Micromancer - Illustration by Ernanda Souza

Micromancer | Illustration by Ernanda Souza

The use of microscopes in hobbyist content is wide and far reaching. Whether you’re trying to examine Magic or other trading cards for legitimacy, painting small figures, or working with delicate pieces of technology, having these powerful magnification tools can turn once irritating and tedious tasks into easy and enjoyable ones.

I’ve dived into the world of USB microscopes to fill you in on what the best ones are depending on your needs and budget. I’ll focus on specifically digital and handheld microscopes here, nothing too solid or heavy like what you’d see in a university research lab.

Ready? Let’s go!

Best Overall

Handheld Microscope

The best digital microscope overall is the wireless handheld microscope from T TAKMLY. It’s got everything you’d expect from a USB microscope in this price range, like an advertised maximum magnification of 1000x, wireless capabilities with a 3-hour long battery, a solid metal stand, and decent portability at 5.3 inches long.

Regardless of the kind of tasks you’ll be using this for at home, it’ll get the job done without costing you too much. The wireless capabilities are particularly useful here because you can constantly work around the microscope and shift it around as you need without worrying about tripping over the cord or knocking over delicate objects.

Wireless Digital Microscope Handheld USB HD Inspection Camera 50x-1000x Magnification with Stand Compatible with iPhone, iPad, Samsung Galaxy, Android, Mac, Windows Computer
  • App Provided: Optional software for IOS, Android, Windows, MacOS X. This microscope can support Android 6.0+, iOS 9.0 or later, Windows vista/7/8/10/11 or later, MacOS X 11 or later.
  • Magnification & High Definition: 2 million pixels, 1080P HD picture quality for smartphone, 720P for computer, 50x more magnification can meet your daily needs. Built-in 8 Dimmable LEDs provide enough illuminance.
  • Easy to Carry, Rechargeable: When fully charged(about 3 hous), it can last for about 3 hours. It makes for a very useful and fun tool to always have with you in the outdoors. You can enjoy the portable mini pocket microscope on your nature hikes.
  • A Funny Tool: This electronic microscope is more of a fixed focus magnifying glass, not a traditional microscope, Not suitable for professional serious biologists! This is definitely a very interesting thing for parents, adults, teachers, students, children, collectors, testers, electronics' repair folks, and inquisitive folks who are interested in exploring skin hair scalp trichomes and the microscopic world.
  • Not only a Microscope: More than a microscope, it is a camera, It can not only zoom in but also take photos and record videos. The ability to take video and still photos is amazing. It’s really useful when documenting plant phases throughout their lifecycle.

Buyer’s Guide

When shopping for a handheld digital microscope, it’s critical to understand what factors determine whether the microscope is worth purchasing.

Based on my own usage of microscope or magnification tools in hobbyist content, I’ve found that the level of maximum expected magnification, the portability of the microscope, and the overall price are the most important factors when thinking about making a purchase.

When it comes to magnification, you want a large top-end, but also relatively low floor. I’ve noticed far too often, especially with cheap magnification tools, that having too high of a bottom magnification can make working with larger objects much more difficult. You’ll get into situations where your naked eye can’t quite make certain things out, but enhancing upwards of 100-200x makes it too difficult to see the larger pieces or align with the object correctly.

Portability and wireless capabilities go a long way in terms of using the device easily and without accident. Odds are the tiny objects you’re trying to see are also very delicate. Having long cords or required connections make for difficult instances where you need to shift around an object or move the microscope to a different position. Being able to connect wirelessly or use a battery backup over direct power connection saves you a lot of time and hassle.

You don’t want to spend too much (or too little) on a digital microscope. There aren’t exactly any large innovations in the digital microscope world, so paying more than $60 to $70 isn’t going to get you much more value or clarity than you might hope for. On the opposite end, cheap microscopes, especially below $20, aren’t going to have the level of clarity you’re hoping for. They’re going to be hard to focus with and will even cause you some eye strain after longer periods of use.

The “Cadillac” of USB Microscopes

TOMLOV 1000x

The winner of the “Cadilac” category of USB and digital microscopes is the TOMLOV 1000x. It’s advertised as being especially good for viewing coins, but it can also succeed in any kind of viewing where you need a top-down view. That includes, but certainly isn’t limited to, Magic cards! The height and angular adjustment knobs mean you can also work on other figures or different shaped objects.

The microscope also comes with two adjustable lights, which help aid the lenses in focusing on the object and giving you the clearest picture possible, even at the highest magnification levels.

One thing I’d like to point out is that this is TOMLOV’s signature product. They’re not some pump and dump company that puts out cheap microscopes. They specialize specifically in USB microscopes and offer great customer service and warranty support.

TOMLOV 1000X Error Coin Microscope with 4.3" LCD Screen, USB Digital Microscope with LED Fill Lights, Metal Stand, PC View, Photo/Video, SD Card Included, Windows Compatible, Model- DM4S
  • Designed to encourage curiosity and strive to learn more, this versatile video microscope is easy-to-use and powerful enough for any teen & adult who shows mild interest in science/engineering. Also used as an ideal tool for providing great details for coin collectors.
  • 4.3 Inch Liquid Crystal Display - Does not rely on Wi-Fi or signal, the LCD screen displays real-time crisp images and good quality videos with NO lag or delay. A large screen enhances ergonomics and eliminates eye and neck strain compared with the eyepiece.
  • Additional Adjustable LED Illumination - Apart from 8 built-in lights around the lens, the two base lights are flexible enough to change the direction, avoiding reflection and making it much more visible on the screen.
  • 50-1000X Magnification - Allows to zoom in and see the incredible details at a magnification range from 50 to 1000X. The actual magnification differs due to the screen size, and the distance between the camera and object.
  • Allows Taking Photos And Recording Videos with Included 32GB SD Card.

Best Budget USB Microscope

Meichoon 1600X

The Meichoon 1600X is one of the better budget USB microscopes on the market. It’s got a low price tag and decent angular and height adjustment on the stand, and it fits the average magnification power of other microscopes available online.

As you might expect in this price range, it has a few drawbacks. Most notably, it can’t work wirelessly whatsoever. It must stay plugged in and can’t be used freeform with your hand. It also offers a lower resolution output than other microscopes, in this case 640×480, so your image quality suffers a bit. If you’re just using this to see the objects you’re painting or working with clearer, that shouldn’t bee too much of an issue.

Meichoon 1600X Digital Flexible Microscope Electronic Handheld Mini USB Microscope Magnification Camera with 8 LED HD Lights,Compatible with Window 7 PX, NB03C
  • Great Compatibility: This portable digital microscope compatible with Windows XP, 7, 8, MAC for multiple purposes.
  • Reasonable Design: Just like a camera, it supports recording vivid live vide and store the pictures, its built-in 8 dimmable LEDs can control the light brightness easily with the dimming wire control knob, and provide enough illuminance when working, greatly guarantee the clarity of the picture quality.
  • Extensive Application: This portable microscope can be used in observing coins, circuit boards, stamps, skins, hairs, jewelry, insects etc.
  • Easy To Operate: This digital microscope has a key focus function, which can be photographed with one button. Come with a metal stand, allows for shooting images and video with reduced shaking, and you can use this microscope on your laptop directly via USB port.
  • Good Gift Choice: It’s very convenient and useful for kids, students, engineers, inventors, and others who need to magnify.

Custom USB Microscopes

Unfortunately there aren’t any ways to get any sort of “custom” USB microscopes made for you. There just isn’t enough demand for this kind of product, nor is there that much room for customization in the first place to warrant any sort of options of manufacturing.

Are USB Digital Microscopes Actually Any Good?

Yes, USB digital microscopes are good if you’re using them for hobbyist content like painting figures, examining trading cards, looking at small electronic components, or other non-research needs. Of course, these aren’t the kinds of tools you want to be working with in some kind of research lab, but they do just fine for other purposes.

They’re a great way to use the power of magnification in a home or office setting without having to invest in a laboratory microscope that costs anywhere in the range of $500 to $1500 USD. Those are just overkill for the average person’s needs, and digital microscopes offer a great product at the intersection of useability, portability, and cost-effectiveness.

What Else Is a USB Microscope Used For?

Digital microscopes can be used for just about any purpose in a wide range of settings such as educational or children’s learning, working on or repairing electronic components, painting, or cleaning small and delicate objects, or examining collector’s items. The advantage of USB microscopes is that they offer a large range of magnification levels and can be used digitally without paying for more complex, expensive laboratory microscopes.

Can You See Cells with a USB Microscope?

Yes, you can see cells with a USB microscope. Most often, you can see cells with a magnification level of 400x, and most digital microscopes go up to 1000x. This is great if you’re using it to examine plants or other living matter, but also when you’re checking for the smallest of blemishes or nicks in collectible items.

Can You Use Your Phone as a Microscope?

Yes, you can use your phone as a microscope, just not in the traditional sense. Your phone has a very powerful camera, and most likely, that camera has a solid level of magnification it can achieve while maintaining a clear picture. One easy setup that doesn’t require anything you probably don’t have at home is to setup a stand that can hold your phone when examining various objects. Check out this video by Kenji Yoshino to get an idea of how far the phone should be and the kind of objects you’ll actually be able to see.

How Do You Use a Digital Microscope with Your Computer?

Connecting your digital microscope to the computer via the USB connection is the simplest way to set it up with your computer. Most digital USB microscopes automatically install all necessary drivers or software needed to use the microscope and even walk you through an install wizard to set up the device and show you how to use the program. After that, it’s as simple as finding something to examine!

Wrap Up

Surveyor's Scope - Illustration by Daniel Ljunggren

Surveyor's Scope | Illustration by Daniel Ljunggren

That wraps up my guide to everything relating to USB microscopes and their benefit to your projects or hobbies. I’m not into painting figures or collecting coins, but I’ve used a digital microscope plenty of times when grading Magic cards or checking for counterfeit collectibles.

USB microscopes have plenty of use in a wide range of activities and projects, and there’s a plethora of options available. Have you ever used a USB or digital microscope? What did you use it for, and what did you think? I’d love to hear about your experiences and preferred brands in the comments below or in the official Draftsim Discord.

Until next time, stay safe and stay healthy!

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