How digitization changes the microscopy market

Dr Bürgers, why are some digital cameras developed specifically for microscopes? I mean, you can just mount a high-resolution consumer camera on a microscope...

Of course you can do that; there are even product-specific adapters. This may be adequate for cases where image quality is not as crucial. But if you have already invested in an expensive microscope, you are doing yourself a disservice by using a normal digital camera.

Is it because the lenses on microscopes and cameras are considerably different?

Not only that. The digital cameras by Leica are specially developed for taking micro- and macroscopic images. These products are even developed with the main application in mind. We manufacture digital cameras that are optimised for use in quality control on printed circuit boards. For example, cameras from the relatively low-priced IC and MC series can be connected directly to a monitor or PC. Then there is the DMC series in the higher-performance segment. This series ranges from the DMC2900 to our flagship model DMC6200. The former is capable of not only black-and-white but also polarisation imaging. In addition, it is also very well suited for live imaging thanks to its USB 3.0 connection and ability to capture 30 frames per second.

On the subject of DMC6200: In terms of its technical specifications, this camera is even able to surpass some professional digital cameras for "normal" photos. What does this do for microscopy?

The DMC6200 uses pixel-shift processing and can therefore achieve an extremely accurate colour reproduction. Each of the three primary colours – red, green and blue – is broken up into 16 levels, giving a total of 65536 colours, of which only 256 are displayed on the screen in the end. This means the amount of information collected is massive. The camera also supports all kinds of contrasting methods, including fluorescence. The camera and its great versatility mean you can't really go wrong. Nevertheless, the key factor should always be the primary application.

What are we going to see in the coming months with regard to technical development in digital microscopy?

4K resolution will definitely catch on. And that is because compatible monitors are available at reasonable prices right now. We have already been putting 4K-capable CMOS chips in our products for a long time. We can also expect to see cameras that don't need to rely on external PC software – at least when it comes to basic image processing. Another upcoming technology is encrypted network connection, for example to a central image database.

The demand for digital cameras has been growing rapidly in the past years. Surely technical advancement alone cannot account for this rise.

One of the reasons for this rise in demand can be traced back to very pragmatic considerations: such cameras are made a necessity by law, standards and regulations. For example, photographic records, including microscopy data, are necessary in pharmaceutical research as well as in the development of components used in the aerospace or automotive industry. You can't perform documentation reliably without a digital camera installed on or built into a microscope.

Now on to you, Mr Smith. You are currently working on the next-gen LAS X software user interface for the DVM6 digital microscope. How much are you able to tell us about it?

Firstly, LAS X is the software platform for Leica microscopes that supports both our stereo and digital microscope systems for applications in both industry and life sciences. The core software provided with microscope systems that have automation, encoded zooms or digital cameras. For the DVM6 we are making an enhancement to LAS X to further optimize the user interface.

With what goal in mind?

Our goal is to make the software so easy to use that a child can do it. And we mean this literally. To make the software intuitive to use, we have integrated almost everything that you would normally need to learn from a handbook. By doing so, we are killing two birds with one stone: The user will make fewer mistakes and remain motivated, and employers can spend less time training their employees. This means employers will save time and achieve better results more quickly.

And what has changed "under the bonnet"?

We have optimized quite a few parameters for example, stitching – which refers to the seamless merging of images in the X, Y and Z axes. While horizontal stitching make an image larger in a flat plane, adding Z-axis stitching allows us to literally increase or depth. Multiple images are combined, with different focus depths stacked on each other, allowing the user to, in a way, “dive” into the resulting image. The construction of these Z layers takes place almost automatically. One of the things the new version of LAS X does is to make it much easier and faster for the user (kids included) to generate 2D and 3D images.

Dr Bürgers and Mr Smith, thank you very much for the interview.

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