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360 degree Spin Mineral Photography

Last Updated: 18th May 2015

By Jolyon & Katya Ralph

One of the new features introduced on mindat.org this year has been the ability to upload 360 degree spin animation files to show a mineral specimen from all angles. If you haven't seen them yet then click on the example image below, wait for it to load, and then move it with your mouse, finger (on an iPad or other touch device) or keyboard (using the [ and ] keys).

Please note these images don't spin inside this article, you need to click on them to view their photo page to see them spin!

Fluorite from England. Click image to see it spin. Image will open in a new browser tab.

This is a sequence of 39 images taken on a rotating turntable uploaded in a single ZIP file to mindat.org which then creates the spin animation from them.

These spins were created with the Mineraldesk Orbitvu Studio system. This consists of a large drum containing computer-controlled LED lighting, a computer controlled turntable and a mounting bracket for a Digital SLR camera.

The Mineraldesk Orbitvu Studio system

Here is one of the units that was being demonstrated at the Tucson show this year:

Mineraldesk Orbitvu 360 machine
Mineraldesk Orbitvu 360 machine
Mineraldesk Orbitvu 360 machine
Mineraldesk Orbitvu 360 machine
Mineraldesk Orbitvu 360 machine
Mineraldesk Orbitvu 360 machine

Here is a close-up of a specimen on a rotating disc in the machine. There are various discs that can be fitted, clear, white, black and in glass or perspex. Backgrounds can be fitted to the inside of the drum, there is a black background fitted to the drum in the lower right side of the image.

Also note the spotlight lamp

Here's a black disc inserted and a macro lens aiming at a crystal group on the specimen. The machine makes an excellent stable platform and lighting unit for conventional (including macro) photography as well.

With the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L macro lens

Here are Robin Hansen and Mike Rumsey from the Natural History Museum in London evaluating the machine.

Robin and Mike with the machine

We used Canon digital SLRs with the machine as they work best with live view over USB to the computer for remote control. Most of these spins were taken using a Canon 1200D DSLR - the cheapest DSLR that Canon make, some of the earlier ones were taken using the much more expensive Canon 5D Mark III but we had excellent results even from the cheaper camera.

Canon EOS 1200D

We tested a variety of different lenses, the standard (kit lens) EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II produces perfectly acceptable results for larger specimens (5cm upwards). An alternative superior lens we tested is the EF 17-40 f/4L and this does produce slightly better results.

For smaller items you need a lens with greater reach. We very much like the EF 24-105mm f/4L which again is not a cheap lens, but produces excellent results. The EF 100mm f/2.8L macro is by far the best lens we tried for very small items.

In general photos were taken with very narrow apertures (f/12 to f/32), low ISO and long exposures. Results will never be as good using this technique as you would get with using a wider aperture and taking multiple photos to stack them, but stacking is not yet available as an option with this system.

The procedure for creating a spin is quite straight forward. You place the specimen on the center of the disc, you set the lighting levels on the six different LED panels using via the computer (or select one of the presets for different types of minerals) and the system then automatically creates all the images needed in about 3 minutes.

The system is designed to work in partnership with the Mineraldesk collection management software - a powerful mineral cataloguing tool developed by the company. Creating a spin animation in the system is as simple as dragging and dropping the folder of JPEG images into the application and then filling in the details about mineral name, locality, etc.

The Mineraldesk software supports 360 degree spins directly

Want some more examples? All of these are specimens from my personal collection! Most of these spins were created by my brother, Dorian.

But... after testing the Mineraldesk Orbitvu Studio system for a month I had to give it back. So I started thinking, perhaps I should build my own spin system?

I went shopping...

I bought this cake decorating turntable, and some black fabric

This was then covered in black fabric...

Precision craftsmanship there

And here it is in action. My Canon 5D Mark III with EF 100mm f/2.8L macro lens on a tripod, with a cheap LED ring light attached to the front of the lens to light the specimen. An electronic cable release is connected to the camera to help reduce vibrations. Exposure is close to 1 second per frame with my chosen settings.

Turntable in use

Can a £20 home-built turntable produce results as good as the professional system? I'll let you be the judge. This was the very first spin I created with it:

It's not perfect, but it's certainly not bad. The second spin I tried was awful, I didn't even keep the frames. Lighting needs careful control for good spin images, and vibration is the real killer. My tripod simply isn't as stable as the camera support bracket on the Mineraldesk Orbitvu Studio system. And it's a lot more time consuming to create the spins this way, as you have to manually advance the turntable and trigger the camera for each frame.

The Mineraldesk Orbitvu Studio system is designed for dealers, institutions and serious collectors who have a very large number of specimens to do - and the automation and easy control over lighting make it a far more attractive solution than any home-grown device. However, if you only plan to do the occasional spin image, why not try to build your own turntable?

Spin animations work best if they have at least 25 frames - we have been working on around 40 frames on average. Put all the frames for your animation into a zip file, and upload the zip file to mindat just as you would for a photo. Mindat.org handles the rest for you, alternatively you can use the Mineraldesk cataloguing software for creating and managing your home-made spins in your collection catalogue.

I look forward to seeing your spinning specimens!

Article has been viewed at least 16784 times.


Perhaps someone will spin a quartz crystal with a two phase inclusion and we will see a moving bubble?

Donald Lapham
18th May 2015 7:46pm
If I can get a suitable specimen I'll do it!

Jolyon & Katya Ralph
18th May 2015 8:13pm
I'm very curious and am thinking about how to make a similar 'hacked' version; somewhere in my garage is a sculpting turntable I probably could rig up. Given my current setup is crude enough that I've considered a serious upgrade, though, how much is the Orbitvu rig -- even approximately? I can't seem to find a price without e-mailing the company directly and I'm not interested in getting on yet another set of marketing lists.

Cool stuff -- thanks for implementing the spin functionality!

Don Windeler
23rd May 2015 12:37am
This particular rig costs around $10,000 so you have to have a good business need for it to justify the cost. There are *much* cheaper solutions in development but I don't have any firm details about these yet.

Jolyon & Katya Ralph
23rd May 2015 3:52pm
It is around $10,000 after shipping and training - which includes a home visit from me to show you how to use it, which is actually QUITE easy. You provide your own camera and lens. The software to manage the photography is another thing you don't get with making one at home, plus all the lighting, templates, etc...I mean, I taught so many people how to do proper photography for web sales of minerals, there were always so many things I wanted that would take the frustration out of photography. This photo studio can pay for itself with one sale of an expensive specimen to the right customer. This unit can make production work a piece of cake. Plus, having one of these will make you the most popular collector on the block, people will want to have their rocks spun. Trade what you will for that service! For gems, minerals, jewelry and carvings, this is quite a handy machine. Contact me, Justin Zzyzx - Your North American Representative. FortySevenPress@gmail.com

Justin Zzyzx
28th May 2015 8:39am
I don't understand why you cannot simply use a turntable and make a video. See:

I use a small battery-operated turntable that has a mirrored surface. There are two speed settings. Then I record a video with my normal digital camera.

It is true that I cannot drag my mouse to control the spin, but I can drag the slider of my video viewer (Itunes) for the same effect.

John Betts
12th Jun 2015 9:32pm
By taking photos to create a spin you can benefit from longer exposure times and higher frame resolutions than normal HD video recording would allow. This translates to greater depth of field and lower ISO (= lower noise).

You can certainly use a video to create spins, there is even a service that will allow you to upload a video file of a spin and convert it into an interactive spin as we have.

Jolyon & Katya Ralph
13th Jun 2015 5:09pm
Hi Jolyon, would you have a link to that video to spin service?

Ed Richard
2nd Aug 2015 6:35am
I achieved the following photograph http://www.mindat.org/photo-787460.html using Jolyon's method. I simply bought a turntable (motorised in my case) and set my DSLR (Canon EOS 550D with Magic Lantern Firmware) to timelapse mode at 1s second shooting intervals. The turntable rotates at 1rpm so that's 60 shots to do the mineral specimen.

I simply set up the camera on the tripod and adjust my lighting then I set the camera off (with 5 second time delay to avoid initial shakes). Zip the final photos and upload to MinDat, very easy.

The cost of the setup was about €80 for the turntable, my 3 lights (had them already) and then a small foldable photo studio.

Barry Flannery
25th Nov 2016 2:57pm

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