$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) 1 year ago
The LED light that is used in this instructable:

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

You can get the led light at Dealextreme too.

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.
Will it work with a samsung galaxy s5?
CairParavel314 made it!1 month ago

My girlfriend and I did it this at the afternoon. It was pretty bad alienated, and we didn't buy a lantern, but the rest was OK. We take a picture of a mexican billet.


was it hard to get the lens out of the laser pen ?

Actually is very easy, just don't press too much. Or you will not be able to catch it when thew go out :3

PannK7 days ago

can i not using led light?

What are the sizes of the drill bits? Especially for the Lens hole?

sasclover1010 days ago

What are the sizes of the drill bits? Especially for the Lens hole?

Seeing different points of view. Thanks for this wonderful instructable

EmmanuelP1 made it!28 days ago

Made it with some cheap laser pointer lenses. Image is good in center but there is a lot of spherical distortion. I had better results with 2 lenses.

Ordered some lenses from to see if they work better.

My daughter reply to her friends comment on the images she posted on Facebook : "My dad can do anything!" I guess Yoshinok should get part of the credits for my abilities ;-)

(the image is from a snake scale she had with her, now old, microscope)

DavidM181 month ago

Thanks for the very straightforward instructions. I made one this weekend in advance of a spring course I'll be teaching. Made a simple adjustment to the focus. I mounted the stage (now a fixed stage) and inserted compression springs between the stage and platform, then moved the wingnuts to the top. This arrangement stabilized the stage for the cost of three springs (about $1) and focusing from the top is less likely to disturb the sample. Thanks so much!!

The microscope.jpg

Coool... can you add a link for buying the springs?

Bob G at UNC made it!1 month ago

We made a dozen of these microscopes with students in a college class... images are at the flickr link below... thanks Kenji!!!

tohsookwan made it!7 months ago

Hard to find the plexiglass I need. Make it with 3 CD ROM casing.


This is awesome!
How did you manage to drill the CD ROM case without breaking it??

If you're in the US, you can get some at Home Depot. They sell it in various-sized sheets in the window dept.

That is fantastic.

nikolatesla204 months ago

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!

hi, do you need to adjust the distance between camera and lens?

TháiP2 months ago

the iPhone 4's phocal length is 3.85mm, and I'm using a Lumia 822 whose focal length is 26mm, so I think I should do some adjustment on the distant from the camera to the lens, right?

chiragpanigrahi made it!2 months ago

what if i will be adding 3or 5 lens??will i be getting more magnification than what i got with 2 lenses?

Yoshinok (author)  chiragpanigrahi2 months ago

The focal length of the lens stack gets shorter with every additional lens. A third lens theoretically would produce greater magnification, but might require the sample to be just about touching the lens.

IcartLavodnas2 months ago

I made this and cannot get the pictures I see on the site. I ordered the
lenses from the link and am using the exact same lights. I did not take
the covering off the lenses, and it doesn't seem to effect anything.
But when I try to make the double lens its worse than the single. Should
I take off the coverings? Which way should the lenses be, both concave
or opposite each other? Thank you, I am making a class set for 7th grade
science class any helpful hints would be greatly appreciated!

Hi. Did you get the lenses to work? I also bought the lenses from the link but cannot get the plastic cover off the lense. Did you remove the plastic cover or get it to work with the cover. Thanks!

Yoshinok (author)  IcartLavodnas2 months ago

Are you using extra plexiglass sample slides (see the video for an example)? The focal length of the lenses is rather short. If you don't get the sample close enough to the lens the image will never be in focus. I use one plexiglass slide for the single lens models and two slides stacked together for the double lens models of the microscope. This should fix your problem. Let me know how you get on.

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

hi... very simple.

just load an app on yr smartphone - IP WEBCAM..... (or something similar)

now yr smartphone will act as video server and u can see what the smartphone camera shows on yr computer....

... u can also use this to see what yr class is doing while you are checking the reports on yr computer in other room..

... hope this helps....

dees2 dees22 months ago

this is a free app.

if you are in school... please have this software

Stellarium is a planetarium software that shows exactly what you see when you look up at the stars. It's easy to use, and free.

.. children will love it.

Yoshinok (author)  shannon.carnegie.72 months ago

Hi Shannon,

When I do outreach events to present the microscope at science museums and schools I use an HDMI converter for my iPhone and then attach the HDMI cord to a projector. The only issue I have with this is that the cord sometimes yanks on the phone pulling it off the lens slightly. This is easily fixed by just taping the cord or phone to the stage as soon as it is centered on the lens.

Best of luck!


Take a look at the Ipevo company/site. If nothing else you could get a point 2 view camera. I feel like they may have other solutions as well. I am in a similar situation as I teach online. Another option that I just thought of is Airserver. I had lag problems with it but it does broadcast you iOS device to a computer over wifi Reflector also does the same thing Both apps are under $20 (or they were when I tested them last year).

Have been looking to do the same thing as simply as possible and found this today for iPhones: Airbeam for iOS at the App Store. It costs a few dollars but seems to work very well. You will need a wifi connection. You can view the image in any browser or with the free Mac app.

BravoSquirrel11 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

That my friend squirrel is way slick. That rubber band doesn't look super tense. Are those insert nuts easier to turn than regular nuts? I saw this a while ago but then thought of it because I was wondering if something like this would work to make a drill press.

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?

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