Those of us who trawl the world of cheap imported goods will most often stay in our own comfortable zones as we search for new items to amaze and entertain us. We’ll have listings of electronic goods or tools, and so perhaps miss out on the scores of other wonders that can be ours for only a few dollars and a week or two’s wait for postage.
Just occasionally though something will burst out of another of those zones and unexpectedly catch our eye, and we are sent down an entirely new avenue in the global online supermarket.
Thus it was that when a few weeks ago I was looking for an inspection camera I had a listing appear from the world of personal grooming products. It seems that aural hygiene is a big market, and among the many other products devoted to it is an entire category of ear wax removal tools equipped with cameras. These can get you up close and personal with your ear canal, presumably so you can have a satisfying scoop at any accumulated bodily goop. I have a ton of electronics-related uses for a cheap USB close-up camera so I bought one of these so I could — if you’ll excuse the expression — get a closer look.
As your builds get smaller and your eyes get older, you might appreciate a little optical assistance around the shop. Stereo microscopes and inspection cameras are great additions to your bench, but often command a steep price. So this DIY PCB inspection microscope might be just the thing if you’re looking to roll your own and save a few bucks.
It’s not fancy, and it’s not particularly complex, but [Saulius]’ build does the job, mainly because he thought the requirements through before starting the build. MDF is used for the stand because it’s dimensionally stable, easy to work, and heavy, which tends to stabilize motion and dampen vibration. The camera itself is an off-the-shelf USB unit with a CS mount that allows a wide range of lenses to be fitted. A $20 eBay macro slider allows for fine positioning, and a ring light stolen from a stereo microscope provides shadow-free lighting.
We’d say the most obvious area for improvement would be a linkage on the arm to keep the plane of the lens parallel to the bench, but even as it is this looks like a solid build with a lot of utility – especially for hackers looking to age in place at the bench.
The nice thing with having a hacker cred is that family and friends are always on the lookout for stuff they think might be useful to you. [Craig Hollabaugh]’s son-in-law found an inspection camera and thought it would be handy for his hobby work. The MagniSight Explorer was first introduced in 2001. It is good for surface mount board work and inspection, except that its analog 480p video is quite dated by today’s standards. So [Craig] upgraded it for crystal clear 1080P/30 video and 5 megapixel images using a $35 Raspberry Pi 2 and a $26 Raspberry Pi Camera Module. After the upgrade, the unit is now a great tool for SMT rework.
There’s not a lot to the upgrade, but [Craig] gives a nice rundown in the 15 minute video of the MagniSight’s internals. He shows us the original analog camera module and its video card, which is able to do some additional processing like black and white output and reverse video (negative). As he mentions, it would be easy for him to do the same via software on the Raspberry Pi. A video camera lens takes care of magnification and two shafts coupled to it via flat belts (rubber bands?) take care of zoom and focus. A front coated mirror angled 45 degrees in front of the lens turns the optical path 90 degrees to allow the lens/camera to “look down”. After experimenting a bit to find the correct focal spot behind the lens unit for the Raspberry Pi camera, he covered the camera module with insulation tape and then just glued it to the old camera mount. After hooking it up to an HDMI monitor, the results are quite nice and he reckons he can easily work with components down to 0402 in size.
He’s got a couple of more upgrades in mind to make the system even better. He plans to replace the existing compact fluorescent lamps with a string of LED’s which will provide more uniform illumination. Plus, he can control their brightness, and selectively turn them on or off to get the optimum lighting. The other interesting upgrade would be to add stepper motors to the X-Y translation stage and automate their movement. After looking up a board file and its BoM, he may even be able to search for a part designator and move the stage to bring the part into focus.