USB microscopes getting cheap

This USB microscope shuns the realistic style of its ilk for a more alien look. At under $100, it's not going to be lab-issue stuff, but I can imagine plenty of fun to be had with 100x zoom and the ability to record video, even if it is all just 1.3 megapixels. Anyone know if these are any good? White USB Microscope [SourcingMap]

About Rob Beschizza

Rob Beschizza is the Managing Editor of Boing Boing. He's @beschizza on Twitter and can be found on Facebook too. Try your luck at  
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to USB microscopes getting cheap

  1. zuzu says:

    Lemme know when someone’s got a digital inverted microscope available for prices that mere mortals could afford.

    p.s. Apparently computer control of digital cameras is hard. Does chdk change this equation at all?

  2. arikol says:

    A cheap old fashioned microscope (from a childs science kit) could probably be modified to hold a webcam of some sorts.

    could be a cool project.

    MAKE, are you reading?? hint hint

  3. Brother Phil says:

    At 100x, that’s a for engineering or kid’s science – lab scopes tend to go in the range 400x – 1200x. I picked up a digital eyepiece from a german company on Ebay a while back. 1.3MP, video at 640×480, and fits in place of an eyepiece on a microscope or telescope.

  4. Not a Doktor says:

    I still have one of those blue Intel Play microscopes; one of the biggest reasons I don’t try to play with it now is that it automaticly resizes my desktop down to 640×480.

  5. adralien says:

    NPRNNCBL, that’s a great resource, I’m going to keep an eye out for a cheap/refurbished camera on that list… a local liquidation place has had 6Mpix olympus cameras for $60. Bring on the cheap machine vision!

  6. Anonymous says:

    I have a black version that looks almost identical in all other ways to that microscope, and I’ve been having loads of fun with it!
    Looking at coins and notes is great, moss looks like huge cables of spiked green death, you can see the sweat pores on skin, and be careful if you decide to do your eye – there are four bright white LEDs that will make you blink oddly for a while afterwards. Still – fun to see so much detail on your own iris!

  7. Anonymous says:


    The following picture was taken with a camera that looks exactly like the one in the article:

    Best regards


  8. baggers says:

    I use a Celestron model in our TV reviews to show the dot pattern of the display (see here and here for examples). The quality is adequate for that, but the model we use only captures images and video at 640 by 480 pixels. The one we use has magnifications of 20x and 400x. They are fun little devices, but I would not expect to get high quality images out of them.

  9. DeWynken says:

    at least with the USB cable it can be retrieved from whatever orifice it gets stuffed in..

  10. nprnncbl says:

    Zuzu- For supported cameras, remote control via gPhoto2 works great; I used it for a several day long time lapse sequence. The site you linked to even had the right incantation; it just seems that he didn’t try it.

  11. Anonymous says:

    The Leica microscope camera attachment we use in the lab (well over $2000 for the camera and splitter alone) is only 2 megapixels because the optics are the limiting factor. The megapixel selling strategies of camera companies remind me of Intel’s rush to get more MHZ out of it’s Pentium D processors, regardless of real performance.

  12. nprnncbl says:

    Adralien #15- also take a look at video4linux if you want something more real-time. Although gphoto2 lets you capture and then download images, as far as I know, you’re still storing them on the camera first, adding some lag.

  13. Anonymous says:

    The QX5 (formerly QX3) does this pretty well. I’m a cell biologist and I was impressed. It falls far short of what we pay thousands for, but for under $100, it’s amazing how well it does. And the ability to do timelapse films… that’s fun. I’ve bought several for friends, relatives, myself.

  14. tlockney says:

    Someone brought one of these to a DorkbotPDX meeting a month or two ago and I used it to inspect the solder joints on for a surface mount chip I was having issues getting properly soldered in place. It worked very well for that purpose. We didn’t try much else other than inspecting close ups of various surfaces (tattooed skin is particularly interesting for about 30 seconds). But I do have to say I was quite impressed and have been planning to buy one ever since.

    I would suspect, though, that at this price range the build quality probably varies a lot between devices. So YMMV.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Looks like one of the low-end Dino-Lites, of which there is a largish range of quality (both pixel count and mechanical sturdiness) and prices. I’m tempted by a couple, but I haven’t yet found any reviews with more depth than the gee-whiz variety. There’s also the driver issue; they do have mac drivers, but without the full feature set (macs don’t get to do the nifty measurement stuff) and I haven’t found out if the software in general is good, merely adequate, or actively causes havoc.

    I think this may be the primary source, but wouldn’t bet more than a pound or so of roof moss, because there a several sites with the full range:

    Allyn (too lazy to create an account…)

  16. jenjen says:

    I have a USB microscope – different model, made by Celestron. It lacks a base, so you have to hold it and any little shake of your hand gets hugely magnified. The 20x power works OK but the 100x is all but useless. It’s just too hard to get and keep a sharp focus. This one with a base looks like it might work a little better but I’d rather see something with more of a traditional microscope design with knobs for moving the lens up and down. Moving by hand is just too jerky.

  17. Darren Garrison says:

    I have one that is likely the identical unit. Image quality? Can’t compare to a real microscope with a real digital camera fitted to it (at the cost of multiple hundreds of dollars) but still not bad for a low-priced toy.

    Images I’ve made of chondrules in meteorites using the microscope (objects around 1mm to 5mm across):

    and the exact microscope I bought:

    (Note the much lower price than the source you listed– also about a third lower than the price when I bought mine).

  18. Anonymous says:

    Only install the Intel QX3 drivers and use TWAIN compliant software such as PS or freeware XN View to capture. Even lights control will be available in control window.

  19. ackpht says:

    We bought a similar product, doubtless made in the same Chinese factory, that slips into a microscope eyepiece tube or camera port (tube adapters and relay lens included), 1.3 Mp, USB 2.0, with software that does some image analysis and filtering, allows on-screen measurements (lines, fitting arcs and circles), even does 2D Fourier transforms. It was under $200.

    I had to add a $14 USB 2.0 card to the PC to get full resolution, because the software gates the resolution to the port speed.

    We have it hooked up to an old Nikon scope and it works fine for making measurements of teensy parts.

    The documentation was dreadful but I still think it’s a lot of capability for the money.

  20. adralien says:

    Long time reader, first time poster…

    I’ve got what looks like a similar model… the colour separation from the lens (red/blue offset) is pretty bad, and the resolution is poor.

    I found I get better closeups using my Canon SD1000 camera in macro mode on highest resolution with a tripod, then zooming on the preview screen, or uploading.

    There’s a lot more tech in a cheap digital camera than a cheap webcam. Now if I could just remotely control my digital camera and get the image into Python all kinds of fun could be had.

  21. Rob Beschizza says:


    It is as I suspected! Such a shame. One of the little truisms in this biz is that if something looks suprisingly cheap, it’s probably too expensive.

  22. Adam Fields says:

    This guy seems to get pretty good results with the EyeClops:

    There’s a new model at double the magnification called the BioniCam. It also has an LCD, rechargeable battery, and writes to a removable thumb drive.

  23. Anonymous says:

    I got a simple usb camera for the playstation 2, it was literally $4.oo. I got the program to get it running on windows and attached it to a $12 radio shack handheld microscope with light. So for about $16.oo I got a very good usb microscope, clearly better than this and for less than 1/6th the price…. Just a thought.

  24. AirPillo says:

    Seems to me like 1.3 megapixels is plenty for video.

    Beyond a certain modest value, megapixels are a junk statistic anyhow except for certain uses of the resulting captures (such as cropping them down significantly, or making large prints). Everybody is usually offering twice what you’d ever need, at the least. Usually more like 4 to 6 times.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>


More BB

Boing Boing Video

Flickr Pool




Displays ads via FM Tech

RSS and Email

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution. Boing Boing is a trademark of Happy Mutants LLC in the United States and other countries.

FM Tech