Earlier in this article, I described a setup for a macro camera that holds the subject steady, allows fine adjustments with a linear table, stacks images for extended depth of field, and lights the subject evenly and brightly. Without question, it beats the image quality of a 320x240 toy microscope from circa 2000.
On a popular auction site, you can buy a 5 megapixel USB microscope with 200x (or greater) magnification for around $25. With photo stacking, you can get pretty decent results. Consistent with other microscopes I’ve tried, the lighting is a little off-color and sparkly, despite having 8 LEDs.
Result of cheap microscope on expensive setup
For photo stacking, there is no way I could have gotten successive images with different focus using the dial embedded in the microscope. The microscope would have moved too much during adjustment. Instead, I mounted the $25 microscope onto the $550 StackShot linear slide, which I acknowledge completely undermines the low price point of the microscope.
Cheap 5MP USB microscope mounted on StackShot
To mount the microscope to the StackShot, I machined a brass adapter with a standard camera 1/4-20 hole on one end, and a square on the other end to match the microscope’s included stand. You might be able to 3D print something, instead, as long as you use a threaded insert (such as nut) for the camera mount.
Microscope mount with homemade brass adapter
There is nothing wrong with using the cheap 5MP microscope to take images by hand. It works well for inspection and the images are usable.
I am pleased with the high quality of the images that can be taken with a well lit, stable, and stack-focused setup. I am slightly disappointed that I was unable to zoom in far enough to see the circuit board teaming with bacteria, but I acknowledge that you must use the right tool for the right job.
Yes, you can beat both old and modern toy microscopes with an enthusiast-level camera, a decent macro lens, and, uh, a bunch of other stuff.