Dr. Neil Snow
nsnow at BENTLEY.UNCO.EDU
Tue Feb 8 07:20:09 CST 2000
Summary of responses regarding use of Digital Cameras in biology:
8 Feb. 2000
Note: These responses were cut and pasted from the authors,
whose identities I have kept confidential
I like my Nikon 950 but I saw an advertisement for one that costs about
same amount and appears to have better macro capabilities. I am not sure
what the supply line is like now, but I bought mine for a little less
$800 - but there was a 5 month delay between ordering and receipt. The
price was over $900 at the time, if I recall correctly.
Nikon will be releasing the Coolpix 990 soon.
Take a look at this URL: http://www.dcresource.com/
I'm going to buy one also and two independent sources all rave about the
Nikon Coolpix 950.
The sturdiest digital camera is a wimp in the field compared to the
average film camera. That said, here are some things to look for:
1. Optical viewfinder (in addition to the lcd screen). That handy lcd
screen is nice indoors, but fades to indecipherability in bright sun.
One of the new Sony Mavicas has instead of an optical viewfinder a tiny
lcd that you look through an eyepiece to see, and this evidently works
2. Easily interchangeable storage. Most cameras have this now, but in
the old days the memory was built-in, and you had to download one set of
pix before you could take another.
3. Good batteries, meaning that are inexpensive enough that you can buy
a spare or two so that you don't have to find AC to run the recharger in
My experience is that no <$1500 digital camera produces images that are
as good as a scanned photo. But if they are resampled to a smaller size,
and otherwise tweaked, they can be quite nice. Check out
of the non-photomicrographs were taken with an older Sony Mavica (no
optical viewfinder) and resampled. Also the photos linked from
The Nikon Coolpix 950 ($900-950) was recently rated as the best
digital camera by MacWorld Magazine. You can go to their website and do
search for the comparisons. That camera can also be mounted on the
port of a stereoscope or compound scope.
For digital camera information, here's a place to start:
We have had some good luck with the Nikon Coolpix 950. It has good
resolution (1200 X 1600 pixels), focuses to about 8cm> with a 2:1
and 3:1 digital zoom, and seems to be rugged enough for fieldwork. The
camera can also mount to Nikon (and perhaps other brands) dissection
scopes. Truely versitile. Resolution is not really publication quality,
nothing is in digital photography short of the $26,000.00 models. We do
make proofs with ours and hope to use it for photo's with our fossil
database catalog on the web.
Two pretty safe choices are: Nikon Coolpix 950: about $800 through web
merchants; proven good quality and well reviewed by users.
Canon C-2500L: about $1200; a little higher resolution than the
camera and very good images; also well reviewed by users. I have used
one for about 2 months and have no complaints. It seems to work fine in
cold weather, but I haven't had a chance to test other field conditions.
You have to start with a camera that will provide adequate quality of
photos and that is variable for each person. Close focus is usually not
problem on digital cameras, but the lighting can be difficult if you try
focus too close. The C2500 will focus up to about 1 inch in wide angle,
getting light to the subject is obviously diffcult at that distance.
Attachment lenses are available for telephoto ranges or cameras with
accomodating minimum focus length. There is a lot of diversity and each
person's preferences will make it difficult to find a concensus "winner"
I recommend that you take a look at a couple of the web sites devoted to
reviews of digital cameras to get the feel of the capabilities:
I have been using an Agfa ePhoto 1680 camera to take photos under a
Some of the results can beseen at
tp://www.agric.nsw.gov.au/Hort/ascu/cicadell/ecokey23.htm. The photo of
I. nitidulus was taken with a standard pentax camera while the one of I.
clypealis both on this page and on the linked pages were taken with the
Agfa. I find the camera simple to use although there is no way of
actually attaching the camera to the microscope so the photos are just
taken down the lens of the phototube. This is hardly ideal but the
results are perfectly fine for my needs. I have also used it down the
ocular of a compound
microscope with satisfactory results.
The camera is designed for field use and has a number of features that
highly adaptable such as interchangeable memory cards, a variety of
flash options, zoom function and a range of resolution capabilities. At
the highest resolution (1680-1200) I can fit about 15 photos on the card
but I can take up to 80 photos on the lowest resolution (307x something)
although images at this resolution can't be used for anything other than
a memory jog I suppose.
The camera is not suitable for photographing small objects that are too
bit to fit under the lowest power of the microscope (ie it doesn't have
macro capabilities, nor the flexibility of changing lenses).
The major advantage is that the camera costs around $Aus1800 (roughly
which is significantly below the digital cameras designed for microscope
use. It is also very portable and comes with its own carry bag,
rechargeable batteries and battery recharger as well as direct power
transformer for use in the lab.
Someone in our group purchased a Nikon Coolpix 950 last year and it has
to be excellent value for money. It is small and easy to use. I have
it in the field. Even though I am usually a tripod, flash SLR user, I
found that I
could get amazing macro shots even hand held. We have purchased the
and can fit it to high quality stereoscopes and microscopes with no
all and you get more-or-less real-time images on the viewer. The swivel
make it very easy to use on microscopes and camera stands. We also
Nikon AC/DC power supply for indoor use.
The drawbacks include (as indicated by Fred) it is power hungry; that
has only parallel port data transfer which is slowish; and a shutter
needs a special holder.
I notice that Nikon now have a new model that has USB connection and
power management: Coolpix 990. I will be checking out the price and
considering a purchase!
If you want to see a really good commentary on the Nikon 950 (there
is now a 990, which you should check out also) and what you should
expect in a digital camera for field work and close-ups, check
I have one, but have not used it for close-ups yet. Recent reviews
I've seen still rate it as the best of the most current crop in the
$1,000 or less range, despite being a year old. However, there is now
a new Olympus SLR (that's the big drawback to the Nikon and other
point and shoots) for about $1,500 with 2 megapixel images, which
should be fine for most needs.
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