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I need help choosing a camera (specific needs)

Old 07-08-14, 11:19 AM
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I need help choosing a camera (specific needs)

Hi all, I'm a biologist trying to outfit my lab on a shoestring budget and one of the things I need to buy is a camera but know very little/nothing about cameras, so I'm hoping some experts will give me suggestions. The camera will mainly be used to document images of DNA gels, and will need to meet some specific requirements.

It will be mainly used in a dark room (not completely sealed darkroom, but close) and will take pictures of DNA that will fluoresce orange when hit with ultraviolet light (most cameras - even phone cameras) seem to be able to handle this and basically it comes out as a white band against a dark background once converted to grayscale.

It will be mounted on a copy stand, so it needs to have the normal tripod screw in on the bottom.

It will need to be able to focus on something about the size of an index card (3"x5") to something probably 6" by 10" from 30 or so inches away at most.

It needs to give good resolution images (I'm not sure exactly what "good" means, but I'd like to be able to publish them if necessary).

It needs to be operable by a computer and directly/automatically transfer data to said computer with either software that is included with it or freely available (and not illegally free - this is a university research lab) and be permanently attached to the computer via usb or whatever cable. Manual focus is fine, but I'd like to be able to put the thing I need to take a picture of on my uv light box (sitting on the base of the copy stand), position/zoom/focus the camera (preferably while previewing the image on the computer screen), hit a button on the computer to take the picture and then have the picture on my computer that I can manipulate (which I typically do in freeware called ImageJ that can handle TIFFs and - I think - JPEGs, but not .RAW images).

Oh, and I'd prefer the whole camera/lens everything getup to run at most $500 or so.

Is that all possible? If so, does anyone have any suggestions?
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Old 07-08-14, 11:59 AM
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i have an older canon dslr rebel xti, that came with a usb cable
a decent tripod that was $50-100
and 50mm prime lens that was $100
and a nicer macro filter that will do close constant usb shots if focused properly. but has a limited dept of field
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Old 07-08-14, 12:14 PM
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Ok, so it might be possible to get something set up in the $500 range? If I could go used, it'd probably be easier, but I need to buy new through my university account. Depth of field is not an issue I need to worry about. Every image I can foresee needing the camera for will need at most half an inch to be in focus at any given time.
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Old 07-08-14, 12:21 PM
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Most dSLRs will come with a USB cable.

but the software to remotely control the camera isn't always included.

I know the Nikon world well. There is a piece of software called Camera Control Pro that you can buy at camera stores that will do what you want.

As for cameras themselves, at your budgest you probably want used. Nikon also is able to use older manually focussed lenses which many macro shooters prefer. The Nikon 55mm macro is one of Nikon's sharpest lenses. A Nikon camera that will not only mount that lens but meter with it, a used D200 or D300 would be fine. They have bigger viewfinders that make manual focus easier. Nikon cameras also have a focus confirmation number that will indicate when an image is in focus.

You can get none Macro lenses that can get fairly close, but they won't be uniformly flat, and given your subject matter, I would think that would be important.

Check out Keh.com, they have a lot of used inventory, most in the US, and their pricing is usuallt the benchmark.
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Old 07-08-14, 03:41 PM
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This is what I would have posted down to recommending KEH (except the macro of choice is no longer the 55mm but the 60mm - there is a DX format 40mm but I have no experience with it) but I don't see how it can be done on that budget...

Maybe $2000.
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Old 07-08-14, 04:22 PM
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Really? I need that expensive of a camera? I'm not wedded to dSLR and it's not like I need to blow things up super huge that I necessarily need a full sized sensor even if I did go full sized sensor. I'd seen some people talking about dSLRs that are like $4-500 and I didn't think a single macro lens would be that expensive, but I guess I don't know anything.

Edit: wow, I just looked and a new 60 mm nikon macro lens is my whole budget. Is there something I can do cheaper? University purchasing really won't let me do used even if it saves them money.

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Old 07-08-14, 04:52 PM
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Full size sensors are definitely not needed and you don't need all that expensive a camera body.

Here I'll do a little legwork for you: from https://www.keh.com/

Nikon D80 (some wear bargain priced) $182

60mm micro from $175 to $268

From Nikon Camera Control Pro Camera-Control-Pro-2---Full-Version $180

From Adorama: Kaiser copystand $290
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Old 07-08-14, 05:30 PM
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OK, KEH looks legit enough that I might be able to pass it off for purchasing even if they are used. Maybe. It's just the eBays and things where there is one possible item that gets extremely difficult.

So Nikon's seem the camera of choice? I can look into that then. D300 is better than the D200, but would be good enough for what I need?

I think I have a bead on a copy stand that I can get cheap (if I go out of pocket myself).

So I want something like this: https://www.keh.com/344174/nikon-d30...-body-12-3-m-p
and this: https://www.keh.com/246581/nikon-60m...ofocus-lens-62 ?
That's a bit more than I had budgeted, but should be doable. Bummer that the computer control software is an extra $180 on top of that.


And yeah, my microscopes (non electron) run many thousand each, which is why I'm trying to make my setup myself rather than paying $5k for a premade box that has the light source and camera already in it at a fixed distance from each other and a computer. If I can cut $4k out of that, I can get a second microscope or a setup to examine proteins or other things.
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Old 07-08-14, 05:37 PM
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Oh, KEH is legitimate. I've done a lot of business with them.

Yeah, the software is on the expensive side. There may be something out there that would do your job.

BTW, you can download a trial version of the software to see if it's for you before you purchase.
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Old 07-08-14, 05:51 PM
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It's not that I didn't think it was legitimate, but I might be able to get that through a secretary while something used off craigslist or something would be an obvious no go. I hadn't realized Nikon's were all that much better than Canon or whatever.

Is that lens the one I should be looking at? I think it said automatic focus and several of you said something about manual. I really know very little other than I've used a similar setup before (though it was a different company that I don't remember now) and I had to manually adjust the zoom and the focus with rings on the lens and play around with the aperture on the software. Was easy enough once people figured out which fstop (is that the right term) gave the best picture.
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Old 07-08-14, 06:29 PM
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It sounds like the cheapest camera that you can software control is all that you need. Canon also has remote control software but I don't know which models it will work with.

I wonder if it is possible to set up some kind of web cam, since the camera will be in a fixed location and will be computer-controlled. If you could get a webcam or security camera that had 1080 resolution it might do the job. Otherwise I would guess that an inexpensive point and shoot would do the job. However I think a camera with some user exposure control would be better. Maybe a camera from the Canon G series would work. They are more advanced than amateur point and shoot cameras, they offer better exposure control, and they are likely to be able to work with software control.
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Old 07-08-14, 07:22 PM
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Originally Posted by himespau View Post
It's not that I didn't think it was legitimate, but I might be able to get that through a secretary while something used off craigslist or something would be an obvious no go. I hadn't realized Nikon's were all that much better than Canon or whatever.

Is that lens the one I should be looking at? I think it said automatic focus and several of you said something about manual. I really know very little other than I've used a similar setup before (though it was a different company that I don't remember now) and I had to manually adjust the zoom and the focus with rings on the lens and play around with the aperture on the software. Was easy enough once people figured out which fstop (is that the right term) gave the best picture.
The 60 is "autofocus" capable. On the lens body there's a switch (also on the camera) to make manual focus. Working in the real macro area is typically beyond the autofocus desirability/capability.
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Old 07-08-14, 07:36 PM
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Originally Posted by bjtesch View Post
It sounds like the cheapest camera that you can software control is all that you need. Canon also has remote control software but I don't know which models it will work with.

I wonder if it is possible to set up some kind of web cam, since the camera will be in a fixed location and will be computer-controlled. If you could get a webcam or security camera that had 1080 resolution it might do the job. Otherwise I would guess that an inexpensive point and shoot would do the job. However I think a camera with some user exposure control would be better. Maybe a camera from the Canon G series would work. They are more advanced than amateur point and shoot cameras, they offer better exposure control, and they are likely to be able to work with software control.
I can look into Canon. I think I saw someone say that some of their models come with computer control.
Originally Posted by ahsposo View Post
The 60 is "autofocus" capable. On the lens body there's a switch (also on the camera) to make manual focus. Working in the real macro area is typically beyond the autofocus desirability/capability.
OK, thanks. I couldn't find the 55mm lens JamesRL mentioned, so I didn't know if I was even looking at the right things.

Just to show my ignorance, what's the difference between one of these Nikons, say that D300, and a cheaper dSLR like the Canon Rebel that goes for ~$400 new? Is it the number of megapixels? The size of the sensor (I think that has something to do with compression and overall image quality, no matter the pixels, right)? Additional features? Better glass?
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Old 07-08-14, 07:41 PM
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Oh, man!! All I can say as a rule of thumb is the lens is far more important than the camera, I would buy the least expensive body that could take the remote software that is of a vaguely recent vintage. That's why I suggested the D80 but I vastly prefer the D300 you looked at.

I think the 55 is way TF outdated and gone at this point except to Luddites.
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Old 07-08-14, 07:44 PM
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And it's body construction, advanced feature sets (like remote camera control) and nowadays high sensitivity in low light with lower noise from gain.
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Old 07-08-14, 08:51 PM
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Hmmm, the D80 is about half the price, but the camera control software's newest version no longer will run it. Bummer. Is it safe to assume that the D300 is better than the D90 even though the D90 is newer? That sort of thing especially trips me up.

The trick is, buying used means having to hunt down proprietary usb (and probably power if I'm going to have it always plugged in unless I want to find a spare battery and charger) cables for it. Hopefully, those are still available.
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Old 07-09-14, 12:34 AM
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My two bobs worth. The heart of what you need is the Lens. You want/need a good quality Macro lens. Good macro lenses are not cheap. They don't have to be that expensive but they are not cheap. Just because a huge range consumer lens say's that its "Macro" doesn't mean that its up to your job.

So lens first. A good copy stand and whatever lighting you need. Will the slide be back lit or front lit? I suggest backlighting would work better but you would need to look into it. Is colour temperature an issue? If you don't know what I mean when I say colour temperature then you need to look into it.

After lens and stand/lighting the camera body comes third in the scheme of things. The lens could well dictate the body you choose. Don't' but a Nikon body first and then decide that the lens that works for you is a Canon lens. I think a mid range Digital SLR would be suitable. The other factors are first though.

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Old 07-09-14, 05:01 AM
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Lighting is worked out. I have to use a light source that lights what I need from underneath (with ultraviolet light). The copy stand has lights on it on the sides that I probably won't use, but might come in handy for illuminating other things if I ever use it for something other than documenting how far DNA has moved on a gel. As is, I'll just be shooting an orange band on a dark background and either discarding color or shooting b/w, cropping, inverting the image, and printing to store in lab notebooks. I'd say that's going to be 95%+ of the use it sees.
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Old 07-09-14, 05:19 AM
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The lens is more important than the camera. Any dSLR will get you decent images. And Canon and Nikon are equally good. You might even want to look at Olympus or Pentax. But spend the money on a good macro lens. Also, even though a macro lens might have an f-stop of 2.0, shooting at f8 or f16 will get you a better macro image.
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Old 07-09-14, 05:25 AM
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Originally Posted by himespau View Post
Lighting is worked out. I have to use a light source that lights what I need from underneath (with ultraviolet light). The copy stand has lights on it on the sides that I probably won't use, but might come in handy for illuminating other things if I ever use it for something other than documenting how far DNA has moved on a gel. As is, I'll just be shooting an orange band on a dark background and either discarding color or shooting b/w, cropping, inverting the image, and printing to store in lab notebooks. I'd say that's going to be 95%+ of the use it sees.
Well that's good. Do you need dimensional accuracy? A good Macro lens is designed for minimum distortion at close distances. The macro focus dimensional stability on multifunctional lenses is pretty ordinary.

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Old 07-09-14, 05:33 AM
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Actually. There are still issues with chromatic distortion. Even if you convert to black and white the lens won't focus all of the colour spectrum in the same plane. You may be able to focus the centre of the frame but the edge sharpness will be woeful. For Scientific work you still need a good, purpose built Macro lens. Pick a Macro lens that you are willing to spend the money on and the choice of bodies will be narrowed down.

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Old 07-09-14, 06:52 AM
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Originally Posted by AnthonyG View Post
Well that's good. Do you need dimensional accuracy? A good Macro lens is designed for minimum distortion at close distances. The macro focus dimensional stability on multifunctional lenses is pretty ordinary.

Anthony
Yeah, I'll need accuracy without distortion throughout the field of view. Like I said, the maximum depth of field I'd ever need is about half an inch (everything is pretty flat) but I do need good image thoughout. I don't know if you've ever seen a picture of where they do like DNA analysis for forensics, but that's what I need to take a picture of. Here's a sample that I stole from wikipedia:

If that 60 mm Nikon macro lens posted above will do that, I'm fine with getting it. Like I said, it's just that purpose built boxes to do what I want to do run ~$5k for cheap ones, ~$8K for ones that take good images and $30-50k for ones with cooled ccd cameras and all the bells and whistles to do everything I would ever want, but the university only gave me $25k to outfit my lab and I have lots of other really expensive stuff I need to buy with that money, and I already have a large closet that someone previously used as a dark room, a light source, and (now) a copy stand, so I'm trying to save money where I can, so that I can actually do the research I need to do to publish some papers and keep my job.
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Old 07-09-14, 10:49 AM
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Hmmm, now I'm hearing from some people that 105 mm lenses are the way to go, but they're almost double the price. Do I really need that for what I want, or would the 60 be good enough?

And other friends are telling me that I don't really need macro for that as I'm just taking a picture of something from 2 feet away and don't really need the high resolution a macro provides. I just need to get a flat, non-distorted image of something that's 3"x5" or so and isn't super tiny.

For the type of publication I'm referring to, I've used a photo scanner at 600 dpi before in black and white to make TIFFs and that's been good enough (or even overkill).

I'm totally confused at this point.

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Old 07-09-14, 01:21 PM
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This is just a thought. There are several point and shoot cameras with the manual settings and macro modes that will do the job. There are Nikon Coolpix and Canon Powershots that have this capability. They would be easily within your budget. No the pix aren't up to the DSLR quality. But for documentation how much is enough and how much is just extra?

However I don't think they have the ability to be computer controlled. How critical is that?
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Old 07-09-14, 01:53 PM
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The computer control thing is kind of important because the camera faces head on to a UV light source and I'd prefer my students not be bathed in UV light when they take the picture. I know some of the fancier non-dSLR cameras have swiveling LCD screens and remotes, but I still would need to get the image to the computer and it's easier when it's permanently hooked up via usb cable (that might be doable with any camera, not sure).
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