NHBS In the Field – Dino-Lite WF4915ZT Wireless Microscope Kit

Within the last 15 years the availability and quality of USB digital stereo microscopes has vastly improved, and these fantastic devices are now regularly used by naturalists and hobbyists looking to view the hidden details of the natural world.

Dino-Lite are a well-known manufacturer of USB microscopes. Their range comprises basic models for those new to the field of microscopy, alongside cutting-edge models that produce stunningly detailed high-quality images and have additional features such as wireless video streaming.

We recently tested the Dino-Lite WF4915ZT Wireless Microscope Kit. This kit is from Dino-Lite’s professional range and it includes an AF4915ZT microscope and a WF-20 wireless adapter. The AF4915ZT is a dynamic microscope and has a number of features which are not available on more basic models. These include: Extended Depth of Field (EDOF), which helps achieve greater overall focus on surfaces with varying heights; Enhanced Dynamic Range (EDR), which helps when viewing objects with large variations in brightness; Flexible LED Control, which allows you to turn on/off pairs of LED lights to achieve the best possible illumination; and Automatic Magnification Reading, which allows the DinoCapture software to automatically register and display the current magnification.

Our aim was to see how easy and intuitive the device was to setup and use, and to explore the benefits offered by its advanced features and wireless functionality.

How We Tested

First we installed the included DinoCapture 2.0 software onto our computer. All DinoLite USB microscopes come supplied with this program loaded onto a CD-ROM, however it is also available online as a digital download. We tested the microscope using DinoCapture 2.0 on a desktop computer, however, you can also use this microscope wirelessly on either a smartphone or a tablet via the free DinoCapture app.

The WF-20 module was charged overnight and then connected to the AF4915ZT. The WF-20 was easy to attach, as the wired end piece of the AF4915ZT has two release buttons which, when pressed simultaneously, allowed us to gently remove this module and then connect the WF-20. When powered on, the WF-20 appears as a wireless network on any nearby Wi-Fi devices. Once connected to this network we were able to view a live feed from the microscope on DinoCapture.

We used the microscope to view a number of plant and insect samples.

Moth eye – viewed with Extended Dynamic Range
What We Found

The 1.3MP resolution is certainly a big improvement over some of the more basic models. Using the microscope at some of the higher magnifications is hugely rewarding, as you are granted some fantastic views of the minute details that are otherwise easily missed. The advanced features (as listed in the introduction to this review) may not be entirely noticeable to those new to digital microscopy, however, compared to older and more economical models they make operating this microscope far simpler. Previously, one would struggle at times to deal with structures having varying levels of brightness (particularly common with iridescent insects for example), and have little control outside of the overall LED brightness to try and address this. However, with the great LED controls and EDR the overall image can be brought closer together and previously obscured features become visible in much greater detail.

The EDOF is also a really helpful tool, especially at lower magnifications and on specimens with a variable structural height (which in our case was an acorn cup and a seed pod). Despite the differing heights, the microscope was able to keep most of the specimen in focus. Both the EDR and EDOF take around five seconds to process, meaning you can view the results and adapt your settings quickly to achieve the best image possible.

Manoeuvring the microscope freehand was relatively easy as it only has a few buttons on its main body, so there wasn’t any accidental mis-clicking. The focus ring is also light enough that it can be manipulated using only the middle and index fingers. Trying to keep the microscope steady and operate the DinoCapture software at the same time was rather difficult, especially at higher magnifications, and so when taking any images I opted to use the device with a stand (specifically the Dino-Lite RK06A). This allowed me to configure the microscope into the perfect position and then operate the computer without fear of losing that positioning.

When used in its wireless configuration we did find that occasionally there were moments of lag on the live feed. While these were only minor interruptions, it was certainly something that had to be considered when making any adjustments to the magnification and focus.

Leaf: (a) Normal mode, (b) with Extended Dynamic Range
Seed pod: (a) Normal mode, (b) with Extended Depth of Field
Acorn: (a) Normal mode, (b) with Extended Dynamic Range, (c) with Extended Depth Of Field
Feather
Our Opinion

Although we only used the WF4915ZT on a few select samples, it offered us a great opportunity to learn how to operate this advanced USB microscope. Thankfully the literature provided with the microscope was clear and easy to follow, and within 15 minutes of opening the box I was able to install the software and connect to the device in both its wireless and wired configurations. The image quality and the benefits offered by its advanced settings were also hugely impressive, particularly the EDOF, which really stands out as a key feature for this microscope.

While the wireless functionality of this microscope was a very interesting feature of the WF4915ZT, in practice it is not necessarily universally valuable. In the study of Natural History for example, most microscopy happens at a desk on pre-prepared specimens and as such you do not need the greater manoeuvrability that a wireless microscope offers. In other trades, however, these digital microscopes are used to inspect large objects (e.g. automobile manufacture) and in these situations a lack of trailing wires would be of huge benefit for the operator. In a situation where the operator does not have access to a computer/laptop, the Wi-Fi module allows you to connect to the microscope using a tablet or a smartphone, which is especially useful if you are planning to use it in the field.

In summary, we would highly recommend the WF4915ZT for any hobbyist or professional looking for a high quality and portable USB microscope. The AF4915ZT would be an excellent (and more economical) alternative for those who are unlikely to use the device away from a desk.


The Dino-Lite WF4915ZT is available through the NHBS website.

To view our full range of USB microscopes, visit www.nhbs.com. If you have any questions about microscopy or would like some advice on the right product for you then please contact us via email at customer.services@nhbs.com or phone on 01803 865913.

Song Meter Mini and Mini Bat firmware update

A new firmware update is available for the Song Meter Mini and Song Meter Mini Bat. Version 1.4 will introduce the following changes:

  • Mini Bat now reports scheduled recording period to the app correctly.
  • Mini Bat now correctly increments the recording counter in zero-crossing only mode.
  • Improvements for battery performance.
Instructions for updating the firmware

To upgrade the Song Meter Mini or Song Meter Mini Bat firmware:

  1. Download the firmware file.
  2. Copy this file to the top-level directory of a flash memory card. There must be only one firmware file on the card.
  3. Insert the flash memory card into the SD card slot of the Song Meter Mini.
  4. Turn on the Song Meter Mini.
  5. Press the FUNCTION button two times to select the ‘LOAD’ function.
  6. Press and hold the FUNCTION button until the ‘LOAD’ LED begins blinking.
  7. When the process is complete, all four LEDs will blink green three times and the recorder will reboot with the new firmware.

NHBS In the Field – BAR-LT Bioacoustic Recorder

 

BAR-LT Bioacoustic Recorder

The BAR-LT is a bioacoustic recorder manufactured by Frontier Labs. The recorder is designed to be deployed in the field over extended periods and can be programmed to record for set times. This type of acoustic recorder is ideal for monitoring bird song, frog calls, or even wolves. This kind of monitoring is often referred to as passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) and is becoming increasingly popular in biodiversity studies across the globe. Not only are these growing libraries of soundscapes important for current research and survey, but they also provide invaluable references for future research into both global and local scale biodiversity change.

The BAR-LT is a professional two-channel audio recorder designed specifically for long-term autonomous field deployments. It comes in a  waterproof, lockable enclosure made from tough UV resistant plastic. It has space for four SD cards, each with up to 512GB storage capacity, meaning vast amounts of data can be recorded over one deployment. It is powered by 1-6 rechargeable 18650 batteries, providing 100-600 hours of recording time, and can also be powered using an external 6V or 12V power input. There are two microphone configuration options available: Standard (two-channels; one mic pointing left, one pointing downwards) and Left/Right. The omnidirectional microphones are highly sensitive and ultra-low noise, producing clear, crisp recordings.

We took the standard BAR-LT out to the field to record the dawn chorus.

How We Tested

We loaded the BAR-LT with a single memory card and four rechargeable 18650 batteries. We set a simple sunrise-based schedule, asking the recorder to record from an hour before sunrise to an hour after. The recorder then did the rest, using its in-built GPS to determine where in the world we were and therefore what time the sunrise was, basing start and stop times on this. We took the recorder to a nearby spot of woodland and fixed it to a tree using the included strap and a python cable lock (available separately) looped through the metal mounting plate at the back of the recorder. 

What We Found

Although we could have left the BAR-LT out for an extended period of time, we only left it out for a single night on this occasion. When we collected it, the two-hour recording had successfully been completed, with minimal battery or memory drain. Upon listening to the dawn chorus, the audio was wonderfully clear, and the microphones were very sensitive. Some examples of audio and sonograms are below.

Chiffchaff
Low frequency crow call over robin calls
Blackbird alarm call
Call and answer

Our Opinion

The BAR-LT was very simple to set up and, although the scheduling capabilities are powerful, the settings are logical and easy to navigate. The battery life and memory capacity were outstanding, making the unit a really great piece of kit for any long-term deployments or for use in very remote locations where access is infrequent. We were also particularly impressed with the handy battery removal tool that came with the kit – it saved a lot of time fiddling with the batteries and also demonstrated how well-thought-out the kit is. The only part of the design that we weren’t so keen on was the metal backplate for mounting the unit, which is slightly larger than the unit itself and doesn’t have any grip teeth like most trail cameras do. The tree we were mounting the unit to was relatively small, meaning the backplate got in the way a bit, and only just fit a python padlock after a bit of a squeeze. 

The recordings that the BAR-LT produced provided a wonderful soundscape and we were impressed with the quality of the recordings. There was very little ‘noise’ and the clarity of the recordings was evident, both when listening to the audio and when viewing the sonogram. The microphones picked up the sounds of the road surprisingly well, even though we thought we were far enough away to exclude them, demonstrating their impressive sensitivity.

We feel that the BAR-LT would be a great detector for conservationists and researchers who are looking to capture soundscapes for both current and future research. It performed well for bird song, but we think it would be equally as valuable to those wishing to record any terrestrial call. If you are interested in recording aquatic or low-frequency calls with the BAR-LT, please get in touch with us on customer.services@nhbs.com.


The BAR-LT is available through the NHBS website.

To view our full range of sound recorders and microphones, visit www.nhbs.com. If you have any questions on wildlife recording or would like some advice on the microphone for you then please contact us via email at customer.services@nhbs.com or phone on 01803 865913

Anabat Swift Firmware Update – May 2020

A new firmware update (V1.6) is available for the Anabat Swift. This update will introduce the following changes:

• Spanish language added.
• Low battery warning messages clarified
• Bug fix: “Constant Recording” didn’t always start when expected
• Bug fix: Display of months in the schedule editor
• Several usability improvements
• Improved menu layout

 

This update should be installed on all your detectors as soon as possible to ensure that they continue to run smoothly. Full instructions below.

Method 1 – Using an SD Card

Step 1 – Download the update file using this link and copy it to the root directory on your SD card. Make sure the file is named swift.adx. You can use the same SD card to update multiple Swifts.

Step 2 – Insert the SD card and fresh batteries into your Swift then power it on. Make sure that there isn’t a second SD card in the Swift. After a short time the following message will appear: “Swift update 1.6 available. Would you like to update?” Press “Yes” to start the update. Do not remove the batteries or power off the detector while the update is being installed. The red Mode lights will flash in sequence while the update is being installed. When the flashing stops, your Swift will restart with the new firmware. You may get a message about a new “bootloader available”; if so, please proceed with this update by pressing the “Upgrade” button.

If your Swift doesn’t detect the software update on the SD card, it may be using a very old firmware version. If this is the case you will need to follow Method 2 (below).

Method 2 – Using Insight and a USB cable

If you haven’t used your computer to update your Swift previously, you will need to follow Step 1 to install the necessary software on your PC. If you’ve already done this before, skip ahead to Step 2.

Step 1 – Install the required software as follows:

For Windows PCs, click here to download and run the following program to install the Anabat Swift USB Driver for Windows. Mac users don’t need to install this driver.

Next, click on one of the following links to download and run the installer for Anabat Insight. Please choose the download that matches your Operating System version.

• Anabat Insight for 64-bit versions of Windows 10, 8, & 7  (most computers)
Anabat Insight for 32-bit versions of Windows (usually older computers with less than 4GB RAM)
Anabat Insight for Mac

Step 2 – Ensure you are connected to the internet. Run Anabat Insight and install any Insight updates that are available. This will be indicated by a green bar near the top of the program window. Ensure the Swift’s battery holder is fitted with fresh batteries.

Step 3 – At the top of the Insight screen, click on the menu that says “Devices”. You should see “Swift” under this menu. Click on “Swift”. (*If you don’t see this then you may have an old firmware version that requires an extra step – in this instance, see below for further instructions).

Step 4 – A window will appear displaying your current firmware version and the latest version available from Titley Scientific. Press the “Download” button to download the new firmware to your computer. Once downloaded, you can press the “Start” button to install the new firmware on your Swift. Once complete, the text “Finished” will appear.

Step 5 – Once the installation is complete, remove the batteries and then reinsert them to restart your Swift with the new firmware. You may get a message about a new “bootloader available”; if so, please proceed with this update by pressing the “Upgrade” button.

*Additional step for old firmware versions
This step may be required before step 3 if you have a particularly old firmware version. Please follow the steps below and then resume the above procedure from step 3.
1. Remove the battery holder from your Swift.
2. Hold down the power button (in the centre above the screen) while re-inserting the batteries. Make sure to hold the button down for a few more seconds after getting the batteries in place. The screen on the Swift will remain black. (This step is required for this firmware update only and will not be needed in the future.)

Troubleshooting

If your Swift fails to turn on after the update, try removing the main battery pack and the clock battery (coin cell) for a few minutes. Reinstall the batteries and then try again.

If you are still encountering any difficulties with this process, please contact Andrew Dobson (andrew.dobson@titley-scientific.com) for assistance.

NHBS In the Field – Video Endoscope

Video Endoscope

Bank Vole (Myodes glareolus) – Photo: Claire Spelling (www.flickr.com)

An endoscope (or more correctly a borescope) is an optical device with an eyepiece or display at one end and an objective lens or camera at the other end, linked by an optical or electrical cable that relays the images. They have a broad range of applications, from medical investigations to drain inspections and are fantastically useful for ecologists as they give visibility of inaccessible places such as mammal burrows and bat roosts (for licensed bat workers only). They have the added advantage of minimising disturbance by being less intrusive than visual inspections and many handheld units can now capture still images and video footage for a permanent record.

Video Endoscope

The innovative Video Endoscope is a pocket-sized inspection camera that is ideal for examining crevices, cavities, burrows and nests. It is very ergonomic with a clear, user friendly interface and durable design. The semi-flexible 1m camera tube neatly coils into a cleverly designed groove at the back of the device and it has a protective carry case, making it very portable. The 3″ screen has an HD resolution with 720P and the camera has six LEDs with adjustable brightness control and digital 2x zoom, to ensure the picture is clear. This endoscope records still images and video on to a MicroSD card and is powered by 4 x AA batteries. We took the endoscope out to field test it in a pond to look for tadpoles and to examine nests in nest boxes.

How We Tested

The Video Endoscope camera is IP67 water resistant so we wanted to test its performance when recording underwater. It also has adjustable LED brightness so we wanted to test it in dark conditions. We chose a pond on a farm in West Dorset known to have some tadpoles and selected some nest boxes in a nearby area to examine for nesting activity. We used a 16GB microSD card and 4 x new AA alkaline batteries.

What We Found

Tadpole – image captured by Video Endoscope

The Video Endoscope was really easy to set up and use. The controls are clear and the menus are simple to navigate. It was simple to switch between photo and video mode and to control the LED brightness and zoom. This meant that our attention was focused on capturing the best possible footage in the field. The images and videos we recorded underwater were clear and sharp, in spite of the debris in the pond and we got some good footage of tadpoles.

It is quite difficult to control the full length of the cable as it is flexible, so we found it was necessary for the observer to be stood quite still. This was particularly evident when trying to use the endoscope in nest boxes. This is shown by the difference between the two videos below – in the first one you can just glimpse some eggs but we didn’t manage to count them properly and it was hard to capture them in subsequent videos.

 

However for checking quickly in a nest box to see if it was occupied it performed excellently. The adjustable LED brightness was particularly useful when checking the nest boxes and looking under rocks.

We edited the videos using Microsoft Video Editor, which meant that we could flip the image when it was recorded upside down, as it is quite difficult to keep the image the right way up when the camera cable is fully extended. The endoscope does have an image flip function, which is very handy when you have the camera positioned well but the image is inverted.

Our Opinion

Snakelocks anemone (Anemonia viridis) – photo captured by Video Endoscope

The Video Endoscope is a fantastic, versatile piece of field equipment that could be useful in many different survey scenarios. It is particularly impressive when used underwater as the photos we took in a rockpool survey last year demonstrate. It is very portable because the cable coils neatly into the body of the endoscope and the controls are simple to use. The quality of the still images and the video footage are fantastic, and the adjustable LEDs mean that you can get decent images from quite dark spaces. For more information, or to purchase a Video Endoscope, please visit our website or contact us.