine microscope user who can vouch for it and let you try it. Speak to them on the the phone if possible. Inspect the objectives for scratches and other damage. Check the focus mechanism (very, very old microscopes are usually best avoided for this reason unless you are very keen). Everything can be replaced and rebuilt if you are the sort of person who doesn't mind doing some reading and getting involved.

Unfortunately, lots of old microscopes are sold stripped of some or all of their objectives as it may be possible to make more money selling these separately. Objectives are also easy to plunder if the microscope has been left in a workshop or liquidation sale. Be prepared to spend a bit of time hunting around and paying for the right objectives and/or condensers. You really need at least 4x, 10x, 40x and 100x objectives. A 60x objective is also very useful for a mycologist.

One disadvantage of old research microscopes is the weight. Collecting one once with your car is fine but you would not want to move one on a regular basis.

If anyone does want help casting a critical eye over a used microscope, especially Nikons, then I'd be happy to help and point out any areas that may be of concern or need further investigation. Send me a pm.

Kind regards,

John

P.S. Nikon now also produce at least some of their objectives in China.
Although John has declared a vested interest, I can vouch for his integrity. You will get good honest advice from him.

Regards, Chris
Last edited by adampembs on Wed Dec 21, 2016 9:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Buying a microscope - questions

Post by Ganoderma resinaceum » Thu Dec 22, 2016 5:02 pm

Brilliant feedback here - thank you, hugely!

Over the weekend I shall look into specific microscopes and look to purchase one in the new year. Undoubtedly, you shall all be kept up to date, in case I make a glaring error and it needs highlighting immediately. :lol:

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