Simple Microscopy for Ceramics

Simple Microscopy for Ceramics
26/07/2015 Derek

The first day of Ecology class we went out to a local pond, gathered water, and returned to the lab.  I’ll never forget the amazement of viewing the water under a microscope, exploring that hidden world.

I finally got my first microscope for viewing ceramics.  There are multiple hand-held digital microscopes available now, I went with a Chinese company, Supereyes.  The A005+ is their most expensive version and has a 5MP sensor.  It was about $150USD.

The camera comes with Windows software.  On a Mac, you just plug in the USB cable, open Quicktime and select File->New Movie Recording.  You can either record a movie or take a screenshot.  Results are best if Quicktime is in Fullscreen mode.

The quality of the A005+ sensor is not great.  There is a lot of noise in the image and resolution seems poor for 5MP.  Focusing works fairly well, although the focusing mechanism (rotating the top of the microscope) can be confusing.  The A005+ has built-in lights, however they produce a lot of glare on reflective surfaces.  Using ambient light or shining a flashlight at various angles works better.  It is also very interesting to view translucent ceramics with a light shining through them.

Shining a flashlight through a late Ming porcelain export dish to view birds painted in blue & white.

In retrospect, I probably should have gone with a regular microscope, using a handheld digital camera to record images.  (John Skaley has more information about microphotos at the bottom of his iron glazes article.)  But the A005+ is still a pretty fun toy.

As a first test of the microscope, I thought it would be interesting to compare various clear glazes.  Personally, I prefer clear glazes that do not contain too many bubbles visible by the naked eye.

These clear glazes were all fired in a reduction atmosphere to Orton Cone 11.  You can find the recipes to these glazes on my new recipe website, Glazy.org.

Photomerge

In microphotography it’s common to take multiple images of a subject at various focus depths, finally merging those images into a single image with greater depth of field.

We can also physically move the subject around on the microscope platform without varying focal length, finally merging those images into a single, larger image.  (Just like taking a “panorama” shot on your mobile phone.)  Various software exists to merge these photos together, including Photoshop and Lightroom.

For Photoshop the process is very simple.  Just gather your panoramic images into a single folder.  Open Photoshop and select File->Automate->Photomerge.  Select all your images and modify settings if desired.  I find that the default settings work just fine in most cases.

Here is a recent teadust glaze I have been working on and the resulting Photoshop photomerge of the same test tile.

Teadust glaze test tile

Photomerged image of a teadust glaze