New Year's resolution: low. Toying around with a digital microscope

You know what they say about limitations being the secret to creativity? There’s a lot of truth in that.

About a month back I purchased more out of curiosity than anything else, a Black Friday deal on a wireless cheapo ($40) digital microscope. In any case, it was more fun than I expected, especially with my hands freezing up frequently.

Yesterday, I had a chance to try it out while bug-hunting on my daily walk. I thought perhaps others might enjoy what came of that. (Remember – this is bug-hunting in Ontario, Canada, in January! Species and specimens are extremely limited.)

I did manage to catch 3 anti-freezers stil moving out there. All common ones, and expected – mostly.

You’ll definitely need some editing apps to get the results I’m posting here.

In ‘camera’ operation, I was also surprised at how quickly you can shift focus from infinity to the max 2mm field width. And I find it really hard to position the phone in such a way that you can use it to frame your shot with even a slowly moving subject.

Details? Speed? Controlling a phone in one hand, the ‘scope’ in the other? Challenging. I did get some interesting shots of non-insect stuff though and even some cool macro ‘landscapes’ off a fence post.

My main conclusion is that if you are into capturing stuff for identification AND you have a pretty steady hand, AND some image editing experience and are willing to overlook the limitations— it’s a pretty cheap ticket! (Not including post edit software, of course).

And maybe even a lot of fun, if (like me) you like goofing around with cheap gear and using limitations to stimulate some creativity.

(Gulp! That almost sounds like a pick-up line!)



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This microscope is handheld? These are amazing if so! Wow!

As I said, it required some post-shooting image therapy.

I wish I could convince the manufacturer to put out a version JUST for bug hunters. And most of that would be in the driver/app software.

Some edge enhancement and other auto enhancers are ‘burned in’ to the software stream, and I wish that the user could have access to that in the software and be able to shut it off completely to deliver the most true version of the output possible. That would allow my better noise and sharpening tools to get in there before the ‘auto’ software ruins a lot of possibilities.

Also, of course, they should just drop their claim of 4K imaging. If it’s 1080x1920 at the source (HD), for this money, that’s still pretty great. But I guess they are fooling enough people (by simply doubling pixel resolution in the software) to not make them want to keep doing that. Arrgh.

What I want to work out next is a way to hold the scope firmly in one hand with the phone on top for composing, and work out a way to focus with the thumb of the same hand that’s holding it. Also, support remote shutter control when it’s available (for instance on my Samsung Note, I can hold the stylus in my hand and click the stylus’ sideswitch to take a picture).

Like I said, I was pleasantly surprised. They are not stellar macro shots, but for ID work – hey, it’s a lot better than say trying to manipulate a square phone with a clip-on lens into a thin observing space.

And the zoom goes much deeper than what I’ve shown here – with of course, the accompanying level of motion blur (and the need for stability). The shutter ‘speed’ seems pretty slow so it’s very susceptible to movement. All these shots I’ve shown I shot in video mode and I scooped out the best in-focus frames after shooting. They are essentially identical to an actual still from the system so its not a bad strategy. And the files are surprisingly small (again – compression! If only you could shut that down too).

The unit’s lens is surrounded by a ring light which is adjustable on the unit with a wheel. I only used it in the ladybug shot here though.

And the depth of field is actually pretty impressive, considering. If you want to play around with something like this, $40 doesn’t sound like too bad a risk for some macro fun.

Make sure you take all this with a…


Table salt sprinkled on a menu today when I was showing this scope to my brother. This is about its max zoom.

Enjoy the view? Neat ‘landscapes’ from the microscope from a rotting fencepost top.



Next up: an ear de-waxing camera! They’re dirt (ahem) cheap and I want to see what I can do with those too.

Downwards and cheaper we go!

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Even a cheap plastic 20€ USB microscope can make useful images (but I bought a 50€ stand from Conrad, the original one was crappy). Images 4-7 of https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/194366868 were made using that (and an OTG stick which turns a phone into a computer having USB-A :female_sign:).

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That’s what this one was. A cheap little tube. I removed the clear outer bottom guard and just went in with it. The stand that came with was rubbish anyhow. I think our it more as a deep macro lens because it actually has an impressive DOF for this level of mag – and budget.

There is a theorem in geometrical optics that DOF depends only on aperture and magnification. So the great DOF just comes from the fact that the built-in camera is cheap ;-)

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I built a microscope from an inverted canon 55-18mm lens (SIC)
and a disembodied webcam. It does pretty well, other than having dust inside.

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I have one of those cheap USB microscopes, but unfortunately, my microscope software (MyPackage) doesn’t acknowledge its existence. I used to run it off ViewPlayCap, but the antiviral software on my newer laptop considers that too sketchy and refuses to let me download it.

So, I had to get a more up-to-date microscope compatible with MyPackage; sadly, it can’t magnify as much as my old, cheap one. My old, cheap microscope captured this image of Cyanobacteria – that black square is 100 micrometers in diameter. My new, MyPackage-compatible microscope can, at best, capture images like these of a microlep – the grid squares are 5mm X 5mm.

Newer and more up-to-date is not always better.

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Also, of course, they should just drop their claim of 4K imaging. If it’s 1080x1920 at the source (HD), for this money, that’s still pretty great. But I guess they are fooling enough people (by simply doubling pixel resolution in the software) to not make them want to keep doing that. Arrgh.

Even $100,000 digital microscope brands like Keyence lie about the resolution by using digital zoom. It’s ridiculous that it’s so difficult to find out what a digital microscope’s actual magnification and resolution is. Faking it is completely the norm.

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People like to hear what they like to hear. And of course, that means they don’t want to hear what they don’t want to hear.

I mean here are two large pizzas. The same size box. This one is cut into 8 pieces, this one is cut into 10. Both the same price! Guess which one is considered a better deal?

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That sounds like people who speak of “drought” because the reservior is lower than it was when the city had fewer people.

Went out yesterday and tried my ‘toy’ microscope as a macro video camera. The only thing I found moving was a tiny (say, 1.5mm) Hypogastrura springtail on a fence post. If you’re interested, here’s the Facebook link (not sure if this can work here, but here goes):

image

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Have you got any examples of photos you’ve taken with that inverted lens setup?

If there’s a video-mode and the “bug” is transparent, you may be able to see inside motion, for example, like the 2nd photo here (a GIF):

If it’s something stationary, like seeds or termite droppings, consider taking multiple photos with different focus and stacking them to get really high-quality macro photos:

Edit: Focus stacking is built-in to some cameras like the Olympus TG-series, which seems well liked on the forum.

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Nice! I’ve got the TG5 and use the in-can stacking a lot. But I also use external stacking, mostly with the stacking built into Affinity Photo is super fast and so easy to use. It even did a decent job with images from a clip on microscope for my phone.

I now take the bulk of my macro – for living, moving subjects – in 4k video. Not only can you try and grab a stack, it just gives you hundreds of shots (as frames) for stuff that’s is on the move and likely to exit the shooting.

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Wow!! amazing application. Good quality for a low price. For even smaller stuff, another option would be the foldoscope (https://foldscope.com). A little tough to use at first but has a nifty phone attachment for photos, and costs just a few dollars.

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yes, here

not super good ones, but it’s a work in progress.