How can camera vibrations be reduced?

Camera vibrations can become a problem if the exposure time is too long. There are several ways how you can reduce them.

Small specimens which are surrounded by water water are able to float around between the slide and cover glass and will start to vibrate when one is tapping on the table on which the microscope stands. The optics of the microscope will magnify even the smallest vibrations. These vibrations become problematic when taking pictures with a photo camera which is mounted directly to the microscope. Both the pressing of the shutter release and the opening and closing of the shutter of the camera itself can introduce disturbing vibrations which result in a blurry image. Webcams and microscope cameras which do not possess a mechanical shutter are not problematic. They can also be released from a computer.

Both pressing and releasing the shutter button as well as the shutter mechanics itself can produce so much vibration that the image quality suffers. One can, of course, use a cable release or self-timer to improve the situation, but the effect of the vibrations are, naturally, more pronounced the higher the magnification in use. Mirrorless cameras naturally have an advantage here, because there is no mirror that swings up, causing a vibration. Permanent mounts (in which the specimens are immobilized) are somewhat less sensitive to vibrations, but the effect of a shutter release vibration is still there at higher magnifications. When making a wet mount, you can reduce the effect of this shutter shock by using little water.

If you have a camera with a mechanical shutter mounted to the microscopes, then you have several further possibilities to reduce the vibrations.

Use a self timer or a cable release

Both of these techniques avoid camera shake when pressing the shutter release. The shutter mechanics of the camera can still cause some shaking, especially if you have the body of a SLR connected to the microscope.

Long exposure time

The microscope-camera system vibrates for the fraction of a second after shutter release. One should therefore use a long exposure time (2-5 sec.). The camera will therefore collect most of the light when the system is steady. Of course, this does not work for moving objects.

Very short exposure time

Alternatively the exposure time can be significantly reduced (about 1/250sec). This is so fast that the vibration will hardly be recorded. This requires much light, however.

Micro flashing

One can also use a flash system mounted above the light source. With experimentation, it is also possible to make a system like this oneself, using strong LEDs.

The cardboard technique

A similar technique is used in astronomy to make steady images. The camera is set to “bulb” (B) and the shutter is opened. The light intensity has already been adjusted, but the light source is covered by a dark piece of cardboard. The cardboard is then removed for exposure. This method is indeed free of vibrations but requires long exposure times to be practical.

Mirror lock up

Some digital SLR cameras have a mirror-lock-up function. The integrated mirror of the camera can be moved into an “up” position. This reduces the vibrations significantly because the mirror of the camera does not have to swing up during exposure.

Flexible camera-microscope connection

Here, the microscope does not carry the weight of the camera. Rather, the camera is mounted either on a tripod or on another separate system. A vibration of the camera is therefore not passed on to the microscope.