Thursday, June 29, 2023

3D Printed Action Cameras to Microscope Adapter Now on Thingiverse

 The first upload to Thingiverse in the series of action camera to microscope adapters can be accessed on

Search for Thing #6101113

Action Camera Cradles

We've uploaded two different cradle versions to be used with a single thread insert for mounting the microscope sleeves.

ActionScope Cradles (V3 & X6)

The ScopeAction V3 cradle has been tested with the following action Cameras.

Cradle V3 possibly fits many more Chinese made action cameras; but, we have not tested more than these two cameras for now.  Both of these cameras are available on Amazon.  The Xilecam did not come with a remote trigger.  But, both allow for setting a "narrow" field of View of 70 degrees, which is the best setting for using with a microscope.

The ScopeAction X6 cradle has been tested with the Xilecam X6 60fps camera. It was purchased for $49.99 from Amazon and does include a remote trigger.  (More about this camera below)

The cradle threads are printed as a separate "thing" and simple insert into the cradle.  

ActionScope Cradle Thread Insert

While the threads can be glued, there is no need to do so as the sleeves are designed to hold the threads into place.  Just be careful to align the locking clips of the threads into the cradle to ensure the back of the thread insert is flush with the cradle.

Action Camera to Microscope - Complete

Microscope Sleeves

Our plan is to create sleeve sets for a wide variety of microscope types and sizes.  But, Thing #6101113 includes just the sleeves that fit microscopes having 28.00mm diameter lenses.  Sleeve sets for 27.80mm and 28.85mm will follow.  While only one, or perhaps two, sleeves will be suitable for any camera/microscope combination, we have uploaded fifteen (15) different sleeves for eye relief distances between 9mm and 23mm.

28.00mm Sleeves with Eye Relief (9mm, 13mm & 23mm)

 We recommend starting with the 13mm eye relief for the DragonTouch and Xilecam 4K 30fps and the 9mm eye relief for the Xilecam X6 camera then bracketing find the sharpest and largest image without light flare.

We hope to compile a chart with recommendations for sleeve diameter and eye relief distance for each action camera/microscope combination and post them here.

Here is an image captured with the Xilecam X6 mounted on a Wolfe Student Microscope.

Xilecam X6 camera at 48mpx

 But, what is really nice is the Xilecam's 4K 60fps speed in capturing live video and playing it back using the VLC viewer. By slowing down the action and zooming in using the VLC viewer features, it is easy to see the details of protozoan locomotion.  

This capture was created using the Xilecam X6 at 4K 30FPS with an older Wolfe Student microscope at 40X.  The camera's field of view (FOV) was set to 70 degrees rather than the default of 170 degrees for most action camera photography.




Monday, June 19, 2023

2. The basics of Designing an Interface Between an Action Camera and Microscope

There are many imaging devices that can be successfully mated with one or more types of microscopes.

3D printed Smartphone to Microscope Adapters Are Available

While I have, over the years, been modestly successful at creating 3D printed interfaces between a smartphone and the microscopes I own,   Here is an image taken with a Sony Experia in 2017 using one my 3D printed interfaces.

Sony Smartphone to Wolfe Scope

However, the most brilliant design comes from

OpenOcular Smartphone to Microscope

Josue Gimbernard, the designer,  has developed an absolutely beautifully engineered product.  And he has done so purely for the purpose of enhancing the experience of owning and using a microscope.  His design is freely available on Thingiverse.

He suggests printing in PETG.  But, for a nominal fee ($22), you can purchase a printed version at his Etsy shop.

Believe me, it is well worth the $22 because an interface that works with just about any smartphone and microscope combination requires many parts and a great 3D printer.  Josue does a fantastic job of printing the pieces and assembling the most complex parts in PETG. 

I wholeheartedly endorse the OpenOcular device for mating smartphones to heavier microscopes.  I have one and admire both the design and the execution.  It has to one of the most clever 3D printed designs I've ever used.

Lighter microscopes can be mated with smartphones.  But, action cameras are a better, and easier, alternative. 

Action Camera Interfaces are simpler to design and Print

Due to their small size and light weight, action cameras require a far simpler interface and can be successfully mounted on even the lightest of microscopes.  There are just 3 parts necessary for a successful design.

Part 1: Camera Cradle  

Because the action camera will be oriented face down, there is no need for an elaborate mechanism for holding the camera steady.  We simply need to design an open cradle into which the camera will sit.

Part1: Action Camera Cradle

The basic measurements for this part are length and width, making sure that the corners that hold the camera in place do not interfere with any buttons on the top and sides of the camera.  We also need to provide a hole for any buttons located on the front of the camera.   The design above accommodates both the DragonTouch Vision3 and the Xilecam 4K 30fps camera buttons.  

The most critical measurement for the cradle is the center of the camera's lens.  It must be accurate to a tiny fraction of a millimeter to be used successfully.  The rectangular inset provides a stable way to glue the eyepiece connector base to the cradle. 

Part 2: Threaded Eyepiece Connector Base

The part of the interface that gives us the ability to accommodate a variety of microscopes is the threaded eyepiece connector base.

Part2: Threaded Connector Base

The inside diameter of the base must be at least wide enough to accommodate the camera's lens shroud.  It can be larger since the cradle, itself, ensures centering.  The inside diameter of this particular design exactly matches the outside diameter of the DragonTouch Vision 3 's lens shroud.  But, is slightly larger than the outside diameter of the Xilecam.

Since we must rely on glue (Gorilla Super Glue Gel) to join parts 1 and 2 and the actual eyepiece mount screws onto this base, we need to ensure that part 2 is securely locked into place.  This is accomplished using two tabs that resist turning the base as the eyepiece connector is screwed on and off.

The threads have a pitch of 1.6mm allowing us to adjust for differing eyepiece relief heights in very fine increments if necessary.

When joined together parts 1 and 2 look like this.

Cradle and threads Combined

With the cradle complete, we now have a platform that can be mated with an eyepiece connector for any specific microscope we would like to use.

Part 3:  Threaded Eyepiece Connector

There are three critical criteria for a successful microscope eyepiece connector for a camera interface.  The connector must hold tightly enough as to not move, it must automatically center the microscope eyepiece every time and it must place the camera at the precise location of the lenses eyepiece relief distance. Here is an illustration that shows what we mean when we talk about eyepiece relief distance.  From:

Eyepiece Relief Distance

Among my microscopes the eyepiece relief distance can vary as much as 10mm.  The MSK-01L, from C7 A Scientific has the longest relief distance.  I suspect that this is to make it easier for students to use.  For our connectors, we measure the distance from the face of the cradle to the face of the lens.  We use a distance of 23mm for the MSK-01L and a distance of 13mm for the Wolfe Student Microscope.

In addition to the differences in the eyepiece relief, we find a great variety of differences in the outside diameters of eyepieces.  While nominally fitting the same size lens tube (23mm), we find some lens diameters might range from 27.80mm to 28.85mm. One of my stereo microscopes has an outside eyepiece diameter of 34.2mm.  So, the range can be quite wide.

The OpenOcular solution to address the wide variety of sizes was to use an iris approach.

OpenOcular Iris Style Centering


It works very well.  But, it require a bulky and heavy mechanism.  To keep our design as light as possible, we have adopted a multi-connector approach.  We create a new connector for each eyepiece diameter / Eyepiece relief combination.  

Lens Connectors by Diameter and Eye Relief

Differences in Eye Relief Distance

 By relying largely on a revolve technique to design the connector, scalability is relatively easy.  The screw threads are exactly the same for each connector.  

The most difficult part is determining the exact eye relief distance when approaching a new eyepiece.  These connectors simply screw onto the cradle/ connector base combination.  Each size is labeled for quick identification.

Action Camera to Microscope Interface


The result is a very light weight camera attachment to just about any microscope.

The Tri-Wall Centering Technique

The most critical aspect of designing any interface to a microscope eyepiece is that of centering.  One of the lightest and most reliable methods we have found is what we call Tri-Wall design where we grip the eyepiece in a triangular fashion.

Tri-Wall Eyepiece Centering Technique

The outside diameter of the 3D printed eyepiece connector is a perfect circle.  But, the inside wall is a rounded triangle.  This results in some parts of the wall being thin and flexible while alternate parts of the wall are thicker and more stiff.  Three triangular shafts are attached at the thickest parts of the wall.  These shafts grip the microscope's eyepiece. 

This design lets us grip the eyepiece tightly while still providing flexibility when attaching and removing the holder.  The eyepiece is always centered.  The flexability allows us to use hard PLA plastic without damaging the eyepiece.  While either TPU (Flexible filament) or PETG can used, there is no requirement for perfect fit and strength.

Over the next few blog entries, we will provide instructions and videos that demonstrate the steps we take in Moment of Inspiration to create a cradle to attach an action camera to a low cost stereo microscope and a typical student microscope used in high schools.


Sunday, June 18, 2023

A New Series: Article #1: 3D Printed Action Camera Interface to Microscopes

In this upcoming series of articles I want to combine my love of 3D design with my love of microscopy.

Actually, microscopy has held a place in my heart and life a LOT longer than 3D printing.  It goes all the way back to 1958, when I was in the 8th grade and my parents gave me a child's Tasco microscope with some of the world's worst optics!

TASCO Microscope circa 1958

To me, the lack of quality mattered a lot less than the fact that I was able to see a whole new world of fascinating creatures that lived in the swamps near my home.  That little scope planted the seeds of a lifelong interest in protozoology and discovery that stays with me more than 60 years later.  I enjoy watching protozoa like others go bird watching.

I've had many more microscopes in my life since then.  But, I still have a deep fondness for introducing low cost microscopes to children in a way that might instill in them the same love of discovery that my parent's gift sparked in me.

I do think the concept works.  If you have followed this blog for any length of time you will know that my favorite scope for younger children is the low powered stereo microscope.  At the time of this writing, this one is available for under $27 on AMScope.  But, if this one is sold out, carries many more at very reasonable prices.


I gave each of my granddaughters a similar scope when they were very young, and both ended up graduating as the  valedictorians of their respective graduating high school classes.  The oldest graduated from William & Mary college and is now serving a two year lab program at NIH.

Action cameras are so small and light that they are perfectly suited for mating with student microscopes including those that might normally be considered toys.  While I would always encourage parents to buy the best microscopes they can afford, the reality is that many cannot afford high cost microscopes with high priced dedicated microscope cameras.

 Consideration #1: Dedicated Microscope Cameras are extremely extremely expensive.

While it is possible to find a dedicated microscope camera in the $50 range, at this level they have very limited resolution and brightness capabilities.  In this price range, 1.3mpx or 5mpx still images are the norm.  But, where these cameras suffer the most is in their frame rate for video capture.  As resolution goes up, the frame rate goes down dramatically.

Here is the typical YUY2 frame rate table for a dedicated microscope camera in the under $100 price range.

  • 2592 x 1944@2FPS
  • 2048x1536@2FPS
  • 1920x1080@4FPS
  • 1600x1200@4FPS
  • 1280x720@4FPS
  •  280x960@4FPS
  • 1024x768@6FPS
  • 800x600@15FPS
  • 640x480@30FPS 

 This is fine for static slides; but, can become a bit frustrating when trying to capture fast moving protozoa.

The least expensive 4K dedicated microscope camera I could find on Amazon was $190 and above.  Compare this cost with a 4K Action Camera that goes for as little as $33 at the time of this article and it's plain that more people should be able to afford to add an action camera to their microscopes than a dedicated camera of the same quality.

Here is my first quick demonstration capture using a typical student microscope and the Xilecam 4K action camera that costs just $33.99 on Amazon that arrived this afternoon.  I immediately noticed a lack if lag and ghosting typical of my dedicated microscope cameras, caused by slow frame rates.  I'm very impressed!

 Consideration #2: Dedicated Microscope Cameras fit a specific size of Microscope

Almost all dedicated microscope cameras fit just 3 sizes of microscope tubes.. 23mm, 30mm and 30.5mm.  They do not, generally, fit children's microscopes.  While I am not a fan of these super low cost microscopes, I have to remember that my own love of microscopy began with just this type of microscope.  If that is all a family can afford, then I still want to find a way to enhance their child's experience with their microscope and that means finding an equally low cost way to capture and share what they can see with the scope they have.

 Consideration #3: Action Cameras offer a wide range of educational benefits.

As a science teacher, many decades ago, my ultimate goal for my students was that they not only learn how to observe; but, attain a passion and love of the very process of observing.  My basic method was to start big and continually focus on finding ever smaller details.  We started simply using the naked eye, moved to magnifying glasses and through a series of microscope observations from low to high power.  

A dedicated microscope camera is useful in only a small widow of that journey.  But, an action camera can be used at every step of the way.  Even the lowest cost action camera I have tested (Under $34) has a variety of settings for Field of View, including "close".   This provides views from wide to narrow that provide students with the ability to gather ever increasingly detailed information about the world around them.  And, unlike dedicated microscope cameras, they can be dunked under water in the special housing that comes in the action camera package.  Getting an up close and personal view of tadpoles is well within the capabilities of an action camera.  That can't be said for a dedicated microscope camera.

Consideration #4:  It's very easy to design a 3D printed interface between an action camera and microscope

 In the next few blog articles, we will cover the processes of discovering what it takes to create an interface between an action camera and various types and sizes of microscopes.  We'll discuss ways to adjust for the different eye relief distances between various eyepieces.  It's actually quite easy once we correctly measure the center of the lens of the the action camera relative to it's overall size and shape.  It turns out that most brand names follow the same basic design and may even be manufactured in the very same plant as other brands.  

We'll go over each step of the design process in Moment of Inspiration, which is available as a fully functional 90-day trial so that anyone that desires can follow along and create their personally designed interface for the action camera of their choice.  And, because we are passionate about microscopy ourselves we promise to make time available for those that might be interested in following along and need a bit of help here or there. 

In the end, the goals is to create designs for a wide variety of camera and eyepiece combinations that can be freely downloaded.  We will start with designs for two cameras, the DragonTouch Vision3 ($69 on Amazon)...


DragonTouch Vision3

 and the Xilecam 4K 30fps ($33 on Amazon).  

Xilecam 4K 30fps

I'm hoping to be able to experiment with the Xilecam 4K 60fps camera as well.  DragonTouch and Asako are related brands, so it should be easy to adapt to the popular Asako EK7000 series as well.  So, if you have a brand of camera that you already own, I look forward to working with you to expand the community's resources.  I'm even interested in seeing if the unique PROGRACE children's cameras can be successfully used with a microscope. 

PROGRACE Children's Action Camera

 It will be a fun adventure!