The best camera for photographer-hackers is certainly the digital SLR (DSLR). From outward appearances, these cameras look just like the 35mm single lens reflex (SLR) models that photographers have been using for decades. SLRs are distinguished by the ability to remove the lens from the body and replace it with another type, which makes them extremely versatile. The other advantage is that you view the picture through the same lens you use to take the photo, so what you see is what you get. DSLRs work the same way. The only difference is that they have an image sensor instead of film.
DSLRs are a lot of fun for hackers, because when you remove the lens, you can attach just about any optical accessory to the camera body, including microscopes, telescopes, slide copiers, and much more. At first, you might hold the microscope in one hand and the camera body in the other and wonder how the heck these two items can work with each other. Generally, this happens via some type of adapter. For example, telescopes have an adapter that replaces the eyepiece, and you attach your camera to the adapter. The same goes for microscopes and other optical goodies.
But you still need a way to connect your camera to the adapter. If you don’t want to shell out the big bucks for a custom adapter made by your camera manufacturer, you can make this connection by using a common photographic tool called a T-mount.
T-mounts are simple devices, really nothing more than a thick metal ring. On one side, there’s a bayonet-styled mount (like the one on the base of your camera lens) that attaches the ring to your camera body. Inside the ring, you’ll notice there are threads. These are a standard size that most adapters in the universe screw into snugly. So, all you have to do is screw the optical adapter (as for a telescope) into the T-mount, tighten it, and then attach the unit to your camera body. You’re in business! Now, your camera will mount on whatever optical lens the adapter is designed for.
It’s a good idea to find a T-mount that works with your digital camera. Once you do, just about any optical adapter you find in the bargain bin will now mount on your state-of-the art camera. For example, my slide copier is over 20 years old, but it works great on my state-of-the-art DSLR because I have a T-mount to hook the two together.