With some of my other projects I’m working with fairly small electronics components so I ordered a low-cost digital microscope off of eBay. I paid about $40 for a 0-500x digital microscope. It’s really 0-400x with ‘digital zoom’, a worthless feature but otherwise it’s a pretty cool tool and toy for what it is.

The digital microscope I bought is shaped like a bullet, plugs into a USB port and has a built in LED light ring. There is a silver focus adjustment knob on the unit which moves the camera up and down towards the open end of the unit. To focus the camera you adjust the knob and find the sweet spot. There are two sweet spots and their position varies depending on how close you have the camera to the object.  For extreme close-up shots I just set the camera right on the table over the item I want to zoom in on and adjust.

The knob for focus is a bit fiddly to adjust, it can stick at points and takes a fair amount of pressure to turn which as a result makes it hard to focus precisely. I’ll probably tear this apart and see if it’s possible to improve the sliding action. The stand is satisfactory, but it it would be better if the digital microscope had a hard mount of some sort. The plastic is too flexible and the microscope can move around when you’re trying to focus it.

The software for this Digital Microscope is called MonitorPad and also comes with a Micro-Measure app that once calibrated you can use to measure things on the video feed. The software works okay, but if you install it on Windows 7 with a full privileged user you need to run it as admin in order to be able to save files. If you change permissions on the program files directory this should fix that.

That said, for 40 bucks it actually does a pretty good job at what I wanted it to do. It’s pretty amazing how close in it gets to small objects.

In the first set of photos below the first photo was taken with my Nexus One, and the other 2 were taken with the Digital Microscope. Once you get really zoomed in you loose depth-of-field and anything just slightly above or below what you’re focused on will be out of focus.

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These next shots are of a 39 ohm 0805 surface mount resistor. That’s 0.8mm x 0.5mm in size which makes the marks on the scale behind it 0.5mm each.

The next photos of are a RGB through-hole LED chip that I was messing around with. These are actually really nice chips and breadboard mountable for experimenting with PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) on micro-controllers for color mixing and color fading. They’re bright, low profile and easy to connect.

While playing with the microscope I also took close up pictures of 3 different surface mount LEDs. The big one is a 1206 size (1.2mm x 0.6mm) the mid-sized LED is an 0805 size package (0.8mm x 0.5mm) and the small one is an 0603 package (0.6mm x 0.3mm) (TINY!) The blue glow is the lights from the digital microscope, they threw off the color balance of the Nexus One camera but in real life there’s not so much blue.

And here are some other photos I shot of a blue 0805 surface mount LED. The details on this one turned out pretty good the bonding wires are so tiny.

I also got some photos of my Arduino Mega 2560. You can  see me zoom into one of the vias (plated pass through holes) with the microscope in the following photo set.

Another thing I thought would be fun to get a close-up of is a razor blade. This blade is the large snap off kind a bit over an inch wide. The first photo shows the edge of the razor blade. If you look close in the first picture you can see the ground end, and then at the top the sharpened edge.  The second photo shows just the sharpened edge portion.  This is a mildly used razor blade so you can see some corrosion and dings in the edge of the blade, although even a brand new blade doesn’t look much cleaner.

And finally a close-up of the pixels on my Nexus One oLED display. The red pixels over-exposed so they appear as yellow, but you can see the unique shape of the the different pixel colors to provide proper color balance on the display. I wasn’t able to get the digital microscope to zoom in ultra close because the glass cover/touchscreen on the phone keeps the camera from getting close enough to the screen  to focus properly.

I still have to get used to looking at the screen while trying to manipulate objects under the digital microscope, it’s a weird feeling, but hopefully soon I’ll be able to move around and solder these small components I’m going to be working with.


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