My Second E. Leitz Optical Instrument

I recently was able to pick up a ~1956 vintage E. Leitz tabletop microscope off eBay for cheap. It has two objectives (10x and 40x) and an A-O 10x eyepiece. It was missing the light source and a stage slide holder. I already had a microscope T-mount adapter, and my Olympus E-PL1 looks to be a reasonably lightweight camera to pair with it. I believe I can rig LEDs for the light source and I ordered a clamp-on slide holder that just arrived today, so now I have only the usual problems of velleity to get in the way of doing some home-made photomicrographs. Even a common LED lamp from the hardware store looks to be basically compatible with viewing on the Leitz. Getting enough lumens passing through the thing for photography may be a bit more difficult.

Comparing the Leitz microscope with the Perfect student microscope I’ve had since junior high school side-by-side was a revelation. I knew that various of the photomicroscopes I used professionally were in a different league entirely, but even the modest end of the Leitz spectrum was a stunning improvement on the performance offered by the Perfect student microscope. There are a host of optical artifacts apparent in the Perfect microscope that are absent in the Leitz. I thought that maybe I would try out the 4x objective from the Perfect microscope on the Leitz, but that’s not easily done: the Perfect objectives have some small-bore thread that is nowhere close to RMS size. The tube lengths also appear to be different on examination. Interestingly, the Perfect objectives screw into ports that are machined to look like the knurled ends of RMS objectives. The Perfect microscope has no optical condenser, though it does have a turret offering different aperture sizes to modulate incoming light.

One advantage of the Olympus E-PL1 for photography on the microscope is that it offers no direct optical path. This means I can do some experimentation with illumination without the obvious issue of not wanting to burn off parts of my retinas.

Oh, right… the first E. Leitz instrument I acquired turned out to be a TC-307 Total Station survey instrument. It is handy for projects around the property. I really expected to get one of their cameras somewhere along the way, but that hasn’t happened yet. Back in high school, I remember the school brought in a professional photographer to give an after-school talk. In the question period, a classmate asked about fixing an issue he had with fuzzy pictures taken with his camera. He thought it was fungus in the lens. The pro glanced at the camera, noted it was a Leica, and told my classmate that even thinking about getting it fixed would likely cost him hundreds of dollars. After the pro left, I asked to have a look at the camera and its load of “fungus”. It was a screw-mount Leica, probably a IIIf or IIIg, with a 35mm f/2.8 lens attached. The “fungus” appeared to come in whorls on the front element. I popped out my lens paper and lens cleaner fluid, and in seconds had restored my classmate’s Leica to clarity. I might have been able to offer some lowball amount to buy it after the pro’s assessment, but that would have been wrong.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.