$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


Lenses: If you don't have a laser, these lenses have produced comparable results:

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Yoshinok (author) 10 months 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?

Dean Wilson10 months ago
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 Wilson10 months 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.

Hi! Love, love, love this!!! I just made this awesome set-up, but now I'm trying to hook my smartphone up to my computer so that what the phone sees can be seen by the whole class on the bigger computer screen. I teach preschool, so they all don't have their own phones! :) Has anyone ever done that successfully? I've tried both USB cables and HDMI cables with no luck. I've tried using my TV instead of the computer with no luck, and I've tried the mirror imaging setting with no luck. I can take pictures and download them onto my computer, but that's not what I'm trying to do. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!!! ~shannon

xharris9 days ago

Great instructions! Going to see if we can make a class set. How did you add a second lens? Did you just add a second sheet of plexiglass on top? Thanks

thaipham10122 days ago

How can I use it with a DSLR camera?

JB1622 days ago

What a great hack! I can't wait to try it.

You will be happy to know that your design is widely used and has been adopted by Missouri University of Science and Technology!

aesparza23 months ago
I used the lens from a laser pointer that was a cat toy.

Your cat is probably mad at you now. :)

winman911 month ago
Wow, we made it with our sons. Pretty impressive.
dcampbell233 months ago

can anyone tell me about what x magnification i am getting?


If you used 1 lens you should be getting around 175x, if you used two about 350x - 375x.

@eellis3 I used one lens(f=8mm) and only got around 30x, how do you get that high magnification?

I get 16X with the lens on its own, but then my phone has 8x zoom, so that works out to around 128x total. Seems to work really great and definitley zooms in at least 112x on my setup

Just got done building this. Works awesome! I'm getting at *least* 112x mag when I use full digital zoom on my phone. Using a LG G2, which has a 14meg pixel camera, so even digital zoom looks great if you provide enough light. Thanks for the plans!

jenslabs made it!1 month ago

Thanks for a fun and useful instructable. More pictures at

1. The microscope, 2. The eye of a fly, 3. An Sony Xperia ZR display and an iPhone display, 4. A wild strawberry.


After intensive fruitless searching for a good, cheap, ipad-compatible digital microscope to use with my preschool class, I came across your instructable. It looks great -- definitely thinking of having a parent make it for our class! One question: Is there any way to change the magnification?

I've GOT to try this. Anyone have a drill I can borrow???

kal walid2 months ago
thank gonna make one soon.
mkhandelwal12 months ago

Plz tell me of what diameter the lens should be?

Sputnik0510 months ago
@Sputnik05 Thanks for the suggestion. So I decided to combine a Special Focus Lens Laser Diode-Collimator from Ebay and Thomas Larson's micro phone lens. The ant image to the right is using just the laser diode-collimator; to the right is the combination of both lenses.


@Linstruction, How do you combine the lens?

@asdfghjkl1991 The thickness of the hole that I drilled in the acrylic plate allowed for the placement of both lenses. I have the focus lens laser diode-collimator slightly raised above the surface of the plate since my iPhone has a cover. I simply press in the micro phone lens from below. To keep the latter from popping out (i.e. when specimens accidentally brush against it) I use a little piece of tape.


My laser leds have lenses smaller than the camera phone lenses.

Can this be done with the lens of a CDROM or something like that?


bryce6687 made it!3 months ago

I have made some alterations to the design of the Microscope with help from an optical engineer. The 5mm diameter lens I used has a focal length of 5mm also and the depth of field that the lens can focus on is tiny so with that in mind I made some alterations to the method of focussing and also changed to a 7mm diameter lens to let more light in (this decreases magnification which was x41 using 5mm however the image is clearer). Tips I can give now are to ensure the lens is close to the phone, put white paper under device feet and shine a torch onto paper up into object viewing as the camera phone can deal much better with this light, use a flexible stage with adjusting screw to focus as shown in my pictures. You can use 5mm think coloured plastic like I have but only for the top platform and only with a 7mm lens. I have chosen to use this because it looks good and am planning on building these with some 12 years olds in a School so wanted something more robust that they can shape and cut etc. Thank you to SELEX Es and ST Microelectronics for their support with the adaptions, and the person who posted the original design. Total cost for this version is just over £2 but can get lower if you buy large quantities and use thinner clear Perspex.

photo 1.JPGIMG_0198.JPGIMAG0092.jpg

amazing photos and the water flea video, just wondering how much magnification is that? and did you just order on-line for the 5mm lens? b/c I ordered the lens suggested on this webpage, i measured its focal length and its about 8+-2mm, and I'm only able to get a magnification around 35x(im using blackberry but i assume phones wont make much difference), so besides you used 5mm, is there anything else you did to obtain those good images? like compound of lens, could you please share? Thanks a lot!

ZeroThompson2 months ago

Can someone please tell me how to properly add a 2nd lens for further magnification? I have tried putting them close together, further apart, nothing seems to work.

Thank you in advance!

same ask here, 375x would be much more amazing. I'm also trying to improve it by using the same concept of a actual microscope,

CMartinTaylor made it!3 months ago

Built one this weekend for myself, then made 3 more as kits for my geeky relatives! Too bad the stupid upload software doesn't preserve the orientation of the images.

BravoSquirrel8 months ago
Like most things that are simple, I try to find ways to make them more complicated. The problems I had with this setup concerned the stage. It was really wobbly, and it was often a little clumsy trying to turn the two wing nuts simultaneously. So I rigged up this belt and pulley system built from wood, insert nuts, and a large rubber band. Now both sides turn in unison when only one side is turned. I also added some springs to add a little more stability and resistance. This setup works extremely well for fine adjustments and focusing. The downside is that it requires more specialized equipment than the original design: primarily a drill press with three sizes of hole saws.
microscope 002.jpgmicroscope 006.jpg

I see you used 2 springs and gears. Can you example your process and materials please. This looks great!

Did you made a production plan? If it's already made I could only translate it in french for my students, otherwise I will have to create the document myself :-)

Brilliant! So, did you use a 5/16" nut on each side in lieu of the wing nuts?

Yeah, I used some t-nuts set inside the axle of the pulley. I decided
not to use brads, and I just used some high strength epoxy to set them
in place.

ScienceWizz993 months ago
@Yoshinok could you help me? My lens is not providing enough magnifacation.

I want to see cells on prepared slides it is not working.

I'm also going to add another lens but on a seperate attachment.

I submitted some pictures earlier too.
ScienceWizz993 months ago
The ones earlier are prepared slides and they are large enough to see the pink blob before you magnify it. The purple one is a flower petal.
14, 2:31 PM.jpg14, 2:31 PM.jpg14, 2:31 PM.jpg
ScienceWizz993 months ago
Also the specimen are not being magnifyed enough.
14, 2:28 PM.jpg14, 2:28 PM.jpg14, 2:28 PM.jpg
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