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Microscope objectives as macro lenses?

Posted by Henry Barwood  
Henry Barwood March 27, 2014 02:29PM
I have been using some old B&L microscope objectives as macro lenses on a bellows stand for stacking photography. They have focal lengths of from 23 to 48mm and do a really excellent job in the 20-60X magnification range. Recently, I've needed a bit more magnification and have tried some 4-10X microscope objectives. Most of them have given very disappointing results. The best objective I've found was a relatively cheap Indian 4X objective. High end Nikon and Olympus objectives had relatively poor performance on my set-up.

Biggest problem, aside from working distance, was a combination of flare and poor contrast. The flare I could control somewhat with soft (diffuse) lighting, but the lack of contrast gave very poor images that lack crispness. Has anyone played with other inexpensive objectives that give decent performance in the high magnification range (40-100X). I realize this is really pushing the limits of resolution, but I would like to image some real "flyspecks". Any comments welcome.

Henry Barwood
Troy University
Troy, Alabama USA
Volker Betz March 27, 2014 04:49PM
Hi Henry,

I use with good results the following lenses:

aus Jena 10x A=0.25 160/-
Working distance is about 8 mm
(I have two of them and both are ok)

Ernst Leitz Wetzlar 2 A=0.18 6:1
working distance is about 20 mm

I have tested both with a object micrometer with 160 mm extention.

As all this stuff ist often quite old, some may still good, some not.

But I think thre is a lot of useless around.


Henri Koskinen March 27, 2014 06:30PM
Hi Henry,

Check this discussion

Bellows + microscope objective is one approach, another one is tube lens (just any kit lense) + microscope objective.

My solution is this one

Here you mount a microscope objective straight to your tube lens using an adapter ring.

I am using this microscope objective

This is a very good lene for microphotography. Lots of info can be found here

It costs about 300 dollars as new, maybe half of that as used in Ebay.

10x means that you need also some sort of rail for small enough focusing steps.

10x means also that your field of depth is about 5 microns, so you need software for focus stacking. Helicon remote is one possibility costing 50 dollars per year. Zerene Stacker is another one and these have a 30 days free trials.

You would also need a 25 to 52mm adapter ring (in the picture) + another from 52mm to your objective (for me this means a 67 to 52 mm stepdown adapter).

This one gives the optimal 10x when used together with 200mm objective. In a full-frame sensor that will cover an area of 3.6 * 2.4 mm.

A good focusing rail with usb connection to computer costs about 500 dollars, but there are lots of cheaper ones around. Cognisys rail automates the stacking process through usb connection to your Computer. With the cheaper ones you need to do manual focusing and stacking

Cognisys is about the best and can manage 1 micron focusing steps, That amounts in terms of DOF to about 60x objectives. I am not sure what you mean with magnification range, I am talking here about projections to sensor, i.e. 10x means that 1mm in reality projects to 10mm in the sensor plane. So 10x objective, 36mm sensor and 36cm picture would amount to 100x magnification.

There are lots of microscope objectives around but only a few of them are suitable to be mounted on cameras.

I decided to move from 1:1 macro to 10:1 micro just this winter and have been reading about the different approaches. Now I have all the needed equipment and have been testing the setup. There is a lot to learn and it really takes an effort to move from macro to micro.

Here is a testphoto for the setup. It is a flower of hazel that is about 3mm in width.

Hopefully my answer is of some help to you.


Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 02/09/2015 04:02PM by Henri Koskinen.
Mineralogical Research Company March 27, 2014 09:29PM

I took the 4X and 10X objectives out of a $40 eBay Swift microscope. Both perform admirably, considering the cost. I have tested many other objectives and have only found a few to be acceptable. You say that you want to image some real "flyspecks". What do you consider to be "flyspecks"? Here is an image taken with the Swift 10X/0.25 objective and cropped to <0.5 mm in width. The crystal of interest is ~75um across. The larger of the two Artinite needles is ~25um across. More images in the stack would have perhaps produced a better image, but I guess I was lazy that day.... While not particularly esthetic, the image shows that sub 100um crystals can be photographed reasonably well.

Here are two more with the same $20 lens.

Henri Koskinen March 28, 2014 03:26AM

here is a very clear and detailed answer to the question "How do I hook a microscope objective to my camera so I can shoot at 5X and above?".

It is written by Rik Rjlittlefield, i.e. the guy who wrote the code for Zerene Stacker. Rik is also the Site Admin for photomicrography,net.

Van King March 28, 2014 01:32PM
Inexpensive lenses often work better than expensive lenses. I'm involved in a photographic mineral book project where many of the specimens are micromount-sized crystals. I have microscope lenses and photographic enlarger lenses and I prefer the photographic enlarger lenses over the two Luminar microscope lenses I have as well as a Mitutoyo. I did get a Leitz 10X Jena lens that is nearly as good as the Luminar 25mm and it cost $9.99 plus shipping instead of $400+ and shipping. I still use the Luminar 16mm for smaller things. I've not been happy with the working distance for ANY microscope lenses above 10X. Frequently the working distance is so small that the lens can break you specimen as it is too close and light can be so diffracted, because of the "slit" between glass of the lens and your specimen that the field of view turns red. The best magnification I've gotten with a Luminar 16mm is 100 microns full frame and without flare. At 350 dpi resolution (suitable for art book printing), a trimmed image can still print at 7x11 inches (17x 28 cm). The Luminars do actually exhibit more flare than I like and I have to be careful. There are good lenses that Nikon makes that are suitable for microphotography, but most of them are infinity focus which entails extra expense. You can get reasonable results with 160mm focus lenses and only have to buy a few inexpensive components. Nonetheless, the 50mm, 35mm, and the 28mm Schneider Kreuznach Componon-S lenses and the similar focal length Rodagon apo-chromatic enlarger lenses give you incredible bang for the buck. My work horse for micromounts is the Conponon-S 50mm. This is a recent photo: The working distance to fill the camera sensor frame is generally several centimeters or more, depending on the extension of tubes or bellows. The Componon lenses (don't get the inferior Componar or similar sounding names) generally can be had inexpensively. Two days ago, I got a spare 50mm Componon-S for $35 plus inexpensive shipping. I have a series of youtube videos on adapting the enlarger lenses to your DSLR. Installment 5 will be filmed in the beginning April. There will be a subsequent video on adapting and using finite focus microscope lenses. The videos are step by step, and while you might think that bigger steps would be fine for you and "let's get on with it", I still remember my astonishment as an elementary school student when a high school kid told me that there was such a mineral name as "quartz" - no "-ite" ending. The introduction video might give you all you need:

Best Wishes, Van King
Mineralogical Research Company March 28, 2014 05:19PM

Not much to say except, LOVE that Diamond photo!

Johan Ingles - Le Nobel March 28, 2014 09:02PM
Van King Wrote:
> The Componon lenses (don't get the inferior
> Componar or similar sounding names) generally can
> be had inexpensively.

Hi! Just to back up Van, componons are really excellent lenses! I have a 28, 35 and 80, they're great value for money. I cover these at my extreme macro site as well and in fact the photo on the front page is made with that as well. Superb value for money.
Joel Dyer October 06, 2014 11:27AM
Hi All,

A while ago I realized my old Zeiss Jena microscope + photo tube solution wasn't producing good enough results for smaller FOV pictures.

I've been experimenting with Zeiss Jena and LOMO objectives connected to a Canon 100mm macro lens or bellows. However, both these objectives (6.3x and 10x) have far too short working distances.

Does anyone have any experience of using Zeiss Jena Planachromat HD infinity microscope objectives? I read in a now misplaced pdf document that the working distance should be quite reasonable & I'm now waiting for a 10x PA HD to arrive, with an M30x0.75 to 58mm adapter. Oh, and I'm using a APS-C camera, so don't need the GF version of the objective.
I've seen some very nice pictures taken with these Jena objectives, but very little discussion or reviews or specifications concerning them can be found, as people seem to prefer to talk mostly about and test far more expensive Nikon / Mitutoyo "elite" infinity models.

I've had a very hard time finding affordable, used LWD microscope objectives on Ebay or elsewhere: most prices for LWD / ELWD Nikon, Leitz, Mitutoyo etc are out of my reach (300€ to 1000€) considering my shoe string budget.

Now, there remains the problem up setting up an electronic incremental movement gadget. I already have a Nema17 stepper motor, a pulse generator/speed adjuster box, and an old flatbed scanner with rails, but apparently need a separate suitable stepper motor driver unit. What a messy chain reaction one has stepped into, trying to save money compared to a 500€ automatic stacking system.
Any tips here, too, are welcome: too bad one can't purchase a ready-made cheapo-package with rails for, say, 100-150€, as the components surely are cheap enough.


JD aka FinnChaga

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10/06/2014 12:46PM by Joel Dyer.
Amir C. Akhavan October 06, 2014 02:34PM
You might be better off when you start with a manual solution and rather spend the money on a good lens. Even the best stepper motor cannot compensate problems with the lens.
I don't have a stepper motor and I use the Mitutoyo Planapo 20x 0.42 and move the lens using an old microscope stage in 0.5 micrometer steps, which is sufficient (movement is horizontal, so there is no "creep").

You should be able to get a LWD Achromat (not PlanApo) Nikon 4x, 5x or 10x lens for less than $300, even for $100 to get something to start with. The main drawback of the Nikon CF Plan Achromats (in particular the 10x) are the rather strong axial/longitudinal chromatic aberrations.

Infinite optics: Mitutoyo Planapo 20x 0.42 + Raynox DCR-250 as "tube lense", Working distance 22mm
Field of view 1.5 x 1.0 mm (on full frame, slightly cropped)
(Tugarinovite and something unknown blue)

Finite optics: Nikon CF Achromat 4x 0.08 160mm, Working distance 25mm
Field of view 3.9 x 3.5 mm (on full frame, slightly cropped)

So these are both "manual stacks". The Mitutoyo 20x is expensive, the Nikon 4x is cheap.

I also have the more expensive Nikon CF N Plan Achromat with an aperture of 0.13, but I usually prefer the CF Achromat with the 0.08 aperture because it has much less axial chromatic aberrations and better contrast - unless I need corner to corner sharpness, which is a bit better in the 0.13 version.
Mineralogical Research Company October 06, 2014 03:18PM

Here is a link to an old article describing how I build a computer controlled stacking stage.
Joel Dyer October 06, 2014 03:33PM
Hi Amir,

Thanks for your comments. I'll see if I can get a *suitable and accurate* microscope stage from somewhere. The last time I looked, I would have had to spend a fair bit, even up to much more than I'm willing/able to spend on an objective at the moment. Not many reasonably priced stages state the movement increments, so I haven't dared purchase anything.

I must clarify that I'm well familiar with top-notch Nikon and Mitutoyo objectives, but cannot put forth the 300€-400€ or more (including customs, shipping & 24% VAT on top of all, in Finland) required for these alone.
This is why I've asked if anyone has tested properly the better and "newer" Zeiss Jena infinites , as one can get lucky & get a decent one for 100€ including shipping, sometimes less. My 6.x Jena planachromat is pretty nice, except for the working distance, that is the problem. I'm not convinced that, say, Nikon & Mitutoyo are the only decent solutions available & too many hobbyists and professionals are keeping their eyes open for those, so prices have kept going up and also vary widely.

But thanks again for the help and perhaps someone can give me direct tips on purchasing an affordable, accurate microcope stage: there are plenty out there, but only a small portion are useful surely, which ever ones they are.

JD aka FinnChaga
Joel Dyer October 06, 2014 03:35PM
Hi Gene,

Your article link addition came in just as I was typing my reply to Amir. Thanks, I check it out!


JD aka FinnChaga
Amir C. Akhavan October 06, 2014 09:14PM
I got my stage for about $50 - an old modified Zeiss microscope that I disassambled completely. Really good mechanics.
One needs to be either rich or patient ;-)

Since you've done your homework on objectives, you already know why Nikon CF objectives are used by many people: they are fully corrected.
And as you know, it's not a quality issue, it's a different design. Zeiss objectives may be as good or better, but at least in the older Zeiss microscopes some of the corrections are done in the microscope eyepieces. Check if there are Olympus objectives that are fully corrected, for some time Nikon and Olympus apparently had similar approaches in microscopy design.

I've checked on Ebay and found that you can get Nikon 10x and 4x finite objectives for $50 - $100.
I've used a Nikon CF N 10x 0.3 / 160 for some time.
In tests done on various websites it clearly outperforms luminars and I can confirm that it is very sharp.
Its problems:
1) strong axial chromatic aberrations, but you can to some degree mitigate this by proper illumination (use diffusers) and by placing an aperture immediately behind the objective - as a side effect this will lower the resolution but increase DOF.
2) The working distance of 9.22 mm is also not so good, but acceptable after removing the outer tube.

BTW, that fact that I use Nikon objectives is pure coincidence: I've bought a Nikon polarizing microscope, and it had a 4x objective with reasonable working distance. I tried it out and was surprised how good it worked (as you can see on the beta quartz photo).

As a final note: when I first got my Mitutoyo, the first results were only so so, although I have done macro photography for a few years now. One needs to be patient and a lot of practise to get good results, and every time the setup is changed, it takes several trials until it is o.k.
Instead of getting the rather expensive "gear acquisition syndrome", just keep going and watch how things slowly improve.
Johan Ingles - Le Nobel October 18, 2014 09:45AM
Amir C. Akhavan Wrote:

> Instead of getting the rather expensive "gear
> acquisition syndrome", just keep going and watch
> how things slowly improve.

... such a good piece of advice! Couldn't agree more
Joel Dyer October 18, 2014 01:05PM
Thanks Amir, Johan.

Yes, indeed, the gear acquisition syndrome is certainly not a good thing if one's on a "shoestring budget".

I'm not really keen on getting Finite ojectives, they have their problems and limitations. I'm currently experimenting with two different Zeiss Jena planachromat objectives, and will possibly opt for a 20x one later, if it can be got cheaply enough.

I'm including a test photo using a 10x planachromat HD without a proper adapter / lense distance, movement adjustment etc etc. Not anywhere near where I want to get, but it's still a start. And Helicon stacking is not really the best way to go often. FOV is 4mm.

There's no reason why one should look down on Jena Zeiss stuff, if the objectives are a bit newer generation & of the correct type for the application: that's the tricky bit and other peoples' experience is always very valuable.

Oh, and as far as working distance is concerned, I consider 7-9mm to be good, almost a luxury, and 1-3mm as "not so good" ;-)

Next year will just have to come up with the solution of moving the object forward & back in small enough increments, whatever the method - there's no way around this issue. Internal USM zooming has its problems.


JD aka FinnChaga

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10/18/2014 01:11PM by Joel Dyer.
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