Portable microscope that works with your phone for backpacking?
May 9, 2021 3:53 PM   Subscribe

Last summer my kids had an amazing time looking at bugs swimming in ponds while we were backpacking. This summer, I'm hoping to up our game a bit and get some kind of portable, fairly robust microscope or (android) phone accessory that will give us a bit of a magnification. My google-fu is weak and while there are many products, I'm failing to find reasonable third party reviews on anything of this kind. Help?

The only electronics we'll have is the phone itself, so if it's a separate microscope it has to work with the phone. Battery life is important if it's a separate accessory. I carry most of the stuff, so weight is also important.

I'm especially interested to hear from people who actually own something, but would welcome other advice.

Kids will be 7&9.

I'm guessing my price range is up to about $100 (though would appreciate knowing if that's not reasonable).

(Thanks for the inspiration).

I know about these previously asked questions, but an additional emphasis here is on portability. From there it looks like one of the portable USB ones could work, well under $100, but I might then have to carry an extra battery.
posted by lab.beetle to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Foldscope. It can be used with eyeballs or a steady hand with smartphone.

For your $100 budget, you can buy almost 60 of them, but you could also get several with different sets of accessories. Order today; there's a Mother's Day sale going on.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:25 PM on May 9, 2021 [6 favorites]

$20 MicroUSB microscope on Amazon. I can't guarantee it'll work with your phone, but it should if youdownload the app and even comes with a stand (optional)

There's a wifi version that sells for $42. And at the moment on Amazon there's 20% off coupon.

Slightly different model sells for $37 + 8% off coupon.
posted by kschang at 6:10 PM on May 9, 2021

Best answer: This one, on JetPens, is $30 for 100-250x magnification. Compact and weighs 3oz, plus one AA battery. Can be used on its own or with a phone camera.
posted by SirNovember at 8:58 PM on May 9, 2021

My experience with foldscope is that it is hard to use and the resolving power is limited. It doesn't connect to your phone (or need batteries) but my recommendation for low magnification for backpacking is a jeweler's loupe. I'd recommend a belomo or Bausch & Lomb triplet 10x. Costs about $30, weighs about an ounce. Takes a little practice, but much easier to use than a microscope. You could get a 20x too, but those take more skill to use because of the shorter field of focus. Put it on a lanyard or you'll lose it.
posted by agentofselection at 9:45 PM on May 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

I came here to make the same recommendation ReluctantViking did - the Carson Pocket Micro. I've got outdoorsy nieces and nephews and the Pocket Micro's been a universal hit on hikes and camping trips.
posted by ZaphodB at 10:09 PM on May 9, 2021

BTW, I do have a Carson Pocket Micro-- I never have gotten around to buying the Foldscope I recommended. I will second the Pocket micro without reservation.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:26 PM on May 9, 2021

Best answer: So my sister is a science teacher for grades 3-9. She has a whole drawerfull of simple 10x eye loupes, something like this or actual more like this. Many more options here.

The ones she has are about $2 each, you stick them in front of your eye and look at things, you can see a whole lot of stuff you can't see with your naked eye, and kids love them. Also, they are small, light, and cheap--so if you lose or break one, so what.

She also has a few examples of this, which is a simple 60-120x lighted microscope. I actually kind of like this, but it is really, really fiddly to use compared with the simple 10X loupe. Out in the field with actual kids, she says the simple 10x loupes win out every single time. No kid has the patience to fool around with getting something centered and visible in even the 60x view, and thing nicely in focus.

(The higher the resolution the dimmer, the harder it is to position your specimen within the field of view, and the harder it is to get it focused. When you get to 100X or higher you're starting to get into the realm where you might need to use special dies, mount things carefully on slides, use special techniques like really thing slicing, etc etc etc to see much of anything interesting.)

My point is not to discourage you from getting some kind of microscope to use with your phone or whatever, but also maybe think of bringing along a couple of simple 10X eye loupes and maybe one of the 60-120X simple microscopes. They are small, simple, and light things that fill in the gap in both magnification and complexity between the naked eye and a more complex electronic scope.
posted by flug at 11:46 PM on May 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Whatever about the eye-side of the kit, you need something translucent to hold water and allows the lens to get up close. Petri-dish ideal but a small ziploc bag folds better: a little water has a lot of creatures. The beginning of science would be tallying the number of different 'species' the kids can identify and whether these are the same or different from the last puddle. Names help with this (paramecium volvox amoeba euglena/peranema stentor) but you can make up your own.
posted by BobTheScientist at 12:06 AM on May 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

My daughter and I really enjoyed the Carson MicroBrite that flug mentioned. The battery has lasted for years, and it is very easy to look through, focus, and adjust the magnification. Plus it is very cheap.

It does not specifically connect to a smart phone. I have successfully taken pictures with it, but it is fussy and I expect most kids wouldn't want to bother. But it's great if you want something super simple to keep in your pocket and look at things.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 7:15 AM on May 10, 2021

+1 hand lens. We had a USB microscope for taking photos in my last lab and it’s hard to get everything lined up at the correct distance with adequate lighting indoors. This gets even harder if you’re looking at things that move around.

I went on a moss foray; microscopes are required for some IDs. Everyone used hand lenses in the field and I saw a few clip on phone camera lenses for photos. Many people had serious dissecting scopes and microscopes that stayed at our base and they brought samples in from the field to use them. This was a mix of hobbyists and pros and nobody used USB field scopes.

Triplet hand lenses will have a larger area in focus for the lens size than doublets, you can still get several in your budget. Get lanyards so they’re always handy when you want them.
posted by momus_window at 8:00 AM on May 10, 2021

I have the Carson MicroBrite and it is, indeed, a pain in the neck to focus. A big loupe that folds away into it's cover is so much better! (Like, I thought my dog had a tick on his head, but even with two of us I couldn't get it to focus before he moved. Then I grabbed a nice loupe and got a good view in no time!)

As for using it with a phone, what connectors does your phone have -- Lightning (iPhone) or USB, or...? otherwise, you need a fancier device that connects wirelessly.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:28 PM on May 10, 2021

Response by poster: I decided to go with the JetPens one over the Carson because it looks like better integration with a camera from the phone so both kids can be looking at the same thing, but also am getting a loupe. I'll report back on the various options as we try them this summer.
posted by lab.beetle at 2:25 PM on May 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the update. Please do let us know how it works out!
posted by Winnie the Proust at 6:30 PM on May 15, 2021

« Older LinkedIn Question - Account charging, please stop.   |   Seeking modern Russian cultural context for... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.