[Taxacom] More on camera/microscope

Stanley A. Schultz tarantzilla at yahoo.com
Thu Jun 3 18:01:21 CDT 2021

Taxacomers -

I originally tried to post the following message a few weeks ago, but
for one or more reasons it couldn't penetrate the growing plethora of
anti-malware, anti-spamware, robotics, and dunces that the various
e-mail providers are so-graciously providing us.

After the dust settled from my return to Canada for the Summer (another
story of gross incompetence), I contacted Taxacom's "taxacom-owner," Jim
Beach. And yes, he did a great job unruffling my feathers *AND* getting
the system to work again.

Thanks, Jim! Somebody needs to put another gold star after your name!

And now, for my literary work...

John and All -

On 2021-05-23 08:05, John Grehan via Taxacom wrote:

> ... Since my last posting on this I had some helpful feedback which 
> led me to an option without a traditional microscope at all. Instead
>  it's a microscope/camera all in one. See:
> https://www.amscope.com/cameras/digital-microscopes/q-scope-80200-p-8mp-200x-handheld-usb-microscope-with-polarizer.html

The commercially available USB microscopes are good for relatively light
duty projects. For giving arachnid presentations at schools, nature
centers, and hobbyist pet expos I use two such 'scopes made by Plugable.

They have served me well even if their software leaves something to be

I doubt that one of these would be adequate for professional publication
purposes, but for only about US$ 40 or $50, you can hardly go wrong. My
advice is to get one to play with. If it works okay for your project
you're $149 ahead of the game. If not, it'll still work well when you
need to give such casual presentations. Or make a cool gift for your
kids or grand-kids.

Be aware that the advertised qualities of USB microscopes are nearly
always grossly exaggerated. And magnification is the one characteristic
that is most commonly abused. Ignore all such claims and concentrate
solely on pixels.

You should also be aware that there are at least *TWO* resolutions
associated with these microscopes. One is defined as the native
resolution of the chip (e.g., 240p or 360p, or sometimes given in MP).
The other is defined as the resolution of the image as it is finally
stored on your computer's disk (e.g., 5 MP, 1080p, or 120 dpi), or sent
to your publisher. A common trick is to use a less expensive chip in the
microscope to take photos at the lower resolution, then pass the job
directly to their software that you loaded onto your computer at the
start. There, the computer program massages the image to produce the
often ridiculously overstated resolution in the advertising.

But the low end software may lose definition or introduce other errors
as this is done. It's a better plan to spend a few dollars more for a
higher native resolution chip than to blindly trust some manufacturer's
marketing department's claims.

Sometimes the manufacturer tells you this is done, other times it may
simply be inferred. Often, nothing is said at all. Once I figured this
out I went to each manufacturer's website to try to consult their
specification sheets. Obviously, all other things being equal, you
should probably go with the 'scope with the highest native resolution,
and ignore all claims of magnification. When you and/or your publisher
are editing your images for publication, all that is going to change anyway.

The supports/stands supplied with almost all such 'scopes are pathetic
at best. For this purpose, a standard laboratory ring stand with a
double ended flask clamp is your friend. It's hard to beat cast iron and
hardened steel. If you have stability problems or the base keeps getting
in your way, turn the flask clamp so it hangs over empty space opposite
the stand's cast iron base. Then put a brick or other heavy weight on
the stand's base for added mass and as a counterbalance.

One lab I visited several years ago had dedicated a small lab bench
in one corner solely to micro/macro photography. They bored a hole in
the bench top and permanently fastened a vertical, steel rod in the
hole. We joked that if someone ever A-bombed the campus, we could still
use the arrangement for photography the next morning. And they had
virtually no worries about vibration!

And now we run into a major problem. The software packaged with these
'scopes is little better than the stands/holders that come with them.

Fundamentally, these 'scopes are all based on relatively few, different
IC chips or chip sets. The variations that you see advertised are these
same few chips mounted in different casings. The trick is to figure out
which chip of those few is in your particular 'scope. The best that I
can do here is suggest that you try to view the manufacturer's
specifications on their website. Some third party software is capable of
recognizing your chip's identity as well. I have no idea who you'd ask
about it though. Someone in an IT or electronics engineering department
at a university, perhaps?

Once you know which chip is in your 'scope you need to search for truly
useful software that'll run it. I can't help you much with that either.
The actual microscope based Internet forums have apparently fallen by
the wayside, so they're of little help. I'm given to understand,
however, that they've been replaced by something similar on FaceBook and
other social media. (I'm completely ignorant on this topic, having
refused to be bothered with social media in its entirety.) Best of luck
to you.

There is a problem alluded to by Buz Wilson (which see) about the
operating system you wish to use with your 'scope. Once you determine
which chip your 'scope is based on, there's also a good probability that
you can find third party software that'll run your 'scope on operating
systems other than Windows.

If you're using Linux (for instance) you should already know how to find
these Linux utilities. If you're a Linux newbie, a Linux forum should be
your newfound, best friend. (Strangely, the Linux Internet forums seem
to have been able to withstand the social media /blitzkrieg/.)

And, again as Buz alluded, the drivers and software supplied by the
manufacturer are usually of poor quality, limited utility, and may not
even be installable on your system. However, some graphics programs have
built-in software of better quality that will interface with a webcam or
the camera on your laptop. And in many instances it will also work on
your USB camera. In the setup, options, or preferences menus, look for
something akin to "image source" for a list of chips or cameras
supported by the software, or that the software finds on your computer.
Check each option, one at a time, to see if any work for you. Failing
that, you can search for webcam apps on the 'Net.

And then there's always the "hunt and peck" solution. You can start
searching the 'Net for open source or shareware, and download each in
turn. Install it, and take it for a test drive. If it doesn't work,
uninstall it and try the next candidate.

WARNING: The "hunt and peck" solution exposes you to a truly astounding
menagerie of malware for your computer. If you have a spare or back-up
computer (I have two laptops), make backups of everything on the spare
computer (this never hurts!), then test the new software on it first.
When you find one that works, and if there are no problems after a week
or more, you can install it on your main, workhorse computer.

Do I really have to recant the mantra about periodic, computer-wide
backups, and running lotsa anti-malware?

Lastly, this is sort of a report of my experiences, and some wisdom that
I've learned over the last many years. It works for me. "Your mileage
will vary." If it doesn't sound right, or doesn't seem reasonable in
your case, kindly ignore me and move to the next entry in this thread.

Cheers and best of luck,

Stan Schultz
Calgary, Alberta, CANADA
Phone: (403) 708-6436 - April through October
Phone: (517) 575-8685 - October through April.
If I don't answer one phone, try the other.
If I answer neither, call back later.
Sorry: *No texting, please.*
Web: http://people.ucalgary.ca/~schultz/

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