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Chiswick Cameras owner and professional photographer Andy Sands has been using Olympus kit for over a year now. Specialising in British Wildlife and Macro Photography has led him to experiment with photographing various forms of spores which are so small they require extra close up lenses.

We contacted our Scientific Solutions department who specialise in Microscopy and arranged for Andy and Microscopy specialist Stuart to meet at Olympus HQ in Southend On Sea. To obtain images shown, a microscope objective lens is attached to the front of a 60mm macro lens which in turn is attached to extension tubes. 

With bizarre life cycles and shapeshifting abilities, there aren’t many life forms as weird as slime moulds. They are not moulds or Fungi, nor plants or even Animals, they are in fact Protozoa! They spend most of their time as single-celled amoeba in the soil feeding on Bacteria then come together in their millions to form a “supercell” which moves around in a plasmodium, feeding on Fungi. Then, when the time is right, they decide to reproduce and change into Sporangia, tiny structures that look a bit like toadstools. The sporangia then ripen, burst and release spores, some of which develop into amoebae. Thus, the cycle begins anew.

Fossil records show that Slime Moulds have been around unchanged for a good 100 million years. “The fact that you can find the same species pretty much anywhere on the planet is fascinating to me,” says Andy Sands, a UK-based photographer who spent months searching for slime moulds under dead logs in the woods local to his home. “They were almost certainly around before the single landmass broke up into continents,” he adds. “They make up about 50% of microbial life in the soil, a good part of where most biodiversity is, beneath our feet. And yet, they are painstakingly difficult to find!” There is a lot of research into Slime Moulds at the moment, with scientists studying them to work out how they have the ability to problem-solve and learn without a brain. Some species can even learn – they possess memory and can find the fastest route through a maze!

Photographing them is certainly a challenge as most sporangia range from around 1 to 3mm tall! Using his Olympus OM-D E-M1X & E-M1 Mark II cameras fitted with a 60mm macro lens and extension tubes, Andy photographs the tiny sporangia. Being able to utilise the built-in focus bracketing function on his Olympus cameras means the full detail can be shown. This feature takes a series of photographs moving the focus a tiny fraction between frames. These are then combined into a single image using specialist software at home. To photograph the individual sporangia Andy mounts a microscope objective to the front of his 60mm macro lens, giving an image magnification with a 10x objective of around 36x life-size (this is usually done in the studio at home). This magnification requires around 250 images just to get 1mm of focus from front to back – a long but rewarding process that shows detail that is unseen even with a magnifying glass.