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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Image capture software for cheap USB microscopes

Look on Amazon and you will find a variety of cheap USB microscopes. These are basically a USB video camera with a macro lens. They are good for inspecting fine details of things like electronic components, plants, insects, stamps, etc. but they are not powerful enough for looking at, say, cells in biological samples.

I just bought one to help me capture images of various plant pathologies.

They are marketed as having a range of magnification from, for example, 20 to 300X and the cameras have resolutions anywhere from 0.3 to 5 M pixels. Be aware that the specified magnification range may include the magnification inherent in displaying the image on a large monitor !

Dino-Lite make a range of professional USB microscopes of various sorts but these can cost hundreds of dollars. For basic experimentation there are a load of other vendors and products with prices in the $50 - $100 range.

If you look on Amazon it will be obvious that the same basic models are being sold be several different vendors.

Here is the one that I bought for $60 which is branded  DBPOWER

The same microscope with the same stand is also branded as :

Celestron 5 MP Handheld Digital Microscope Pro  $83

And with a different stand, or without a stand, by a wide variety of other vendors

I went with the $60 DBPOWER variant with a 5 MP camera. It comes with the stand in two pieces and a CD containing software called MicroCapturePro for PC and Mac.

You need software to interact with it - it does not just show up as a camera in the MacOS ImageCapture or Preview tools.

I don't have a CD drive on the machine I want to use this with and transferring the software from one that does is a bit of a pain. So I looked online for the software.

You can get MicroCapturePro from Celestron but after digging around a bit I would recommend a different solution.

Plugable have a similar microscope and they provide a piece of software called Digital Viewer - get that and install it on your Mac (they have a Windows version too). When I started it up it displayed the view from my webcam but click the Settings icon in the top left and select the microscope.

The focussing mechanism on these microscopes is a bit rough but you'll get used to it. I can see that I may want to build myself a better stand and illumination rig.

Under Settings you can select the image resolution and do a bit of image adjustment. You can take individual images, videos or a set of timed images.

It looks like it will do exactly what I need it to do - for $60 that's not bad.

Here is an example image:


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