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WHY WE ARE A BETTER SOURCE THAN MICROSCOPE COMPANIES AND WHOLESALE DISTRIBUTORS FOR IMAGING PRODUCTS
The big name microscope companies want to sell branded product, which today includes digital cameras and imaging software. They may even tell you that their cameras are specially designed for their microscopes, which is untrue. At the low end, price driven vendors sell cheap products and don't understand the technical issues involved in scientific imaging applications. The customer is better served by a vendor that is free to recommend the BEST products for the application. Most microscope salespeople lack the necessary product knowledge and experience to know what the BEST camera and software products are.
Distributors achieve low pricing by selling in volume and compromising on application knowledge - it is not cost effective for them to engage in a consultative sale, or hire persons with extensive product and application knowledge. Their inability to visualize a total solution can lead to necessary items (cable, power supply, application software for example) not being included with the order. They typically sell every product from every one of their vendors, complicating the decision process. For end users, the consultative approach is not only more effective, but quite likely less costly due to a recommendation being made best suited to the individual application.
THE WEB STORE IS MUCH MORE THAN A SHOPPING CART, IT IS ALSO A GREAT TOOL FOR FINDING THE RIGHT PRODUCT
The Web Store button on our Selector Tables gives more detail on that particular product, including options and accessories. Nothing is placed into the cart until you click the "Buy" button. Our Web Store is also an excellent tool for comparing products. For example, if you were interested in Photo Documentation/Publication Cameras, you could perform research as follows:
FRAME GRABBER EVOLUTION AND WHY THEY STILL HAVE A ROLE IN DIGITAL IMAGING
Frame grabber cards have been available for over 25 years, and were originally designed to digitize images from video cameras, widely used at the time for video monitoring in measurement, inspection, and research applications. Frame grabber boards allowed images to be captured into the digital world of computers, where software could be used to measure, analyze, process, and enhance the images.
Use of frame grabbers spiked along with the popularity and use of personal computers in scientific, industrial, medical, graphical, and presentation applications. As CCD technology evolved, the shortcomings of NTSC 480 line interlaced video became more apparent. Cameras evolved to progressive scan, and ultimately to full digital, when the demise of the frame grabber was predicted.
Despite these predictions, frame grabbers have remained an integral part of the scientific and industrial imaging landscape. Initially, higher spatial (x by y) resolution and greater bit depth (10, 12, 14, 16-bit) cameras utilized LVDS or RS-422 signals, and these still required video capture boards, a term that began to replace frame grabber, which implied digitization of an analog source. In the medical field, hospitals have large investments in diagnostic equipment that output analog signals, and with the DICOM standard for medical imaging being widely adopted, need a way to digitize from these sources – high performance analog frame grabbers provide that capability.
Following the lead of Sony, many digital camera manufacturers introduced products using the IEEE1394 Firewire digital interface, which did not require a video capture board. Presently, USB 2.0 and Gigabit Ethernet (GigE) interfaces have also become popular, and like Firewire, do not require an add-in board. They have the added benefit of being laptop compatible.
But for high performance requirements, presently available cameras will most often utilize the Camera Link communication interface, which does require a video capture board. For example, I-CUBE sells a 2 megapixel 12-bit Firewire camera that has a live display rate of 10 frames per second. Also offered is a Camera Link model using the exact same CCD and 12-bit output that can operate at 67 frames per second.
There are also non-scientific applications for which frame grabber products have evolved, typically interfacing to VGA, DVI, and HDTV sources. These include documentation, training, court reporting, presentation, conferencing, online meeting, tech support, distance learning, security, and more. They have the ability of not only individual frame grabs, but the recording of screen display and audio into standard movie files such as MPEG and AVI. An example would be a presenter at a conference – VGA/DVI output connected to a projector can be recorded along with audio from a microphone. There are also products that can take a VGA/DVI/HDTV input and broadcast it over a local network or the internet.
CHOOSING A DIGITAL CAMERA FOR SCIENTIFIC IMAGING. FIREWIRE IEEE1394 OR USB 2.0?
To avoid the buyers remorse that follows choosing the wrong product for your needs and to ensure that you get the right camera and can put it to use quickly and easily, here are 5 things to look for when buying a Digital Camera for Scientific Imaging
Selecting the best connection for your computer
USB 2.0 ports exist on nearly every PC shipped today, be it a desktop, tower, or laptop, all with the same physical connection. Firewire IEEE1394 ports may not be available, and if so, there will be fewer. In addition, Firewire ports can be 6-pin or 4-pin.
Can you power the camera from the computer
USB 2.0 cameras can be powered from the computer, including laptops, while powering Firewire cameras requires a 6-pin connection, not found on laptops. Many cameras, especially ones with cooling as an option, offer an external power supply to solve this issue.
Find out what software comes with the camera, or what third party software supports it
Nothing could be worse than buying a camera that you want to connect and use as soon as you get it, only to discover that the only software that comes with it is programming tools. Know before you buy if the camera comes with an application program, generic drivers (TWAIN, DirectShow, WDM, IIDC), or is supported by the analysis or processing software you want to use.
Which is faster, USB 2.0 or Firewire IEEE1394?
USB 2.0 is a 480 Mbps interface, Firewire 400 (IEEE1394a) is 400 Mbps, Firewire 800 (IEEE1394b) is 800 Mbps. But it’s not that simple – differences in the architecture of the different interfaces have a huge impact on sustained throughput, so high speed digital video recording applications are better served by Firewire cameras.
Will the camera connect to a PC, Mac, or both?
PCs have had USB connections for a long time, Macs only more recently. The larger issue will be if a chosen USB 2.0 camera comes with Mac drivers. If not, and you find that out only after you receive the camera, you will be disappointed.
If you buy a camera from a company that offers a consultative selling approach, you can be confident in your ability to begin productive work shortly after you receive it. Knowledge and service is key – you will also receive support in getting operational, perhaps even a “Quick Start Guide.” Any additional cost beyond what a commodity seller would charge is quickly made up by enhanced productivity.
THE EVOLUTION OF VIDEO MICROSCOPY AND IMAGE ANALYSIS
Microscopes have been used for hundreds of years, and utilized for most of that period by only a single set of eyes at a time. As optical technology evolved, the use of mirrors and prisms provided the capability to attach microscope cameras through what became known as the “photoport.” At first, 35mm cameras, devices for large-format 4x5 film, Polaroid Land, Mamiya roll film, and dry plates were utilized to capture microscopic images in pictures. Eventually, video cameras were utilized, with the great benefit of allowing numerous persons to view the images produced by the microscope simultaneously on a video monitor.
The next technological advance followed the introduction of the personal computer into scientific research and industrial applications. After the invention of data acquisition boards for analog signal digitization, the development of frame grabbers to digitize analog video signals followed a few years later. Now that images had been introduced into the digital world of computers, the field of image processing and analysis was born. At first, frame grabbers interfaced only to monochrome cameras, with support for color cameras following in short order.
With a solid foundation of hardware products available, prices decreasing due to technological advances, and the power of personal computers increasing exponentially, the development of digital image processing software flourished. To the computer, a digital image is a 2D array of grayscale or color values. Image enhancement techniques, from simple contrast and brightness adjustment to spatial filtering to FFT for removal of periodic noise, became commonplace.
Market demands from a growing customer based lead to a wider availability of image analysis software that could not only be used to enhance images, but also to analyze what was in them. Examples are point-to-point measurements, length, area, angle, thickness, optical density, and relative position. In addition, through the use of calibration, measurements could be made in real-world units Ultimately, one of the most popular functions that developed was object counting and sizing, including in the areas of particle analysis, cell biology, metallurgical grain sizing, object tracking, and object classification based on size, color, etc.
Over the years, many different microscopy techniques were developed. Brightfield transmitted light microscopy is the most common, while the benefits of darkfield, reflected light, fluorescence, DIC, phase contrast, and confocal have been utilized by image analysis software.
In the late 1990s, fully digital cameras began to replace analog cameras connected to frame grabbers. They offered many advantages in terms of higher pixel resolution, higher bit depth for greater accuracy, and were sold as a complete solution including the camera, computer interface, and software. As resolutions continued to increase, another application area emerged, that being Photo Documentation cameras for publication and archiving of images. In parallel, image database software emerged, allowing images to be saved with many fields of descriptive information and made available throughout an organization, either on a local or wide area network.
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