Microscopes for Cleaning and Photographing Fossils

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    Sadie Mills

    Hi all- I have a question from a community member:

    What are some good microscopes or magnification devices to help with fossil cleaning and photography?  Specifically for small fossils like shark teeth, fish mouth plates, and sea mammal bones?

    @jkallmeyer @jeanette-pirlo @vperez @paul-somers


    Thank you!

    Jack Kallmeyer

    I can only address cleaning as I don’t use a microscope for photography (macro lenses only).

    A stereoscope with step-wise or variable power is the best for cleaning small specimens.  Larger specimens can be worked on using a ring light with a magnifying lens in the center.  The key is you want both of your hands free to manipulate and work on the specimen. The most versatile stereoscope would be one mounted on a boom stand.  This type of mount allows the most range of motion both vertically and horizontally.  A stand with the microscope mounted on a post is next best as that allows a bigger vertical range of motion than a fixed base type scope.

    I find I do most of my cleaning with 10x magnification.  Sometimes I use 15x or 20x but not very often.

    When doing cleaning where water is involved, some microscopes allow an additional glass splatter guard that can be mounted below the objective lens.

    Stereoscopes can be very expensive when purchased new especially if they are big name brands like Nikon, Canon, Leica, Bausch & Lomb.  Good used ones can be had for less money but be sure to check it out first as repairs are expensive.  Reasonably priced new stereoscopes of lesser known brands can be had for $300.  Always make sure the optics are good and there is no distortion (view a straight line grid to be sure all lines remain parallel).

    Bill Heim

    Jack’s answer on microscopes was excellent.

    For photography, believe or not, I use a flat bed scanner.  You need one that has some 3d capability (the one on my printer can only scan paper thin items as with all paper feed scanners).  Currently I am using an older Epson V300 but a V600 would probably work.  By adjusting the dpi setting you can magnify to an incredible amount.  The attached image is a 6mm cookie cutter tooth (Isistius) at 1200 dpi and a 6-gill (Hexanchus) tooth scanned at 600 dpi.  At 9600 dpi you could paper your wall with it.  You have to do some post processing such as cleaning up dust, removing background reflections and adjusting brightness and contrast but you have to do that with a camera as well.  The problem with a camera is that setup takes forever and then you have to readjust almost after each picture and play with the lighting, the lens and the settings.  A scanner takes far less time and I believe produces superior images.  Larger items can be scanned as well.  Attached is a scan of an almost 7 inch megalodon and a quarter of a nurse shark (Ginglymostoma) jaw.  Here is a link to a how-to guide: http://www.elasmo.com/frameMe.html?file=refs/terms/scanning.html&menu=bin/menu_refs-alt.html

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    Jennifer Bauer

    There is also a lot of utility with the hand held magnifiers that hook up to your computer. I have played around with some at conferences but do not personally have one.

    Such as these: https://www.amscope.com/800x-hd-720p-3d-digital-zoom-8-led-microscope.html?pla-user&gclid=CjwKCAjw3azoBRAXEiwA-_64Ov_7CGM9XRA9x3oeERVm_As3RqMXRTOccZeYT-skLO0LLnnp_zHgsxoC5aIQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds

    Bill Heim

    Here is an image (modern Mustelus jaw) produced by a handheld microscope.  I had to adjust the image with a image processor as it was too light and washed out.  Note the pinkish tint which also can be adjusted but with more difficulty.  I find the scanner produces superior images; however the microscope has its use as it can get into tight and awkward places that the scanner cannot.

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