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Lost in dimensions? (III)

In the two previous issues we have been showing the potential and limits of a classical "macro" photographic setup (here) and a "bellows" setup (there), both of which were able to dip a little bit into the tardigrade world.

The next step towards the microscopic world seems to be more challenging for many of our readers. Nowadays almost everybody is used to get information via LCD screens on mobile phones and LCD screens. But many people encounter difficulties when looking through eye-pieces into the microscopic world. Nevertheless, once you will be able to delve into the optics the rest of the world might possibly feel angle-of-view-limited or pixel-limited, simply inferior in width and detail. In particular a close comparison of a so-called "LCD microscope" with a classical microscope will demonstrate the enormous losses in scope and detail caused by the limitations of LCD screens. Pixel resolutions might have improved drastically on mobile phones but very rarely on LCD microscopes. Furthermore looking into a good classical wide angle optics microscope feels like flying over a landscape, not like looking on a flat, inevitably small screen.

But it might definitely take some time and money in order to find the right microscope. Nevertheless microscopy can be regarded as a simple exercise e.g. when compared to the art of piano playing.

Today microscopy buyers are in paradise. Why? Medical doctors as a rule work without a microscope today, most clinical tests are performed by automated physico-chemical machinery, no more by means of the microscope. Schools show a tendency to abolish microscopy and many scientific laboratories dump their classical light microscopes. As a consequence the used instrument market is overwhelmed by professional instruments which are being offered in price ranges far below 20% or even 10% of the original list price.

Ebay offers should be taken with the usual caution, but in practice the risks are low when looking closer at the descriptions of the respective items and the seller's profile. A little bit of DIY repair intelligence will come in handy but this applies also when new microscopes must be modified or upgraded for some reason. And there is lot of practical advice all over the internet.

In general most microscopes offered, in particular those of the big brands and most of the present Chinese imports are of a very good quality and chances are high that they will serve much longer than your current mobile phone!

[ Hensoldt microscope 1 ]

A Hensoldt "Diacum"-microscope, age 50, lacquered in black. It is a pity that this kind of finish became obsolete in the 1960s. Just enjoy the design, with its thoroughly harmless: "Fire free!" appeal. Sorry, no more funny jokes, this microscope is a real beauty.

[ Hensoldt microscope 2 ]

Detail of the same instrument. The design of those microscopes of the 1950s and 1960s was dominated by circular and spherical elements, taken to its peak in the example above. Note the high aperture N.A. 0.82 objective which will not be included when ordering a basic modern import microscope and the nice logo engraving.

[ Hensoldt microscope 3 ]

Further detail: Those metallic focus wheels are quite elgant, too. When looking at them your personality will automatically transform into some kind of scientist and you will possibly end up in buying one of those appropriate laboratory white coats ;-)

Of course an oldie like this might have some technical defects and functional deficits. For example one might argue that the round table above does look nice but that it doesn't turn at all. Design follows function? No, in this case the function is unable to follow the beautiful design.

And when looking closer at the inner mechanics you might face a kind of simplicity typical for the European products made between about 1947 and 1960. The focusing mechanism is supported simply by isolated rollerballs and guided by stiff wires. Strange that it is still working after decades. Well, this is minimalistic quality.

So, if you would prefer to limit the classical oldie risks you might turn to later products like the ultra solid Hertel & Reuss "CN-hF" (below) produced in the 1970s. It will stand like a rock on your table and when focusing there is no unwanted movement whatsoever. Just the visual focus level is changing, nothing else is shivering, vibrating, shifting ...
The respective roller bearing cages and the overall mechanism are of an impressive precision bordering to shere brutality. This instrument can be used today without any noticeable restrictions as the original eye-pieces can be replaced by ubiquituous modern "wide-field" eye-pieces. Most of those eye-pieces have no compatibility issues with this instrument as the Hertel & Reuss objectives are well-corrected. So optically neutral eye-pieces will not have to specifically correct some residual objective fault but instead can simply transport the crisp primary image information to your eyes.

[ Hertel&Reuss Mikroskop CN-hF-BINfo-VK-ZT, um 1970 ]

Hertel & Reuss microscope, serial no. 93380, built around 1970. Binocular, with photo tube (okay: let's accept the term "trinocular" as well :-). Low voltage illumination by means of a massive transformer delivering 35 W illumination power, a value which might appear competitive even today, in our miraculous LED era. According to the contemporary  Hertel & Reuss nomenclature this instrument can be labelled as a "CN-hF-BINfo-VK-ZT" (to be deciphered as: series C-new/high stand/binocular with photo tube/rectangular table/condenser height adjustable by rack and pinion). The  list price of a roughly comparable CN-hF-instrument in the year 1974 added up to DM 1658.-- (net price, without taxes) which can be roughly translated to a present price of US $2,000. The instrument shown here was acquired via Ebay in 2015 for a ridiculous price below 100 US $. The seller had no intention to perform rudimentary cleaning and didn't intend to place this jewel into appropriate light.

[ Hertel&Reuss microscope, ca. 1970, detail ]

Detail of the same instrument. The design has the attitude of modern architecture or sculpture: Simple geometric bodies intermingling with each other, converging into a composition of impressive visual force. And possibly, when looking closer, this kind of grey lacquer isn't quite as ugly as thought by some stiff-nosed microscope collectors?

[ Hertel&Reuss microscope, ca. 1970, detail ]

Nowadays we do have many logos. But very few of them are engraved like the one shown, most of the rest made by in depth laser burning or even worse just some by means of perishable paintwork. Just have a look at those many prime class $$$ microscope objectives on Ebay with flaking and vanishing inscriptions. Rigid cost cutting policies - funny and sad at the same time.

[ Hertel&Reuss microscope, ca. 1970, detail ]

Those milled focus wheels cast of a special aluminium alloy are working flawlessly since 50 years - no fatigue.

[ Hertel&Reuss microscope, ca. 1970, detail ]

But we shouldn't end up staring at this instrument all day, instead we should use it - now!

So, what is the message behind all this? The choice of microscope brand is of secondary importance. Though, of course, there are myriads of amateur fanatics behind the big brands pretending that their system is the only one ... forget it.

The following image depicts a tardigrade scenario which you will get with almost any microcope (with the only exception of the toy cheapies) when using a 10fold objective and some provisional raking LED light coming from aside. An IKEA "Jansjö" LED lamp will do. Its current price is in the range of 10 US $. One half of a table tennis ball or a white yoghurt beaker might help to soften harsh contrasts (just give it a try) and finally a stacking software will finish your work.

[ Bärtierchen-"Tönnchen, Aufnahme mit dem Mikroskop ]

Tardigrade "tun" as seen under the classical microscope, by means of a 10x objective. The bigger tardigrade is about 0.10 mm in length.

Even though the stacking image might not look like the ultimate, flawless result to be expected it can well serve to provide an idea about the huge detail enhancement on the way from from macro to micro. Furthermore one shouldn't forget that the 10x microscope used for this task is the classical primary magnification step into the microscopical world, often used for screening only and that it will to be followed by still stronger objectives.

© Text, images and video clips by  Martin Mach  (webmaster@baertierchen.de).
Water Bear web base is a licensed and revised version of the German language monthly magazine  Bärtierchen-Journal . Style and grammar amendments by native speakers are warmly welcomed.

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