How do I photograph display pixels?

Started May 9, 2012 | Discussions
Dean Baird
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How do I photograph display pixels?
May 9, 2012

Such as seen here (Open in new window):

I have my students look at displays through a 60x-100x pocket magnifier to see pixel structure. They are amazed to see that yellow = red + green. They look at a MacBook, iPad (retina display), old Canon S3-IS, and their own smartphones.

So how can I photograph such things?

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Kaj E
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Re: How do I photograph display pixels?
In reply to Dean Baird, May 9, 2012

Dean Baird wrote:

Such as seen here (Open in new window):

I have my students look at displays through a 60x-100x pocket magnifier to see pixel structure. They are amazed to see that yellow = red + green. They look at a MacBook, iPad (retina display), old Canon S3-IS, and their own smartphones.

So how can I photograph such things?

You need a proper microscope and an adapter for you camera.

Search the web for suitable equipment.

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rareshb
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Re: How do I photograph display pixels?
In reply to Dean Baird, May 9, 2012

A 1:1 macro lens should suffice.

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Al Giordano
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Re: How do I photograph display pixels?
In reply to rareshb, May 9, 2012

You might get away with taking a 60m, 85, or 105mm lens and putting a Close-Up filter set on it if you want to do it on the "cheap". I do this with my 28-105 Macro and it works pretty good on very small things. Clarity won't be so good, but you will get a small focus area that might be usable.

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Dean Baird
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Re: How do I photograph display pixels?
In reply to Kaj E, May 9, 2012

Kaj E wrote:

You need a proper microscope and an adapter for you camera.

I imagine there are devices that will allow photography from microscopes, but you can't really put a laptop display into a glass slide. So microscope photography isn't what I'm after. Magnifier photography, if such a thing exists. But that search term doesn't generate appropriate google-love.

I'd like to think a macro might do it, but remember these are 60x - 100x magnifications. That seems like steep cropping!

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Marianne Oelund
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Macro magnification needed isn't that high
In reply to Dean Baird, May 9, 2012

Dean Baird wrote:

Such as seen here (Open in new window):

You can reproduce this example with a fine-pitch-sensor dSLR such as 60D, D7000, D800, D5100, etc. with about a 2x macro setup. That's easily achieved or exceeded by reverse-mounting a short lens such as a 28mm. Adding an extension tube will take you even further.

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Dominique Dierick
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Re: How do I photograph display pixels?
In reply to Dean Baird, May 9, 2012

I can see these thingies very clearly with my 105VR on the D800. 1:1 macro would show them. Depends on how much detail you want into them.

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knickerhawk
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In reply to Al Giordano, May 9, 2012

Al Giordano wrote:

You might get away with taking a 60m, 85, or 105mm lens and putting a Close-Up filter set on it if you want to do it on the "cheap". I do this with my 28-105 Macro and it works pretty good on very small things. Clarity won't be so good, but you will get a small focus area that might be usable.

I've done it with a 90mm macro plus extension tubes. No loss of IQ that way. You can also reverse a prime lens and get amazing macros. This exercise is a particularly easy one since your subject isn't going anywhere, light isn't an issue and DOF isn't an issue.

Edit: I see Marianne has already made these suggestions. The other reason this is an easy macro exercise with tubes or a reversed lens is because when you use those techniques your working distance is quite small. With some macro subjects this creates a real problem with getting the subject illuminated. The shadow of the lens is problematic. Obviously, illumination isn't a problem when its a monitor providing the light from the other direction.

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Dominique Dierick
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Something like this? D800 + 105 VR
In reply to Dean Baird, May 9, 2012

Just a quicky, you would get better possible using tripod and mirror lock up. Look at the full res crop, clicking on filename and selecting original. There you can see detail in the green thingies.

Took a pic of a 50% gray background.

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Marianne Oelund
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Example with 28mm
In reply to Marianne Oelund, May 9, 2012

Here is about 2.1x macro using a reversed 28mm as mentioned previously. Note that the display surface will determine how much detail you can pull. In this example, the display has a matte finish which blurs the elements slightly. In fact, if you focus back slightly from this, you can record the texture of the matte surface.

D800E, Nikkor-H 28mm f/3.5 reversed, handheld:

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Dominique Dierick
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My 105VR result, upsampled 2x
In reply to Marianne Oelund, May 9, 2012

My monitor has a brilliant screen. Don't know anything about the internals of LCD screens, but are these contacts I see on the green pixels, do you know?

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kb2zuz
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Re: Something like this? D800 + 105 VR
In reply to Dominique Dierick, May 9, 2012

The same lens on a D5100 will work just as well... I'm only pointing it out so that the instructor doesn't feel the need to run out and buy a $3000 camera when a $600 would do.

Any APS-C camera with 15 or more megapixels and a 1:1 macro lens will do fine. A "full frame" camera will either need over 30MP or need a greater than 1:1 macro lens.

Keep in mind if you wanted to do this on screens with higher pixel pitch (such as the newer iPhone 4/4s and new iPad "retina displays") your requirements may be slightly higher.

First I would ask if you have any equipment at all, as there may be ways to do with less of an investment if you already have some equipment.

I'd say a Nikon D5100, a 1:1 macro lens (the 40mm f/2.8G AF-S DX is pretty cheap) that will get you roughly the quality of image shot above, adding a set of extension tubes like this one: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/375238-REG/Kenko_AEXTUBEDGN_Auto_Extension_Tube_Set.html will allow you to get even closer.

Total cost: $1,100 You'll need to add a tripod of some kind to get steady images.

If you already have a camera and lenses, perhaps just the extension tube kit or a reversal ring to flip a prime lens might work well.

I know this is a Nikon forum, but looking across the aisle, another option is that Canon has a 65mm MP-E macro lens that is designed for focusing extremely close on very small details. That paired with a Rebel T2i or T3i would cost around $1,600-$1,700 and you'd still need a tripod. This lens would allow you to focus insanely close and not require you to pull the lens off to add extension rings to get closer.

Also here's a quick shot I just took from my $400 panasonic LX-5:

It could be a lot better, but not bad for the price. Some point-and-shoots have decent macro abilities, and some will accept close-focusing/macro add-on lenses that will improve the quality...

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ChipTz
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Re: My 105VR result, upsampled 2x
In reply to Dominique Dierick, May 9, 2012

you can find details here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TFT_LCD

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RichardM98
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Re: How do I photograph display pixels?
In reply to Dean Baird, May 9, 2012

Macro photography is not dependent on any one lens. It is simply an increase in image magnification achieved by increasing the distance between the lens and camera body. Macro lenses use increased helical length to get to 1:1. After that, adapters are inserted between the lens and camera body. Single adapter rings, sets of rings and finally bellows which are infinitely adjustable within their range. Some adapters preserve metering and even auto focus ($$). Macro lenses (micro in Nikonese) are special purpose lenses which give a 1:1 image size and are usually optimized for close focus and a flat field. For your purposes any camera lens could be used. Although the amount of extension must be greater than the focal length to give greater than 1X (1:1) magnification. So long focal lengths are generally ruled out as impractical. Supplemental lenses - diopter lenses which attach to the front like a filter do not reach 1:1 by themselves. Another trick is the reverse a lens so the front element is closest to the camera body. This give some improvement but requires the necessary adapters

If you are at a school look for an old copy stand. These were common in the past and consist of a base and a vertical column. The camera can be attached to the column for support and adjustment above the subject. As others have mentioned I tripod can be rigged to work instead.

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Dominique Dierick
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Re: Something like this? D800 + 105 VR
In reply to kb2zuz, May 9, 2012

Yes, but the OP signatures says he is getting a D800e, so I showed a D800 image

D.

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kb2zuz
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Doh!
In reply to Dominique Dierick, May 10, 2012

Didn't check the signature, that explains a lot.
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Dean Baird
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Re: Doh!
In reply to kb2zuz, May 10, 2012

Thanks all for the helpful tips/techniques.

Yes, I'm moving to Nikon as I'm moving to FF. I've never tried to shoot pixels and figured you folks would know a way to do so with something like a D800.
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inasir1971
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Re: How do I photograph display pixels?
In reply to Dean Baird, May 10, 2012

As shown in Dominique's shot above a standard 105 macro (in your case as you have a 60D either of the Canon 100mm macro's or maybe the 50mm) should do the trick. The 60D might have less MP than a D800, but it is an 18 MP crop camera which means high pixel density (higher than the D800 actually).

The 1:1 (100mm) or 1:2 (50mm) in macro refers to the maximum possible ratio of subject to size of image projected onto your sensor - as the pixel density on your sensor is considerably higher than any display it should more than suffice. You have no lighting considerations, since your subject is the light source and you have a flat subject so no depth of field considerations -> easiest to do macro shot possible.

Just stick a 100mm macro (maybe even a 50mm would do) onto your 60D set 'A' mode with f

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Dean Baird
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Re: How do I photograph display pixels?
In reply to inasir1971, May 10, 2012

Is this a bad time to confess that I have no primes or macro lenses? The shame! I've been busying my pixels with landscapes and nature shots. With zooms.

I'll have to think of this as justification for a future purchase. No crisis. Like I said, I wrote a lab for my physics students (titled "Pixel Peeping" no less), where they inspect displays using pocket magnifiers. They also learn about additive color mixing (e.g., periwinkle = red@50%, green@0%, and blue@100%).

In the process of looking at phosphors and pixel structures, it struck me that it would be fun to capture some photos. Which made think to ask the assembly of wisdom here at the forum.

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kb2zuz
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Re: Doh!
In reply to Dean Baird, May 10, 2012

Yeah if you're getting a D800/D800E a 1:1 macro like the 105 VR will do well. I recommend a tripod and a cable release to minimize shake, and a set of extension tubes will help increase the magnification (which may be useful for higher res displays like the iPhone 4/4s).
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