Scanning Test Tiles

Having purchased a scanner for digitizing my family’s old photos, I had the brilliant idea to also scan glaze test tiles.  I thought I was a genius until Matthew Katz mentioned that he had been scanning tiles for the past ten years.

Matthew noted that CCD scanners have a greater depth of field, which is great for three-dimensional objects like test tiles.  Because of his recommendation I purchased the Canon 9000F Mark II.

I’m not a scanner expert and have never calibrated a scanner before.  I already have an X-Rite ColorChecker Classic for photography, and this color card can be used with X-Rite’s i1Profiler (i1Publish) software to create a scanner profile.  Unfortunately, the software license seems to be very expensive.

I tried Argyll CMS (http://www.argyllcms.com/) but results using the generated ICC profile were worse than the default output.

Here’s a scan of some test tiles.  I had to adjust the Exposure in Photoshop by about +1 stop.  Notice the reflections on some test tiles that were not flat.

Enable large image scans on Canon 9000F Mark II

The Canon software is really frustrating- by default it wouldn’t let me scan a file greater than a set limit (10208 x 14032 pixels, or larger than 100MB).  I finally found a solution hidden away in the software settings.

Comparison with DSLR

I have a relatively old and cheap Canon EOS Rebel T2i with a 18MP sensor.  In comparison with the Canon 9000F scans, the photos from my camera are smaller.  However, they seem to contain just as much if not more detail and better colors.  If needed I can adjust lighting conditions and camera settings to reduce reflections and adjust exposure.  On the other hand, the scan had some reflections that I could not eliminate.

It also takes less time for me to take photos than scan at 2400dpi.

Below are comparisons of the scan and the photos.  In particular, the dark glazes came out very poorly on the scanner.

Conclusion

In conclusion, while the Canon 9000F is great for scanning old photos and documents, I still haven’t found a way to scan glaze tiles that beats results from my old DSLR.

Smartphone Microscopy

Last year I purchased a USB microscope (see article).  It’s pretty fun, but ultimately I was really disappointed by the quality of the images.  The 5MP sensor seems pretty cheap and images have a lot of artifacts.  Furthermore I was never satisfied with the color.

The best choice would probably be a “real” microscope with a camera adapter.  However, this little hobby of mine doesn’t justify spending a lot of cash.

There are a few tutorials online for creating your own phone microscope using the lens of a laser pointer.  (I tried this and it worked pretty well, but I never found a way to conveniently attach the lens to the camera.)  Wired’s article Turn Your Cellphone Into a High-Powered Scientific Microscope has a good tutorial as well as background on the scientists who are using cellphones as biomedical devices.

Fortunately there are now multiple products for sale that make it easier to attach a lens to the phone.

There’s a former Kickstarter project that looks promising and is shipping, the 15x Micro Phone Lens and 150x Micro Phone Lens. (See my November 2016 update, below.)  In China there are a number of cheap alternatives.

Supereyes Smartphone Microscope (Not recommended)

I purchased the Supereyes Smartphone Microscope for about $7USD.  The images below were taken with this lens.  Unfortunately the top of the plastic lens is not protected and I scratched it after playing with it for less than an hour.

The images from the iPhone with attached lens look much better than my USB microscope.  The photos below were taken in natural light.

The lens attached to the iPhone. On top is a plastic cover which is easily scratched. I removed it with a Dremel.

Eyeskey 12x Micro Lens

It was only after using the Supereyes lens that I realized it’s horrible design (does not fit on camera lens, slides off the camera lens, plastic cover easily scratched, etc.) that I bought another cheap microscope lens, the Eyeskey 12x Micro Lens (also about $7USD).

The Eyeskey model is designed much better.  An adapter slides perfectly over the phone and the lens is screwed into the adapter.  The plastic tube that is visible using the Supereyes lens is not a problem here.  The magnification is also greater than the Supereyes lens.

(Unfortunately I could not find this model for sale in the West.  However, I think the 15x Micro Phone Lens might be even better.)

The Eyeskey lens with phone adapter. Much better design than the Supereyes.

Comparison of Supereyes and Eyeskey Lenses

Microphonelens 8x Macro & 15x Micro Lens

On a recent trip to the US I ordered the Microphonelens 8x Macro lens and 15x Micro lens.  These lenses are different than others- they simply stick to the phone’s camera lens and have no outer support column.

In use, I found it more difficult than the other lenses because I could not directly rest the lens at the correct distance against the viewed object, resulting in more blurry photos due to camera shake.  Also, while the micro lens is designed to stick on the phone lens it falls off if touched and gets dirty in the process of handling.

These drawbacks are forgivable, though, as the quality of the images seems superior to either of the other lenses I tested.  Also, the lens cleans up easily with just a bit of pure or soapy water.  The soft material also scratches less easily than hard plastic lenses.

For viewing glazes, both the 8x and 15x lenses are useful.  I would recommend the 15x (although of course it has a narrower depth of field).

Stitching photos

I tried the iPhone’s panorama feature but it did not work.  The iPhone panorama gets confused.  However, you can take multiple photos (moving the camera slightly each shot) and then stitch the photos together using software.  Adobe Lightroom (Photo Merge->Panorama) and Photoshop (Automate->Photomerge) have this feature , however it takes a lot of time and seems limited to 100 or so photos.  I tried a free program called AutoStitch that worked pretty well.

AutoStitch image stitch of Iron Red (Kaki) glaze. Autostitch options: Multiband->Blending Bands = 2 (default). You can see a lot of ghosting where images weren’t aligned properly. Photos from Supereyes lens.
AutoStitch image stitch of Iron Red (Kaki) glaze. Autostitch options: Multiband->Blending Bands = 10 (needed over an hour to process 78 photos). Photos from Eyeskey lens.
AutoStitch image stitch of crazy Tenmoku iron glaze by Kimura Moriyasu. Photos from Eyeskey lens.
Photoshop photo merge of Song dynasty saggar with natural wood ashes. Photos from Eyeskey lens. Photoshop seems to do a better job than AutoStitch (in default mode).

Yaoli Village and Raonan Outdoor Ceramics Museum

Yaoli Ancient Village (瑶里古镇) is a fairly well-known tourist destination located about 1 1/2 hours by car from Jingdezhen.

During the past few years I have visited the village a handful of times, and each time I’m even more disappointed by the continuous development, poor management, and flocks of tourists.

But the countryside around Yaoli is beautiful.  If you continue driving past the ancient village you will find numerous small villages with restaurants offering local cuisine.  Drive up the mountain and you should come across wonderful views of the valleys as well as waterfalls.

One of the waterfalls to be found in the mountains

Yaoli is also the home of a type of porcelain stone known as “glaze stone”.  This stone is a major component of traditional Jingdezhen glazes.

There is a very nice outdoor museum in Yaoli called Raonan (绕南陶瓷主题园区) which runs along a small river.  The river powers hammer mills that continuously crush Yaoli porcelain stone.  There are also ancient dragon kilns and even pottery wheels where you can try throwing Jingdezhen porcelain.

The river running through the Raonan ceramics museum
A water wheel powers large hammer mills used for crushing porcelain stone
A water wheel powers large hammer mills used for crushing porcelain stone
The crushed stone powder is washed, mixed, and dried in large pits.
The porcelain paste is formed into bricks and air-dried.”
Large piles of waste saggars and shards surround the kiln sites.

Hutian Workshop

Sanbao Porcelain Stone and Saggar Kiln

Nestled in the beautiful mountains near Jingdezhen is Sanbao, a traditional source of porcelain stone. Porcelain stone comes in many types characterized by the local geography. Sanbao stone is primarily used in making porcelain bodies, but it can also be used in glazes.

Worker removing porcelain stone from the Sanbao mine (May 2012)
This wooden tool is used to consistently make the porcelain bricks.
Porcelain bricks are air-dried on wooden racks.
A shrine at the mine.
Near the porcelain stone mine, kiln saggars are made.