Six thousand bucks is a lot of money, but it's small change compared to the price of many professional camera kits.
That's why this instructional post from Alex Wild caught my eye. Wild is talented photographer, and his subjects are mostly insects (we've featured his work on io9 on multiple occasions), which makes sense; he's also an entomologist. Recently, Wild transitioned from his job as a freelance photographer to a new gig as Curator of Entomology at University of Texas in Austin. When he started at his new job, one of his first orders of business was to build a professional-grade photography rig on a budget:
Scientific imaging is integral to modern museum curation, and the first project I undertook on arrival was to build an inexpensive imaging system for the UT insect collection. Specifically, we needed something capable of focus-stacking tiny subjects for artificially extended depth of field. Our modest budget of $6k was enough for a rig with the flexibility to capture insects from the size of a large butterfly down to the scales on their wings.
The essence of the rig is simple. It's a standard digital camera with macro lens, mounted on a Cognisys motorized focus rail, bolted to a copy stand. The camera is tethered to a computer, and the images are processed using common focus-stacking and image editing software.
According to Wild, the full setup can be built in a day from off-the-shelf parts, and looks like the rig at the top of this post. Over at Scientific American, he's provided the full list of components used, their prices, and links to where you can grab them for yourself. He's even included assembly instructions. Go check it out.