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The MBS-10 stereo microscope (I)

Though some of you might already know, we have to point out in the beginning that a stereo microscope is by no means just a regular compound microscope bearing two eyepieces. You see, a regular compound microscope is restricted to delivering two identical, non-stereoscopic views of the specimen, i.e. no visual 3D impression at all. In contrast a real stereo microscope is providing the luxury and delight of true stereoscopic imaging. Though the overall magnification of the stereo microscope is drastically lower you will have a feeling of flying over your specimen, like an eagle (if everything is well-adjusted ...).

One of our favourite stereo microscopes is the Russian MBS-10 microscope. There are several reasons why we want to draw your attention to it. First of all it is a massive, rugged instrument of archaic build quality with an image quality that is well suited even for most professional applications. And, what we feel is still more important, it is greatly underrated, even by amateurs. When looking around in the internet you will come to the conclusion that the MBS-10 might be a poorly constructed microscope, at the very entry level, just for the beginner.
But it must be understood that the MBS-10 is not fully idiot-proof, that it might arrive on your desk in unadjusted and possibly even ill-treated condition. Furthermore, many of those instruments will have a considerable age and a DIY treatment history. So, what is it all about? Just have a look at the following images and captions:

[ the MBS-10 stereo microscope ]

The MBS-10 stereo microscope

Some 4 kg of metal, mostly aluminium, have been piled up to an impressive height of 47 cm.

Somewhat below a prism block is incorporated, allowing to adjust for individual pupil distance (being in poor alignment condition sometimes, thus causing negative comments about the instrument in general).

The box cube further below houses a revolving axle with the so-called Galilei scopes, which make up an intermediate optical system between the fixed main objective below and the prism-eyepiece system above. By turning the axle and changing between different Galilei scopes you will be able to vary the objective magnification in steps 0.6x, 1x, 2x, 4x and 7x.

The main objective, an impressive mass of glass is hidden in the beige cylindrical housing.

9 cm working distance are close to optical paradise conditions (if you are not the rock-examinig type).

The thin object plate is perfectly all right for incident light work and you might do without the further substage for virtually all tardigrade investigations.
The substage includes a backside bore in order to use the low-voltage lamp for transmitted light and the usual mirror redirecting the light towards the object.

The next image is depicting the control knobs, i.e. the pupil distance adjustment (strange long knob leaning out to the left side), furthermore the magnification change control knobs on both sides of the cube and, hidden behind them, with about the same diameters, the focus control knobs. In addition the right focus knob is bearing a collar for the control of the focus adjustment force needed (to choose between brute force and very brute force ;-). Possibly somewhat archaic - but our instrument keeps its focus position in a rock-like manner. As a consequence there are no "sinking" problems whatsoever, even with heavy camera loads, which might be encountered with other, softer and more elegant instruments.

[ MBS-10 stereo microscope, detail ]

Detail view of the objective-, intermediate- and eyepiece components
of the MBS-10 stereo microscope

The original MBS-10 comes with an illumination system demanding our respect due to its rugged all-metal build quality. The system is made up of a low voltage (8 volt) lamp in a lamp housing with variable focus capability and a separate transformer. But it could be considered as definitely outdated - remember, we live in times of low power consumption LED light, enhanced electrical safety requirements etc.
Nevertheless the combination of those two fossil components is well able to deliver a reliable, long usage time, 30 watt light power (far above its own technical specification!). Due to the low voltage system the heat towards the objects is low to moderate, perfectly acceptable. And a 30 watt power must be considered as fully sufficient for all reasonable applications we can figure out (tardigrade tasks included).
A serious user pitfall is hidden in the plug design: the lamp plug and the transformer plug to the wall power-outlet are identical. In practice this means that the typical beginner (or even the professional in its senile hurry) one day will erroneously push the low-voltage lamp plug into the high-voltage wall outlet! And you don't need an engineering degree to understand that this will be a quick and terribly brute low-voltage lamp murder.

[ MBS-10 Trafo ]

The MBS-10 transformer with the nasty deceptive lamp plug (poor low voltage bulbs!). The high voltage plug for the connection between tranformer and wall outlet looks exactly the same.

We do love the MBS-10 as we have been using ours intensively for more than 20 years, even without a dust protector, and it has never let us down. Even though the controls will not move as smoothly as on the more expensive products - in our opinion the value of a microscope is primarily made up of usability and optical performance. Both are top of the line, in particular when you are using the 2x objective in combination with the extremely wide-field 14x eyepieces. Like eagle flying above your specimen, as we did point out already. Please find a demonstration of the image quality below (this time no tardigrade, sorry, but this will follow).

[ MBS-10 demo image #1 ]

Close-up view of a 10 EUR bank note, made by means of a MBS-10 stereo microscope with regular photo adapter (no tricks). Image width 12 mm. Objective magnification "2x". The green frame is indicating the area of the crop image below.
Illumination: IKEA "Jansjö"-LED (cold light) lamp. Camera: Sony Nex-5 (a Nex-5B might do even better because of its electronic shutter with no vibration at all). 200 ASA, shutter time 1/40 s.

[ MBS-10 demo image #2

Detail cropped from the green frame in the image above (cut from the same root image) for a better documentation of the actual image quality. The object width on the bank note is 1.54 mm. Please note that you will reach this image quality only with a well-adjusted instrument in good preservation state.

Well, overall, is this an appropriate image quality? Is the color rendering close to your needs? Up to you to decide! In any case be warned that you will be able to spend much more money for other products with equal or lower mechanical build quality and imaging power.

© Text, images and video clips by  Martin Mach  (webmaster@baertierchen.de).
Water Bear web base is a licensed and revised version of the German language monthly magazine  Bärtierchen-Journal . Style and grammar amendments by native speakers are warmly welcomed.

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