If You Want To Spend On A Microscope

A quick check of the usual Chinese websites will yield USB microscopes for a very low price. However, many of these are little more than webcams with some cheap optics. Not that they can’t be useful, but they probably won’t compete with an expensive instrument like a Dino-Lite. [Shahriar] looks at the latest offerings from Dino-Lite and shows how they can be useful when examining electronics. You can see the video below, but be warned: these little microscopes are not cheap. The entry-level model starts at about $100 and they go up  — way up — from there.

Still, many of us spend as much or more on necessary gear and these days a microscope for inspecting tiny circuits is pretty handy. In addition to the optical instruments, [Shahriar] also looks at a stepper motor-driven microscope stage, which is interesting.

The video shows practical applications of inspecting and measuring ICs and PCBs, along with tips on lighting and other real-world advice. We realize paying $1,000 or more for a microscope is probably overkill for most of us, but it is interesting to see how these perform and it isn’t out of reach if you really need the capability or if you are decking out a lab or hackerspace.

Naturally, you can easily get by with less for most purposes like soldering. Even a modest web camera can do the job.

53 thoughts on “If You Want To Spend On A Microscope

  1. Frankly nothing will replace my binocular microscope …. but it doesn’t travel well … a month ago in Shenzhen I bought a cheap (380yuan) microscope (the model below) – it certainly works as advertised, haven’t tried soldering under it yet (I’m told lag may be an issue) – but with my eyes a microscope is a must for SMT


    1. I have one of those and it’s super handy. Definitely get the one without the lame mobile phone suction base. I have tried soldering under it and it’s nowhere near as useful as soldering under a stereo microscope, but it’s better than nothing and does pretty well for inspection. With a stereo microscope I’ve soldered 20 pieces of magnet wire to a WLCSP package no trouble, with this little monitor + camera microscope it would be hard but not impossible.

    2. Remember no matter if getting USB or traditional optics, check the specs for focal length. For soldering, you need a few inches to be able to get your iron and tools in there under the microscope! I’ve purchased at least 4 traditional stereo zoom microscopes with boom stands at various local industrial auctions. Each of them for less than $200. One was only $75. Worth searching for.

      1. I’m a total noob in optics (sounds like black magic to me) and a Hackaday article on these specs and how to recognize a microscope that will need to be .5 centimeters away from a PCB versus one what could have the same magnification at 30cm away will be a very good feature to read (to me, at least).

  2. Who runs an SPI at 12 MHz? Can you do something dirty like change the Crystal from an 8 MHz to 1 MHz Crystal on the CPU just to catch spi dump?

    Sent from my Timex Sinclair ZX-81


  3. I understand your travel needs. But just to let others know, for home lab use, stereo zoom microscopes are available used through various industrial surplus auctions for less than $200. Well worth the money spent.

  4. I have one of these, which I use with an external monitor connected over HDMI:

    It works *very* well. Way less fatigue than using a binocular microscope. And it just takes a cheapo 1080p monitor to run.
    The screen on the microscope is a bit useless, though.
    The button interface is a little wonky, but it can take very nice high-res pictures.

    The rack mechanism and the LED goosnecks are a bit meh. Too bad, if they made a few mechanical improvements, it would be a superb device.

  5. I think you can get decent enough Chinese stuff in this category
    So instead of thrash talking it we are better served with advise on what Chinese stuff is good.

    Not that you can’t advertise these Dino offerings and show their benefits, but don’t talk BS about the competition while doing so.

  6. I purchased a second hand Elmo Video Presenter, not this model but similar..
    It is worth it weight in gold, or at least solder ;)
    If you cannot work under the microscope then it is not worth looking at. I got a couple of USB microscopes and that are not even heavy enough to make a decent fishing sinker.
    The post a couple above pointing to the Andonstar device looks ok.
    The Elmo machine has an SD card so I can take photos for records. That is extremely handy.
    I solder 0603 quite well and is pushed, have gone a bit smaller. PICs with 0.4mm pin spacing too.

  7. I have used a couple of Celestron USB digital microscopes for inspecting and measuring the pinhole apertures I make. This one: https://www.amazon.com/Celestron-Handheld-Digital-Microscope-Pro/dp/B00CMJ1I08/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1510724718&sr=8-3&keywords=microscope+digital+celestron
    …has been working quite well. I would love to see a comparison of images from a variety of digital microscopes. I’m looking at brass shim stock that lacks any real detail except at the edges of the tiny (0.20mm) holes I am making. I’m all for budget Chinese quality, and I may already have that.

  8. I can really recommend the Amscope kids if you use it every now and then
    They are around $50 and you get a real stereo microscope. Seeing in 3D really helps a lot at soldering.
    Of course, if you use it on a daily basis I would spend more. But it is perfect for my needs. Those are sold in germany as well. Amazon has them rebranded under the Bresser brand.

      1. Going way back to Body Glove if I recall correctly being from California and other companies from the U.S. losing jobs to over seas. I’m wondering if the owner of HaD, as I even do to a certain extent, wants to promote more U.S. related supply references when we can. Some items though are not available in the U.S. at first. Though when they are… why not? Not sure… only a guess. May be something completely different going on however. Note that the owner of HaD is Supplyframe, Inc. from Pasadena, CA and my interpretation of that region of CA as most of the state is strict in some cases. CA is the #1 U.S. economy at least in tax revenue and looks like from reading online when checking were #6 in the World if I recall correctly also.

  9. “If You Want to Spend on a Microscope”, then never buy a USB webcam instead of an optical microscope.

    Look for a stereo optical trinocular simul-focal microscope, and you won’t regret it. An optical microscope will give you 3D depth view for working under a microscope (like soldering), will work forever (no power required), will have no lag (like any webcam have), and a PC is optional. Just in case you need to film or photo, the webcam can be purchased later, upgraded any time, and you can always use an adapter for a real DSLR photo camera, with huge resolution.

    The only application I can image for the presented “wonder webcam” will be automated inspection and microscopic distance measurement, otherwise that price tag is just outrageous for a webcam.

    Also, for that kind of money you can buy a nice optical Mantis microscope, which is also stereo 3D optical, like any binocular/trinocular one, but you don’t have to look into the binoculars, so no neck fatigue for a Mantis (it has like a screen view port), and also with a Mantis you can look “around” the objects by looking the screen at different angles, like in real life with normal macroscopic objects.

    TBH, that video made by Shahriar looks to me like a payed review, which was totally unexpected for his outstanding YouTube channel, but of course I might be totally wrong and unfair here. Maybe he just liked that $1000 webcam for it’s calibrated distance measurement.

    1. I at first read “secret viewport” :-) Because you have to find it by moving your head instead of just putting the eyes in front of the real binoculars of a normal stereo-zoom microscope. I still would prefer this like the >3000€ Leica Model we had at a former workplace. It even had moveable ocular-pieces, so you could adjust the angle to view into the device. With the Mantis here I have to look into the microscope completely horizontal and try to find the sweet spot. This is difficult with a height of 1,95m and tends to give a back ache.

    2. I’ve tried a Mantis and just can’t get on with it – get on much better with soldering and other fine work under a stereo-microscope. I can’t say exactly why I didn’t like the Mantis, it just felt like it was always out of focus and no matter how much I adjusted the unit, the PCB & components didn’t look quite right.

  10. There appears to be very little difference between these DinoLites and what’s available for less than half as much on the cheap Chinese websites like Banggood, Gearbest, etc. Reviews of those less expensive versions appear exactly the same.

    I guess if you need slightly more resolution or zoom than what you can get inexpensively, look at DinoLite.

    If you want something all around better for most HaD reader’s typical use cases, there are much better alternatives than DinoLite. Read the comments or search over on the EEVblog.

  11. That BK Precision power supply in the background, I used that exact model for years! I’ve never seen another one in the wild. The one I used was a test bench for production, which eventually yellowed due to cigarette smoke from the production floor but definitely the same if not a very similar model.

  12. Last winter I was inspired to invest in a jewelers reticle and 80mm White LED “angel eyes” 12V ring light with 12V 5A Dimmer (Adjustable Controller for Single Color 3528 5050 LED Strip Light) to upgrade the capabilities of the cheap Chinese USB microscope I plan to mount in a desk mount adjustable arm (Adjustable Clip Table Lamp Bedside Desk Top Table Lights Industrial Chandelier) to be replaced with the USB microscope mounted system.

    I also found a deal on a UV adjustable intensity ring light where I had to repair the ring light power cord, then hot glue gunned the LED ring light and dimmer to the UV adjustable ring light lens cover where the USB microscope mounts in between the three screws for the microscope, though I haven’t mounted the system on the arm yet nor have I adapted the jewelers reticle to the USB microscope.

    There was a online link to someone hacking out the cheap Chinese USB microscope where they removed the cheapo ring light, added a new ring light and jewelers reticle. That is what inspired the project. Funny, is I’ve used to determine what type of bug was biting me at the hotel I was staying at and to inspect boards. I haven’t soldered with yet… though does work descent when viewing from the laptop screen and I used ContaCam to record the video and images.

    I agree, the USB microscope lens can use improvement as well as using a stereoscopic or tri-scopic vision lens system.

    1. I have been looking at Dino-Lite microscopes.. and it appears they come with special software that allows yo to mesure right on the screen and add those measurements to picturs. Also a focus stacking feature which will allow you to take pictures at various depts and then take the in focus portions and combone them all into one picture. Is there a chines altrenative for those features? Also the dino has special accessoriy cups like a sealed cup and some others for doing things like nailfold capilary examination using immersion oil. and ability to turn on and off quadrands of the LED lights as well as dimming them. and some accessories that will difuse LED light and create larger ring of light. and theey come with a polarized filter which can be turned 350 degrees to help eliminate glare. I am not sure if they come with a IR or UV or blacklight for examinations. Any chinses models or other alternatives to Dino that have any of these features? I am thinking the Celestron may be good candidate for hacking and making 3d printed accessories since it seems to have fairly large distribution and they have software that can do measuring.

  13. I have one of those cheap chinese ones that I bought dirt cheap (it was just over £10, maybe £12) second hand on eBay, and I’m super happy with it. In fact, when I showed it to the old man, he snapped one up from eBay too. What he did was then mount it onto the mount of an old binocular microscope that he salvaged from a school skip decades ago, and that makes it perfect for controlling the focus. Indeed, the mount on mine is the only downside as it’s difficult to focus towards max magnification.

  14. Nothing beats Vision engineering from ebay “Vision Engineering LTD Stereo Dynascope Model TS-3 with Boom Pole NEEDS REPAIR”

    Got for $100 ebay, found $20 light source, $15 dollar stand. Since they are dead simple and freakin’ huge and heavy, was easy to “fix”. (optical spinning motor was stuck, cleaned and lube…works like a charm now)

  15. I wound up investing $50 in a Stereo Graff D-4999 I found on eBay since I figured the steel hardware is high quality and worth restoring compared to newer maybe not as high quality made components. Has two 10x lens and the bottom is 2x.

    I received and boards look way better than I am used to seeing and I like not using my hand or flimsy lamp adjustable arm USB microscope that I usually don’t use even. I really enjoy inspecting with the stereo microscope with what little I have done so far.

    Since the vertical mount on mine is 5/8″ diameter… I am going to machine two brackets with 5/8″ diameter holes perpendicular (granted with a 110 degree side view angle of the vertical rods) to each other so to mount a boom from the stock vertical mount so I can still adjust using the main rotary zoom as well as have thumb screws for adjustment to the front and back of the bench and up and down.

    I wound up buying a 3′ long piece of 5/8″ stainless steel for this and realized that for the desk… maybe I should use three ~1ft sections (with the last actually maybe up to 6″ shorter and the difference for vertical up-down position) that folds back out of the way instead of my original vision of one long ~2ft boom and a front vertical maybe ~1ft.

    1. Picked up another Stereo-Graf (4F-1638 Steri-ette) microscope and Orion stand on ezBay, where this other one came with the original 15x eyepieces.

      I also decided to invest in a “VIVO Dual LCD LED Monitor Desk Mount Stand Heavy Duty Fully Adjustable fits 2 / Two Screens up to 27″” I found on Amazon. I figure I can use one arm for a monitor and another for the Orion stand that will be used for Z-axis focusing and adjusting on the scope.

      Go figure, the whole monitor mount cost as much as the 5/8″ stainless steel pipe. I can still use the 5/8″ pipe though for the scope and Orion stand, maybe only 6″ however.

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