Blog

Setting Up WeMacro Rail and Getting First Shot

The WeMacro order arrived with all pieces well protected.

WeMacro rail and stand unboxed

Setup took roughly 1 hour. The WeMacro site instructions had high quality images when this-looks-like-this-fits-here wasn’t enough.

The tube lens has 6 or 7 pieces, though it would be hard (impossible?) to thread them together incorrectly. I don’t fully understand the light science behind how the tube lens, Raynox 150, and the infinity lens technically work together. That said, infographics for infinity lenses around the web gave me enough sense to move on. Note to self: I still need to measure the distance between the infinity lens and the sensor (180mm is ideal for the ones WeMacro sells). I’m just assuming they sold tube lenses that are at the proper distance.

My goal at this point was to go through the full run-through of getting enough shots from the camera and stacking them with software.

The software to control the stepper motor that moves the camera in tiny increments towards the specimen is provided by WeMacro. I wish the software was open source and see no reason they shouldn’t make it such. I used the Windows version and it was plug and play. Previous WeMacro motor controllers used a different chip and required manual drivers to be installed.

Side note, I’ve explained “drivers” to my parents before as the “translation book” between the grammar a piece of hardware uses and the grammar the computer software does. Gets the job done for “explain like I’m 5”.

In order to avoid vibration I couldn’t physically move once the setup was going. It’s a perfect time to meditate for a few minutes.

My first attempt yielded 80 pitch black images. Whoops. I had the shutter speed wrong. My second attempt yielded 80 images that were more or less exactly what I needed to move forward.

I put all the images in Zerene Stacker (currently on a 30-day trial) without much regard to settings or quality. I had no proper lighting set up at this point so the final image is trash. Voila…a poorly lit screw top using the 4x objective. Success!

Switching Resident Haven To Bulma.io

Pre-built themes were always my “thang.” They are complementary to my utilitarian mindset and offer a quick solution. Shopify, Squarespace, and Wix have built massive companies checking that box for users.

During the early stages of Resident Haven, a pre-built was the obvious choice. A single-app license is about $30 and provides styled components to use on your own website. Usually these themes are built on top of frameworks, most notably Bootstrap.

These themes are emotionally sold as the complete package. The demo pages with dummy data look incredible and get your imagination running. The reality is more bleek, and I likely won’t use themes going forward.

I switched to Bulma.io, a free lightweight framework (alternative to Bootstrap) that offers styling to make a modern website look good [enough] for the following reasons:

  • The site was was sluggish. Resident Haven will be used by people on a farm with potentially spotty cell phone reception, and I needed to make site speed a top priority. The pre-built theme had so much unused cruft that was causing slow pages and bloat. This is a solvable issue, but I didn’t take the time to do so.
  • The theme looked gorgeous in the demos, but when it came to actually making my own widgets and layouts, I was working against the grain. When I wanted to create unique pages for my own usage, it required many lines of code to have it match the rest of the components.
  • Ultimately, my hand was forced because of the license. I started to charge for Resident Haven ($2/mo), and the license I purchased for the theme was no longer valid. I would have had to upgrade to the $1,300 license which is unreasonable for my needs.

The switch to Bulma.io took about 4 days to complete, but the site now runs about 10x faster and adding new components to match is much easier. The only downside I foresee is the site feeling cold without a cohesive design. I call this one a win.

Taking On Microphotography

I’ve always had a curiosity for the micro-world but no way to explore it. I remember in college telling my ceramics teacher that I wanted to make shrunken-head style sculptures. Turns out that’s a bad idea for beginners and much harder to build and fire in the kiln.

Circa 2012, my next attempt was adding an “Easy-Macro Lens Band” attachment to my phone camera. The magnification is 4x but the results were lackluster. It wasn’t much better than laying flat in the grass with my face a few inches from the bug.

To make use of the indoor time that Minnesota winters bring, I decided to look into Microscope photography. My initial thinking was attaching a camera body that I already owned to a microscope. I became frustrated looking at microscopes when the conflicting ideas of “buy an old used one from the 60’s; they have the best lenses” and “always test and never trust purchases on eBay.”

Luckily, I stumbled upon photomacrography.net – a relic of when the internet felt kind and helpful. The forum is the real deal.

Rik Littlefield, a 40+-year-old expert, has thousands of posts, all with the hint of doing it for the greater good of this hobby. I’m immediately impressed by Rik. He is also the creator of Zerene, software dedicated to stacking photos (explained below).

An interesting aspect to microphotography is the need to take dozens (up to hundreds) of pictures, all with a different plane in the 3D space in focus. To better illustrate, Picture #1 of a fly’s head will have just his nose in focus. Picture #103 (random number) might have a sliver of his ear in focus. The software stacks it all together and merges only the in-focus parts from each image. The end result is an image of the whole fly in focus.

Even more interesting, there are setups that will move your camera automatically, as physically moving your camera is the only way to get all the differently-focused images. Stackshot and WeMacro are two companies providing these setups. Stackshot seems to be the premium setup, and WeMacro is a straight-from-China product owned by William. William has great rapport in the photomacrography.net world for his customer service. I ended up going with WeMacro and picked up:

My setup will look similar to the one below once it’s all said and done: