$10 Smartphone to digital microscope conversion!

Picture of $10 Smartphone to digital microscope conversion!

The world is an interesting place, but it's fascinating up close.  Through the lens of a microscope you can find details that you would otherwise never notice.  But now you can.

This instructable will show you how to build a stand for about $10 that will transform your smartphone into a powerful digital microscope. This DIY conversion stand is more than capable of functioning in an actual laboratory setting. With magnification levels as high as 175x 375x Edit:  with the addition of a second lens magnification can be as high as 375x, plant cells and their nuclei are easily observed!  In addition to allowing the observation of cells, this setup also produces stunning macro photography.

The photos in this instructable were taken with an iPhone 4S.  

Watch the video below for a quick overview of the project!
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Step 1: Materials and Tools

Picture of Materials and Tools
The cost of this project is just $10 (not counting the smartphone), and it only takes about 20 minutes to build. You can be viewing cells with your smartphone within the hour!

Materials required:
3x 4 ½” x 5/16” carriage bolts
9x 5/16” nuts
3x 5/16” wing nuts
5x 5/16” washers
¾” x 7” x 7” plywood  -- for the base
⅛” x 7” x 7” plexiglass  -- for the camera stage
⅛” x 3” x 7” plexiglass  -- for the specimen stage
Scrap plexi (~ 2"x 4") for specimen slide (optional but useful)
laser pointer focus lens (use two for increased magnification)
LED click light (necessary only for viewing backlit specimens)

Assorted bits


Lights: http://www.amazon.com/FTmall-Pocket-Portable-Keychain-Flashlight/dp/B008O2KKYW/ref=lh_ni_t?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=A2B8SF4TS2YZYV
Lenses: If you don't have a laser, these lenses have produced comparable results:  http://www.aixiz.com/store/product_info.php/cPath/46/products_id/374/osCsid/37cabc139b4f03b0e0a522178defae7e

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Yoshinok (author) 1 year ago
The LED light that is used in this instructable:

Diamond Visions Inc 08-0775 Crazy Colored Stubby Keychain Led Flashlight

I understand that you can use others as well?

Love the simplicity of this and will definitely be taking inspiration. One question: how have you worked out the level of magnification you are getting?
Yoshinok (author)  Dean Wilson1 year ago
The magnification was determined by using calibration micrometer slides and comparing the images obtained by this apparatus to the images from a digital microscope of known magnification.
BenR114 days ago

If you order the blue glass laser lens from AixiZ that I recommend, make sure you e-mail the owner and request a lens suitable for cell phone microscopes. One of the batches I ordered didn't work right. If you let him know, he will send the right ones.

HeidiDawn99 made it!25 days ago
I forgot to test the correct orientation of the lens to phone, so I may pop the lens out, turning it over if needed. I made one for a kids gardening class, if it's useful to them, I'll make a few more.

I used to have a laser pointer when I was a kid, but threw it our at one point. Can you tell me where I can buy just a focus lens?

These lenses are better quality than cheap laser pointer lenses. These are made for a blu-ray player.

AixiZ Blue Laser Glass Lens for 405-455nm


I bought a package of 10 without the dark colored carrier from eBay from the seller "foreversafe". They cost $3.99 for 10. I ordered them 4/23 and they got here 5/4. Here is the title of the search: new 10 pcs laser diode focus lens/collimating lens diameter 7mm acrylic.

Hi Christian. I build this microscope using the lens from an old DVD writer. You can find these lenses in any sort of dvd, cd, blue ray etc.. players. The lens is used to change the focal point of the laser. I would rather suggest using such a laser becaue it is alot bigger so you can get better clearer pictures.

Thanks. I have an old portable cd player which I will now make good use of :) I was keeping it for memories, but this is a much better idea.

BenR111 month ago

There is an easy way to calculate a rough magnification is this:

1) Get two rulers with millimeter markings.

2) Zoom in on the millimeter scale on one ruler using the scope.

3) Use the other ruler to measure the apparent length of one millimeter on the screen (in mm). This number is your approximate magnification.

PaulY51 month ago
elliotnash1 month ago

Wow, simply brilliant. I used to have an old laser when I was a kid, but I'm not sure whether I'd be able to find it. Is there some kind of substitute in this case?

BenR11 made it!1 month ago

I tried around six types of lenses. I didn't get good results with the cheap laser pointer lenses. The best results I got were with this lens:

AixiZ Blue Laser Glass Lens for 405-455nm


AlexM344 months ago

Do you know any teachers who have made use of this in classrooms? If so I would love to feature them in an article I'm writing now about accessible innovation - alexannem [at] gmail [dot] com

I've been meaning to post a 'made it' of this project,. I've been working as a part time science lab instructor at my old high school, and I mostly use instructables or other online ideas for fun, (inexpensive) hands-on labs.

eamoore AlexM343 months ago

I built one to use in my classroom. We are a bring your own device school so this worked in perfectly. I just finished writing a grant proposal to be able to purchase large quantities of the materials so I can build one for each student group in the grade level. (roughly funding to build 20 of these units). The nice part of this is that I am not concerned about letting students sign out units at night for additional learning outside of the classroom. The one I am building now will also accommodate a tablet comfortably. Even though we have microscopes.....as a STEAM school, it is nice to bring the engineering design process and creativity into use for the students. They love it.

I'm a teacher and just built my first one! Not sure if we'll get around to using it this year, but we're rolling out a BYOD program in the next week or two.

brad_bradshaw2 months ago

Hey all, here's some updated resources for the design!

Laser diode focusing lens: http://www.amazon.com/Collimating-lens-Focusing-La...

Keychain LED flashlight: http://www.amazon.com/Etekcity%C2%AE-Multicolor-Su...

Useful LED filters: http://www.amazon.com/AmScope-FT-BGY32-Yellow-Filt...

Black vinyl sheet (recommended to cover plywood base for better darkfield imaging): http://www.amazon.com/Expressions-Vinyl-adhesive-o...

Jbozz2 months ago

So I made most of it except when I used the lense from a dollar store laser pointer, my specimen has to be right up against the screen a couple of millimeters away to get a focus. Is there different laser pointers I can use that will let me focus up on specimens farther away?

dibbkd2 months ago

FYI the link you have to the lights actually links to the lenses. Yes I was able to copy/paste the Amazon link but thought you might want to correct it for others.

alcurb2 months ago

First of all, brilliant build. Thanks for posting your well-document instructable.

I have a question and some suggestions:

What household chemical can one use to stain the specimens?

One can make the stage less wobbly by using larger washers and by hot-gluing the washers to the wingnuts.

One can set up two lenses side-by-side: one single and one double (stacked) lenses. To change mags, all you gotta do is slide the phone left or right.

Lighting with polarized light can yield some interesting features of the specimen. To do this, scavenge polarized lenses from a broken pair of sunglasses or from 3D cinema glasses. If one were to place the lens on top of the LED light and rotate the lens, one can vary the polarization of the light hitting the specimen. If one were to stack two polarized lenses or films on top of each other and rotate one of them, one can accurately dim the light output from the LED light source.

Using UV LED light can bring up some interesting colors of the specimen that would otherwise not be visible. Needless to say, one would need to take precautions not to stare at the UV light or wear UV-blocking glasses. Let the camera do the staring.

Yash Gimonkar made it!3 months ago
Finally it's done! Pic: Dorsal section of a curry leaf.
nightdave3 months ago

Great instructable - we did it in one evening and have a "lovely" picture of a crane fly as a result. Thank you!

Garth Irons made it!3 months ago

HackLab #308's local adaptation of the design. Our first specimens were delectable fava beans untimely ripped from the Global Center's guerrilla garden.

Thank you...

photo (9).JPGphoto (10).JPGphoto (11).JPGphoto (6).JPGphoto (12).JPGphoto (13).JPG

I made 6 of these for my 8th grade physical science class! They work great! We've been using them to look at small crystals and other curiosities around the room. There can be an issue with iPhones focusing. The object must be very close to the lens. I use a scrap of the Plexiglas and it works great. I plan to make more but I'm going to increase the size to 10" x 10". I've been finding that many phones are difficult to fit bceause of their larger sizes. I'm also going to try with 2 lens.

how many focus lens i need

does this app only work with IPhones or androids, too?

Yoshinok (author)  FernRidgeLabradoodles3 months ago

Its not an app. It uses the camera function of any smartphone. It also works on tablets and iPods, anything with a small digital camera that can autofocus.

eamoore3 months ago

I found the LED lights in the cat toy area (go figure) at a local five and dime type store. It is the same one as shown in the pictures.

Epicspoon3 months ago
I did an Instructable on just using the laser pointer lens and I was wondering if making the stand with plexiglass does anything to make more magnification or better quality images.
NikhilM24 months ago

Any other alternative to the lenses..?(apart from laser pointer & DVD players)and is lens required a plano convex lens or what..? Plz help :D

Thnx for sharing ur project..! It's amazing.Looking forward for more similar DIY Projects.

tmichlovitch made it!4 months ago

My 9 year old daughter and I made this. We had a lot of fun putting it together. I cut the wood and the plexyglass and she helped me assemble it. We covered the wood with some black pressure sensitive vinyl type material so that it would look better. The close up shot is a picture of the letter A taken from a quarter.

Thanks, we had fun!


Hi. Looking great. I see you also made the same modification as I did by adding extra bolts to the adjustable table to keep it more steady. One hint, try to get the laser inside an old CD,DVD player, burner etc... It is alot bigger and works much better than the laser from a laser pointer.

Thanks for the hint, I will try that out.

is plexiglass do anything with magnification
Any helpful tips on getting the lens out of the black housing from the lenses bought in bulk? l bought the ones listed, totally scratched one up trying to get it out. Ideas? Anyone know what size drill bit works best for the suggested lenses?
Any helpful tips on getting the lens out of the black housing from the lenses bought in bulk? l bought the ones listed, totally scratched one up trying to get it out. Ideas? Anyone know what size drill bit works best for the suggested lenses?
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