How to win the Nikon Small World photomicrography competition

The deadline for the Nikon Small World photomicrography competition is fast approaching (April 30th), and I’ve parsed some data on what types of images tend to win over since the contest’s inception in the late 1970s. The graphs below include data from both the stills and the newly minted video competition.


Figure 1: The total number of images utilizing each technique for places 1-20, Honorable Mentions, and Images of Distinction.

Right away we see that polarized light techniques have a distinct advantage in terms of how often we see them on the winners podium. This was a bit of a surprise. I’m always left with the impression of a preponderance of confocal images after each year’s announcement of winners, but I suppose confocal would have not been seeing much use until the 80s.


Figure 2: Heat map of the total number of images from 1st to 20th place.

Polarized light still easily dominates the field, with fluorescence and confocal making strong showings (you’ll notice many of the technique categories for NSW are overlapping). Techniques grouped under fluorescence do have a slightly higher number of 1st place finishes at 9 versus 8, and of total top 5 finishes (41 vs. 40). Beyond the top 5, polarized light has essentially more placers at every position.

Good luck to everyone who enters. I don’t have the rights to display my favorites from previous contests (e.g. this, this, or this), but I will display a few of my own, non-winner, images.


Freshwater ostracod


Freshwater copepod (cyclops)


Teaser photomicrography

Here’s something you may not know about the old manual Canon auto bellows and macro lens: the threaded adapter that connects a 20mm f3.5 (or 35mm f2.8) macro lens to the bellows employs the same threading standard as the typical microscope objective, known as the Royal Microscopical Society standard, 20.32 mm diameter with a pitch of 0.706 mm per turn, dates back to 1896 when it replaced an earlier standard.

The impact of this design choice for macrophotographers is that one can use any standard microscope objective, adding a great deal of options for imaging with the auto bellows and potentially pushing the capabilities of bellows macro into photomicrography. This can result in some very short working distances, and the sterics of the objective and subject mean there won’t generally be a lot of room for illumination sources. I designed this simple 3D printed microphotography objective hood for use with bright transverse illumination such as from a fiber optic illuminator. You may be familiar with the type of lens flare that can arise from this illumination setup-typically a haze effect that decreases the overall contrast of the image while increasing the brightness, particular toward the middle of the image.

I took the images below through a 10X NA = 0.25 objective (on the right, with lens hood).


My camera battery is charging, no spare, and I don’t have a worthwhile illumination source handy to shoot proper test shots (these were illuminated with a handheld torch). Nonetheless, I couldn’t resist taking these half-portraits, and I’ll post them here as a teaser. I will use these gorgeous metallic bees for Lieberk├╝hn tests as well. For now, enjoy these Osmia aglaia photos while my camera charges.