Modify a Webcam for Videomicrography

Part I: Introduction and Webcam Modifications
Text and photography copyright Thomas Webster 2003. All rights reserved.
Kodak MDS 100 Digital Microscope Camera

Introduction...If ever a subject and a method of recording that subject fit together like a hand in a glove, pond "micro-critters" and videomicrography are an ideal fit. I receive an immense amount of satisfaction from photomicrography and the still images I create but I learn more about the pond "micro-critters" and their behavior from videomicrography. If you have done any research into videomicrography then you know how quickly the prices of equipment can add up to a small monthly house payment or how cumbersome it is to convert a color security camera for videomicrography. If you use a color security camera then you have to connect a camera to a VCR and the VCR to your computer via a video capture card. Too much expense and fiddling for me!

Kodak produced a digital camera that connects to the computer via the USB interface, the Kodak MDS100. You can find these occasionally on eBay for relatively attractive prices. I purchased one and found it extremely difficult to obtain satisfactory images and videos. In fact, I know of only one person who has mastered the Kodak MDS100 and I believe he uses a bit of voodoo to produce his images! The Kodak MDS100 is extremely sensitive to infrared and requires the light source be heavily filtered for infrared. Additionally, I could never get away from images and video clips that had extremely green centers and extremely magenta image margins. Wherein lay an inexpensive video solution?



Logitecg Quick Cam Zoom Webcam

Enter the lowly webcam! With the advent of the USB interface and the proliferation of video conferencing, "live cam" websites, and video emails, the production costs of small 1/3" CCD arrays have fallen dramatically. The result has been a plethora of very reasonably priced webcams with a host of added features. Before I purchased my webcam I performed extensive research into the various brands and models available. I made a list of features that my ideal webcam would include: an easily removed lens, built-in infrared filtration, at least 640 x 480 pixel resolution (for still images), at least 30 fps recording ability at 320 x 240 pixel resolution, and a software package that offered a maximum of control features, all for under $100.00US.

After extensive research I settled on the Logitech Quick Cam® Zoom™. The lens is very easily removed and there is an infrared filter over the CCD array (this filter later turned out to be more trouble than it was worth!). The CCD array has a true 640 x 480 pixel resolution, not interpolated. The camera control software was very impressive. The software allows for control of image size, control of the color temperature of the light source, control of the contrast/density settings, and even control of the camera's shutter speed. Of great importance is that the video frame rate is 30 fps at 320 x 240 pixels resolution. The Kodak MDS100 could only muster up 15 fps in video mode. The video rate from the Logitech webcam makes for much smoother video clips, in my opinion. Happily, it cost just under $70.00US at our local electronics and computer outlet! (Continue to Part II...)

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