Bob's Rock Shop Product Review
Meiji Techno Brand Stereo Microscopes
Reviewed by Alan Plante

The Meiji Techno brand stereo microscopes are becoming increasingly popular among rockhounds who study and/or photograph micro-crystals. Meiji 'scopes are available in either binocular or trinocular models. The binocular models are the ones of choice for people not interested in taking photographs of their micros; while the trinocular - or "third tube" - models are popular among people who want to attach a camera and take pictures through the 'scope.

The most popular models are the EMZ-5, EMZ-5TR and EMZ-8TR, the first of which is a binocular 'scope, the other two being trinocular, for use with cameras. Shown above are two views of the EMZ-8TR. Meiji also makes a model called the RZ-TR, a "fully dedicated" photographic microscope which has a trinocular head and a built in adjustable iris for controlling depth-of-field in photographs.

EMZ-5TR The basic EMZ5 unit is a binocular stereo zoom 'scope with stand which comes with an 0.7X to 4.5X objective lens (the lower lens) and 10X eyepieces, giving it a magnification range of 9X to 45X. There are also 12.5X, 15X, 20X or 30X eyepieces available for this model. A 15X set gives a magnification range of 10.5X to 67.5X; the 20X eyepieces give a range of 14X to 90X; and the 30X set gives a range of 21X to 135.0X. The optics are "wide field" types, and are of high quality, giving a wide, crisp, and bright image with very good inherent depth-of-field - the portion of the image seen which is in focus from front-to back, or - simply - how much of the image can be brought into focus at one time. A basic 'scope and stand with 10X eyepieces costs around $1,400.00 The 12.5X, 15X and 20X eyepieces are about $140.00 per set (same as the 10X) and the 30X set runs about $160.00. (Prices may vary - those provided are approximate and as of Fall 2001.) These oculars have an inherent "high eyepoint"; and there is also a special 15X model available with a particularly high eyepoint.

The EMZ-5TR, depicted at right, is a trinocular stereo-zoom unit. All of the features are the same as the EMZ-5, except that it comes with a trinocular head instead of a binocular one. It is intended for use with a camera (still or video). Use of either a still camera or video camera requires the additional purchase of a mounting adapter for the specific camera to be used. The trinocular head is a prism type: In order to direct the image to the camera, a lever must be flipped which engages a prism that deflects the image being transmitted to one of the eyepieces, sending that image to the camera. This unit costs about $1,800.00 for the 'scope with stand and 10X eyepieces, and a required 2.5X photo ocular. A universal 35 mm camera adapter costs about $155.00, while video and digital still camera mounts run from around $155.00 to $250.00.

EMZ-8TR EMZ-8TR

The EMZ-8TR, depicted above, is similar to the EMZ-5TR - and uses the same optical elements - except that the trinocular head is different. This head is a "dedicated" photographic head, the image seen in the eyepieces also being sent to the camera at all times - no lever and prism to deal with. Basically, what you see when you look through the eyepieces is what the camera "sees" at the same time (except that the camera is framing a rectangular section of the round image seen in the eyepieces.) The same camera adapters are used for this unit as are used for the EMZ-5TR. This unit costs about $2,000.00 for the 'scope, stand, 10X eyepieces and 2.5X photo ocular. Add about $155.00 to $250.00 to that for the cost of the required camera adapter - depending on which one you need.

The RZ-TR unit is a fully dedicated photographic stereo zoom 'scope. It can be purchased with a wide range of features - different strength objectives and eyepieces, etc. - and a range of specialized attachments, such as polarizing filters, and even a drawing attachment that lets you project the image for tracing. There is a diaphragm built into the body of the 'scope - an adjustable iris operated by a lever -which allows the user to change the aperture in the same way an iris in a camera lens does; you can "stop down" the iris to increase the depth-of-field, getting more and more of the total image in focus as the aperture decreases. The same camera adapters that are used for the 5TR and 8TR can be used on this unit.

Because there are so many different combinations of features available for this 'scope, only a range of prices can be given. A basic unit with stand, 10X eyepieces, and 1.0X objective is about $5,000.00. "Loaded" - 'scope and stand with ergonomic head, 10X eyepieces containing reticules, and 1.0x objective - it would run around $6,000.00. "Fully loaded" - with all the bells and whistles, including accessories - it would probably run closer to $10,000.00 While even $5,000.00 for the basic 'scope might seem like a lot of money to most rockhounds, it should be remembered that this is a dedicated photographic system intended for use by serious photographers and researchers needing photographic documentation of their work. I have seen similar systems which run anywhere from $10,000.00 to $20,000.00 for the basic 'scope, stand, and optics. So the price tag for this system is inexpensive by comparison. I include it here both because there may be rockhound-photographers looking for a good fully dedicated system, and because people should be aware that there are options beyond the basic trinocular head 'scopes that are popular.

All of the trinocular Meiji models are designed to allow for parfocal adjustment - synchronization of the camera film plane with the focal point of the stereo-eyepieces. Use of the proper camera adapter allows the user to position the camera so that when the image seen through the eyepieces is in focus, it is also in focus at the camera. This is important when working with 35 mm still cameras. It allows the user to compose and focus the image to be photographed while looking through the stereo-eyepieces - rather than through the camera's viewfinder, which can be rather difficult due to the darkness of the image seen there and problems presented by some types of focusing screens in cameras. With the prism-type EMZ-5TR, final composition is done looking through the eyepiece on the tube containing the prism. With the EMZ-8TR and RZ-TR, it is done looking through the left eyepiece.

The image seen in the eyepiece of any of them is not exactly the image seen by the camera (as noted above, you are looking at a round image through the eyepieces, while the camera takes a rectangle out of that circular image) so it is usually a good idea to do a final check of composition through the camera viewfinder before taking the picture. But I found that after taking less than one full 36 exposure roll of shots, I was able to judge the composition through the eyepieces well enough to not bother checking through the viewfinder.

Whether you are looking for a simple study 'scope with good optics and image quality, or for a truly dedicated photographic 'scope, the Meiji line offers high quality at a moderate price. While there are less expensive 'scopes available, I have found that the old saying is true: "You get what you pay for." What you pay for when buying a Meiji is quality - and it's worth it. I feel that the quality of the Meiji line 'scopes is as good as considerably more expensive 'scopes I've used in the past. I have also seen - and even owned - 'scopes in the same price range which did not have the quality of the Meiji brand 'scopes. (I recently got rid of one lemon and purchased a Meiji EMZ-8TR.)

I wish to thank Jim Ross, owner of Absolute Clarity and Calibration in Terryville, Connecticut, for demonstrations of the Meiji brand 'scopes reviewed here, for editorial assistance, and for supplying the pictures of Meiji 'scopes accompanying this review. Jim was a very gracious host, allowing the reviewer the opportunity to strap a camera to both an EMZ-8TR and an RZ-TR to shoot a couple rolls of film; he also answered numerous questions about the various models available. Be sure and check out the Meiji Microscopes Page as well as the Mineral Collectors Page at Jim's Absolute Clarity and Calibration's web site!

You'll also want to visit the Meiji Techno Web Site for further illustrations and information on Meiji's entire product line of microscopes.

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Bob Keller