Great Cheap Toy for those of us over 40!

OK.. I’ve been debating about getting one of these for over a year.

USB "2.0 Megapixel" Web-cam based Microscope

I finally decided to “risk it”…
At about $30 from China on e-bay (look for “joinnew”) .. they are cheap.. but are they good enough for electronics work?

Lets see. Most claim to be 2.0 MP but like mine the are really noisy above 640×480 resolution because the sensors really are 640×480 webcam sensors. They are backlit with 8 white “high brightness” LEDs.

There are issues with the setup, and are not good enough for a true scientific instrument. But a true scientific instrument would be too much for surface mount work, anyway. So one of the “20x-200x” variants would be better for electronics than a “50x-500x” unit, anyway.

Here are the results:

Highest magnification of a offset print catalog that came in the mail:

Printing press color image at max usable resolution

BATC Digilite board– various parts shot at differing magnifications. The IC is a TSSOP, so it’s pretty small. This shows that I about have hand SMT soldering down.. this is what it should look like at magnification, BTW. (See My other blog for some tips IMHO on how to SMT solder!)

TSSOP I/Q Modulator at "medium" magnification

Chip Tantalum and leads from TSSOP at "low" magnification

Leads on TSSOP at medium magnificaion, but higher magnification than IC package picture

As you can see, it’s quite adequate for board inspection. As the magnification setting increases, the unit needs to be closer to the board. At low (20x or less) magnification the unit can be a couple of inches away from the board. It *may* be possible to actually mount and solder the part on the board when using the USB Microscope at a low magnification setting.. but I’ll have to experiment.

The units come with a poor quality stand, but I plan on getting a stand off a spring loaded arm lamp (I saw a neat one on a small little lamp at IKEA the last time I was in Chicago.. maybe if I ever get back to visit mom).. I suspect if a stand could be fabricated to keep the beast out of the way of the soldering iron, it could actually be used when soldering.. especially with the protective lens cap it comes with on. I’ll figure it out later and post somewhere.

For $30, it’s adequate for electronics use and I actually recommend it as a tool for construction. The only “rip-off” part is that it’s not really usable above 640×480– the higher “res” modes overtax the capabilities of the sensor and are very noisy. (Dont believe the 1.3 or 2.0 MP claims!) Despite this, as you can tell it’s about right for circuit board work.

I used to laugh when someone told me that “right at age 40” you get presbyopia — but I literally woke up one morning 6 months after my 40th birthday, looked down at my (out of focus through my glasses) watch and thought… “oh crap!”…It literally happened to me overnight!… Now I have to take off my glasses to do close in work. I suspect as I further deteriorate with age that it will even get worse.

This seems like an inexpensive tool to cope.

Recommended for the price. Shipping was only one week from China during the “holiday rush” time. Great deal.

Fred Spinner, WØFMS, is a regular contributor to and writes from Iowa, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

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