Charles Shopsin is a New York City-raised and Brooklyn-based software developer. In his spare time, he runs the Modern Mechanix blog.
When USB microscopes started appearing on the market a few years ago, I thought they looked like a lot of fun, but the prices were a bit steep for an impulse buy. So I added it to my disturbingly long mental list of "things I'd like to buy if they ever get cheap enough or I get rich enough" and went on with my life.
A few months ago I saw that Amazon had the EyeClops BioniCam microscope on sale for $19.99, so I snatched one up. It may look like a giant eyeball mounted on the end of a hairbrush but it's really a fantastic toy. Sadly, the price seems to have risen back up to $39.99 but that's still pretty cheap for what you get.
There is a camera right in the center, where you'd expect, and the eyeball rotates to serve as a focusing ring. There is a magnification dial on the side with settings for 100x, 200x and 300x zoom levels. These aren't digital zooms: turning the dial actually places a different lens in front of the sensor. Inside are 3 bright LEDs to illuminate your subject, which shows up on a screen mounted on back.
The BioniCam takes pictures at up to 1280x1024 and video at 427x240. Focusing can be a bit fiddly, especially when you're hopping between magnifications but all in all the pictures are quite nice. Unlike other similar kits, this one is not tethered to your computer. It comes with a 32 meg thumb drive that sticks into a slot on the top, making transferring images and movies to your computer a snap.
Moments after seeing my BioniCam, my brother in-law Andy ordered one of his own. Soon I started receiving emails with attachment names like crustyoldbooger.jpg (warning: this is just as disgusting as it sounds) and face_salt.avi, a bizarre romp through the wilds of Andy's beard.