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Author Topic: Good, Cheap Camera for Close Ups? Macro?  (Read 3079 times)
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All I have is an IPhone to take pics of my work.  Was looking at getting a cheap camera for close ups and macro work of the PCBs I make.

Anybody got any input?
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Macro is really about getting decent lighting.  Photography (what you are trying to do) is "Painting with Light" and takes a bit more than a camera to do- it takes thinking about how light falls, and how it works with a lens.  Snapshots are easy- photography is a bear.

You really don't need anything particularly good as a camera, in fact, the iphone sensor should perform just fine for something as contrasty and low resolution (compared to, say, portraits) as a PCB.

What you want to do is get a nice holder of one type or another for the iphone, a tripod of sorts.  No matter which one, just something to hold the thing in a decent, steady position.

Now, put it on preview, and if you have a mode which is usually marked as macro or for "closeups", try that.  Light the room as you normally would using ceiling lighting (direct or indirect from lamps or whatever) bright enough to light the subject well, but not so much as to to make dramatic shadows.  Shadows are enemies. Now, get yourself a couple of light sources, standard desk lamps are fine.  Place a screen of some sort- even some paper- in front of one, to spread the light out.  Place that forty five degrees off to the camera right.  Now take a second light, and place that on the left, about 45 degrees also, but as much as sixty degrees to keep any glare minimized.  The board should be resting on a neutral surface, neither too light or dark, and the background for all of it should be dark but not totally black.  An alternative to all of this is a light tent, which is a tent or box made of cloth (usually nylon or silk), you put the object inside and light the outside of the tent.  It's really all about getting the light spread around without getting glare spots.  A good presentation angle is to place something small (a half inch or so) under the far side of the board to tilt it toward the camera.

This is a really bad description of poor man's "Rembrandt" lighting, and it's a balanced look that usually works for most things.  Because diffusion screens take 40-70% of light, the overall effect is workable and looks fairly professional, even with the most basic camera.  In any case, I'd recommend that you search out a good tutorial online- it's rarely the camera that makes the difference in this sort of shot- it's setup and planning.  An expensive camera will just take a very high resolution image of a bad shot smiley
« Last Edit: April 03, 2013, 10:22:54 pm by focalist » Logged

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Wow, thanks for all the tips.  I have been using desk lamps plus the ceiling lights to illuminate the item.  The problem is that the cameras I have, if you get too close (like less than 6"), the focus diminishes.  Beyond the 6", the item in the image just seems too far away to get any of the fine details. 

I have spent the last 2 hours Googling on how to make clean close ups.  And I must admit, it's a bit over-whelming at how much thought and work go into making those detailed close-ups.  I will keep studying and play with putting paper over the lights like you said. 
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yea what kills phone camera's is the fixed lens, when I went out for a camera I tested them in a store taking a picture of the card with the price on it

keeping within budget, and keeping the wife happy netted us a nice little point n shoot olympus for 100 bucks. We are not photographers so the camera does pretty good for simple stuff.

course you can find them cheaper, my old camera was a 2 megapixel toshiba which absolutely kicked butt at PCB photos, which was free.
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First suggestion: look up reviews for your specific model of iPhone, and see how well its camera fared. My recollection is that some are good, and some not.

If you decide you need a camera, look in places like craigslist and Goodwill for ones that are dirt cheap because they're a few years old and don't have 40 gazillion megapixels.  Many cameras with what are now considered "too small" sensors had superb optics.  Unless the PCBs you're photographing are PC motherboards, 3-5 megapixels should be plenty.

I disagree with the suggestion of a tripod: you're going to want something more like a "copy stand" to hold the camera pointing dead straight at the PCB.  If you try to use a tripod, you'll find that the legs get in the way, or you have to cantilever the camera out so far that it becomes unstable, or you have to try to prop up the subject at odd angles to get the camera's axis perpendicular to it.  To make one really cheaply, start with a base that's nice and flat, and about 10-12 inches on a side.  Something like one of those plastic kitchen  cutting boards that's about half an inch thick should do.  Mount a vertical piece of 2x2 lumber to it. Attach your camera/phone holder to another piece.of 2x2, and use a C-clamp to hold it horizontal at the right height.

You can get fancier and more expensive, but that's all you really need for occasional use.


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You can just put it on a  flat bed scanner and scan it.

You don't want a Macro Lens and be situated real close... you'll have a very shallow depth of field, then you'll need a program to stitch different shots together to get something usable.

Stand the PCB/work on it's edge, light it up (static lighting, or use a diffused flash (pointed to the ceiling makes for a nice even lighting)... then zoom in on your PCB. Take a shot.  You'll have plenty of depth of field. Even a 6/8MP camera, when zoomed in you'll see lots of detail. I mean, how much detail do you really need?

Me, standing back 2-3 feet, using a 24-105F4L lens, I can take pretty good closeup of PCBs/parts... sometimes too good that when I import the shots into PhotoShop, I could see dust particles sitting on the PCB/resistors/etc... then I have to clone them out using Photoshop.
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I picked up a Sony A330 on eBay for cheap. Its a decent entry level DSLR, plenty of features, seems pretty idiot proof (and was compatible with all my Minolta lenses).
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I disagree with the suggestion of a tripod: you're going to want something more like a "copy stand" to hold the camera pointing dead straight at the PCB.  If you try to use a tripod, you'll find that the legs get in the way, or you have to cantilever the camera out so far that it becomes unstable, or you have to try to prop up the subject at odd angles to get the camera's axis perpendicular to it.  To make one really cheaply, start with a base that's nice and flat, and about 10-12 inches on a side.  Something like one of those plastic kitchen  cutting boards that's about half an inch thick should do.  Mount a vertical piece of 2x2 lumber to it. Attach your camera/phone holder to another piece.of 2x2, and use a C-clamp to hold it horizontal at the right height.
It depends on the tripod, they do make tripods where the center column reverses and you mount the camera underneath the legs.

With all cameras, the issue with macro is depth of field.  Often times a single shot will not have everything in focus.  This is one area where the cameras with smaller sensors can win out over DSLRs is that the depth of field is larger for a given aperture for a smaller sensor over a larger sensor (but then, due to diffraction, the larger sensor cameras can often stop the aperture down).  If you want to take detailed shots of macro where everything is in focus, you probably want to investigate focus stacking: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Focus_stacking

If you use google to search for 'arduino focus stacking' you will see code to control various Canon and Nikon cameras that you can build on an Arduino platform.  Since, I tend to shoot with Olympus cameras, I don't know which Canon/Nikons are compatible with the focus stacking support.

I could imagine instead of telling the camera to change the lens focus, you could do it the more traditional route, and have a camera with manual focus on a platform with rails and use a stepper motor to precisely move the camera back/forward and take a picture, and then use the focus stacking software to make the final image.  For example: http://www.diyphotography.net/create-an-automated-macro-rails-for-image-stacking

In looking at the last link, they had a link to another technique of using the lens from a DVD player to put on your cellphone for simple macro shooting: http://www.diyphotography.net/super-macro-your-cellphone-camera-with-a-dvd-lens
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First suggestion: look up reviews for your specific model of iPhone, and see how well its camera fared. My recollection is that some are good, and some not.

I have an IPhone 4 and it takes decent pics for everyday shots.  But, terrible at close ups. 

I picked up a Sony A330 on eBay for cheap. Its a decent entry level DSLR, plenty of features, seems pretty idiot proof (and was compatible with all my Minolta lenses).

Just looked these up on Ebay and the body goes for very cheap, but the lenses are in the hundreds.  Might have to keep an eye on this one.

You can just put it on a  flat bed scanner and scan it.

That is an interesting idea!  I will have to try that.

In looking at the last link, they had a link to another technique of using the lens from a DVD player to put on your cellphone for simple macro shooting: http://www.diyphotography.net/super-macro-your-cellphone-camera-with-a-dvd-lens

Bookmarked!  I have a few DVD players laying around.  I will definitely have to try that.

Thanks for all the advice!  Had no idea we had photographers on an Arduino site! 

+Karma all around!
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I picked up a Sony A330 on eBay for cheap. Its a decent entry level DSLR, plenty of features, seems pretty idiot proof (and was compatible with all my Minolta lenses).

Just looked these up on Ebay and the body goes for very cheap, but the lenses are in the hundreds.  Might have to keep an eye on this one.


I picked up one for my dad without the lens for $250, and mine came with the stock lens for $300. They were store display units that Sony wouldn't allow the stores to sell as open box I guess. IIRC, the A200 is a lot cheaper, and the only major difference is the lack of a tilt LCD.
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The nice thing about scanning, is you'll have a true scale image without too much work. Put a ruler on the edge of your PCB, scan at 300dpi (or higher), then import to Photoshop and you have a highly detailed image that's also true to scale without perspective distortion.

Here's an example PCB scan (not mine).
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I picked up one for my dad without the lens for $250, and mine came with the stock lens for $300. They were store display units that Sony wouldn't allow the stores to sell as open box I guess. IIRC, the A200 is a lot cheaper, and the only major difference is the lack of a tilt LCD.

Yea, I don't think I will need a tilt LCD..  Thanks for the info.

The nice thing about scanning, is you'll have a true scale image without too much work. Put a ruler on the edge of your PCB, scan at 300dpi (or higher), then import to Photoshop and you have a highly detailed image that's also true to scale without perspective distortion.

Here's an example PCB scan (not mine).

Holly cow, that is nice.  I have a scanner, but don't know if it is that good..  I will have to try mine this evening.  I will post up what I get.
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Just an update, I have a Power Shot A590 and I actually managed to sit down and read the manual.  It has a Macro and did some test shots.  I will have to find a place to host the pics.

I also tried the scanner.  Had to set the DPI to 600 (highest for mine) to get some detail.  Came out pretty sweet I think.  Only problem, It takes good scans with a non-populated board, but with an IC, it's too far off the glass to get sharp images.
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I think much depends on your scanner's optical quality too. Some flat bed scanners can scan small 3D objects just fine on top of the glass.

http://www.hp.com/united-states/consumer/digital_photography/organize_archive_photos/tips/3d_scanning.html#2
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This one is the scan.  I took a scan of every board I designed.  I just just uploaded the first one I seen.




If CrossRoads views this board, he might find it familiar..  Since it came from him.  It's his Dual '328.

Yes, you can see the dust and lint in this one.

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