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Smart Microscope

Most of the popular digital and DSLR cameras are perfectly equipped for macro photos. Taking a great photo by zooming to the scene not farther than 20-30 centimeters is a little effort and requires only clicking the shutter button and leaving all the technicalities to the camera's automated software. Even the cheap lenses can do that without a problem. While ago I collected some of those photos and wrote a little about macro photography and how to record all the close objects not very distant from our nose.

But, can we do closer than that? Can we take a photo of an object like top of the pencil, as close as couple of millimeters away from the lens, for example, like the one in this photo:

Dot-sized larvae of cricket or grasshopper invading our balcony flowerpot

Well, not with a consumer camera, not without specialized optics. However, "augmenting" our smartphones to do the magic is just a little effort. And yes, I took above photo with only my smartphone, additional plastic lens I taped on it's camera and... lots of patience.

To be completely honest, taking a photo of an insect, small in size, like hair louse that is erratically running and jumping in your small zooming window is not little effort per se, but it can make your day and everything else is just a piece of cake. All you have to do is to strip one of those laser pointers and rip out its lens. Perhaps the better results you can get with laser point equipped with the lens made with greater optical quality, but for starters, anyone can do. So, like in left image, or if you click on bottom reference link, when you take out the lens, all you have to do is to tape it to your camera lens on the back of your smartphone and the rest is your imagination. If you follow the image story, the goal can be even bigger - the end result can be one of those microscopes you can find in toy stores and with quality lens, capable to take a photo or even a video clip of a micro world with up to the cellular level. Complete instruction of building such device you can find within the Turn Your Smartphone Into a Digital Microscope! YouTube page.

Of course, taking micro photos means you have to get close to the scene and your smartphone will block most of the useful light so you have to think like ordinary microscope. You bring the light with you and position it just below or next to the "set". I recommend one of those LED flashlights that are very small in size that allows you to carry them along with your phone. I used one of those book reader LED lights with flexible handle with just one LED source on the top. That way you can fit both in your hand - the light and the phone. The other hand will be responsible just for zooming and the button. Picture is worth a thousand words so here is how it looks in action.

I didn't play too much time with this, but I am sure following summer will bring lots of more micro photos when all of those microbiological life emerge out but it is amazing what exactly you can stumble to your front-yard or balcony in just a couple of hours. The image bellow to the right, when I pointed the lens toward the rose's stem I thought I will get only some sort of reddish plant spores but instead my memory card was filled with tiny and not to adorable rose lice. In other words, if you make this, prepare to be surprised what exactly you might find in there.

Therefore, I advice practicing first with non-live objects in your own household, like in above example of pencil tops, and believe me, exercising is what you really need to do, simply because zooming out of focus is just one tiny move of you finger or even a significant breath or hesitation. Anyway, I will be adding more images into this gallery in the future and besides embedded images to this post, there are more at web gallery.

In today's update the story goes further into micro world and this time with a cheap 'consumer' digital microscope. I bought one for Viktor's 11th birthday earlier this year and during this entire spring we played with it a lot. In quality and zooming it was more or less in the realm of the DIY smart microscope I made and described in the post. However, it brought to the scene it's own powerful LED lights and with its pencil like shape it was more controllable and applicable. The downsize was that its far beyond smartphone camera quality and numbers of pixels was not too high to capture quality videos but still its educational value was out of the question.

This new addition to the post imagery was actually a video from Viktor's YouTube channel zViktor22 where he tested the microscope with various plants, food, money, fabrics, insects and more from our country village, household, his 5th grader herbarium and our frontward. I also included our old smart microscope photos and the caterpillar video from the initial post to complete the story about what it's possible to do with little effort and cheap technology.

Original post: May 2014, Update: June 2018.

Smart Microscope:
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