Introduction: 30 Minute USB Microscope

Picture of 30 Minute USB Microscope

i got a new digital camera today and i felt like posting something..

heres a medium-resolution usb microsope i made for under $100 in parts (if you bought them new), had most of this around already and made a new tool :)

1 radioshack pocket scope
1 white led
1 logitech notebook pro quickcam (zeiss lens)
30 awg wire
heatshrink or black tape
hotglue gun (or whatever appropriate glue your prefer)

(cheap plug)

Step 1: Modify the Microscope

Picture of Modify the Microscope

this is pretty easy, the microscope comes with an incandecent bulb which is normally powered by 2 1.5v AAA batteries, just rip these all out and replace the light with a single white LED and extend its leads up through the case using the 30awg wire..

use your heatshink/tape here to insulate the leads.

test your light with a battery and make note of which lead is the anode/cathode.

on the camera board there is a small (freaking bright) orange led, *carefully* remove it, and wire the leads from our white LED in its place, with this camera the LED is under software control, usb provides all the power. make sure these leads have plenty of slack.

be generous with the hot glue to help act as strain relief on the wires; also be careful positioning the white led so that it points generally where the camera lens points

Step 2: Remove Plastic Packaging From the Camera

Picture of Remove Plastic Packaging From the Camera

you might be able to do this without taking it apart, but.. mine was already apart and things went well..

but from what i remember there is a metal shield with the logitech logo on it, if you pry that up and away from the glue, theres a single screw holding the entire case together..

Step 3: Assembly!

Picture of Assembly!

ok, if you have the led wired in well put the microscope back together (you didnt lose those screws did you?)

next remove the little rubber bit from the microscope eyepiece, notice that that inside edge of the eye piece has a graduated cone shape, this will help the camera fit square on, it might even help to do this with the camera connected so you get the camera mounted to the microscope nice and square.

a nice ring of hot glue around the remaining microscope will help mount the lens of the camera to the microscope eyepiece without getting any glue anywhere near the lenses.

Step 4: Make a Base

Picture of Make a Base

so, now this thing is really really lite, so i glued a couple neodymium magnets to the bottom and created a wood base with a chunk of scrap metal on it.

the idea here is that the magnet will easily slide but otherwise wont move; which is an otherwise frustrating problem with tiny tiny things..

Step 5: Take Some Pics!

Picture of Take Some Pics!

so, now take some pics.. i took a few pics of things you might have arounds so you can get a sense of how much things get magnified..

one really neat thing i had around was a piece of core memory from an old CDC-6600 machine (classic machine nuts can begin going crazy now)

so below you can see a broad picture of the board, and the other picture which is a close up of the torriod and wire mesh that make up the memory cells

since the camera is a 2 megapixel camera its got pretty good resolution, the software logitech makes for it seems like it was made for the job. and the zeis lens has an electromechanical focus that seems to adjust to the bizarre focal length we have here.


panic mode (author)2010-06-06

nice job. where did you get core memory? it's awesome...

phar (author)panic mode2010-07-08

got it from the secret place where old super computers go to die.. warning: this will make you sad

phar (author)2010-07-08

dont forget to thank this waste of skin spammer by calling them at 281-466-4326.. and 281-353-4804!

Mr E Man (author)2009-06-12

I have a 12MP camera with a built in battery that died, it also doubled as a web cam, would make a great USB Microsope.. :) Just have to figure out how to get it to work without a battery or with a new power source.

creid (author)Mr E Man2009-07-15

You should be able to usethe optical sensor but if i were you id try building a power supply. Just the right bridge rectifier could do it (dangerously). A wallmart (scavenged plugin power supply) and a rectifier should do it. I never throw away a power supply anymore.

laci37 (author)creid2009-12-03

Don't try that! The built in battery is max 5V but a plugin power supply can give out from 5-24V AC/DC, and the bridge rectifier is not enough you also need a big cap, to stabilize the voltage, after that you should put a voltage regulator like 78m05 for 5 volts etc.

phar (author)laci372009-12-03

... internal battery? is it just a lithium poly that wont charge? if so its easy enough to replace the battery yourself, you'll need to check the battery package to verify its a 3.7v "single cell"

digikey/mouser will have a LiPo battery that will fit where the old one did, just be sure that the "mAh" (amp hours) rating matches up so that you get the same battery life.. getting greedy and getting more mAh's may work, or you may get a battery too thick to fit back into the case.

and if you just wanted to hardwire it for webcam use, i would recommend a 3.3v ) regulator fead from the USB +VBUS signal, i should be fine up to ~150mA
.. i know its a rant, but im bored!

mark429 (author)creid2009-08-10

not being picky just clarifying for other readers... Walmart = Wall Wart = big old hunk of ac/dc converter that sticks out of the wall plug like a "wart"

billgates27 (author)2009-11-14

Would this work for the 30 AWG wire?

And if i understand, attach the 2 30 AWG wires to each end of the LED, and reroute them to where the orange LED was, and put the wires in place with hotglue?

ZxxxY (author)2009-10-23

Is there a way to make this microscope working with mac?

phar (author)ZxxxY2009-10-23

it all depends on the webcam itself, afiak all logitech webcams work in OSX

ZxxxY (author)phar2009-10-24

Thank You. I'll try.

bartales (author)2009-08-12

I have a logitech webcam and unfortunately all I can see is a image of a inside lens of the microscope. When I use only the microscope I have a good image and when I also use the webcam I can focus it to get a very good image. But together they don't work. Is it something that I miss? Please, give me an idea since I desperately need to take pictures with an webcam and the radioshack microscope seems to give a good magnification for my project.

seandogue (author)2009-08-10

Nice job. this is a great project. I've used an old microscope objective with my quickcam 4K a few times by taping the lens body onto the camera body, but nothing quite as permanent or quite as effective. I like the light...

bofthem (author)2007-11-20

Awesome, honestly. This is the best thing to come out of Radio Shack in years.

novice101 (author)bofthem2009-07-12

I like the scope. I used to get a catalog from Radio Shack to find out what they discontinued. Now they discontinued the catalog.

joebled (author)2009-06-18

Interesting project. I was a Customer Engineer and worked on Control Data 6600s in the company data center in Houston in the late 60s and 70s. Replacing these memory stacks was a regular procedure. the machine was 60 bits wide with NO parity check.

kmpres (author)joebled2009-07-02

Well done project. Nice way to get the image into a computer for storage or processing. I too, was a service engineer, late 70's to early 00's, and in the early 90s I was servicing two Honeywell H716s at a location in Japan. They were the last two such CPUs with core memories in use in the world and had two 4K cores, 12 bits wide, and a wire-wrapped card-cage with 10 CPU cards. The things were octal coded and required a fat-finger routine to get the paper tape to load...

a_ride_4_ever (author)2009-05-28

wow, put the coffee cup down and step away from the table. on a nice note, the scope looks like it would come in handy for those pesky SMD fixes It would be helpful it was smaller. all in all a neat cheap design. I used a pocket loop 10x about $5 from e-bay and a older logitch camera and came up with something smiler but it was a real pain to keep the focus correct.

jolsavicky (author)2009-04-09

Impressive quality image from some off the shelf hardware and a good measure of ingenuity. Nice work!

SWANKIM (author)2009-04-09


chalky (author)2007-11-23

try maplin, do you remember them TANDY shops we used to have here in the UK?? they were pretty useful for stuff.

wierd idiot (author)chalky2009-03-25

yeah we still have TANDY stores in Australia but they only sell a limited amount of products. Gone are the days of a store selling everything and anything.

chalky (author)wierd idiot2009-04-02

Australia RULES all my mates from here in the uk have all moved off to live over there.Im coming over myself just as soon as ive saved up the rest of the money:)

rabbitkillrun (author)chalky2007-12-01

yeahh, i would say maplin too, but they can be EXTREMELY expensive, some thing i got in maplin for £20 i found later that day for around a fiver online from somewhere else!

hstan3 (author)2009-03-26

Where did you get the magnetic ring core memory? Classic stuff!

Patented (author)2009-03-20

Wow how did you open up your CPU?! Btw nice project!

jongscx (author)2007-11-20

Wow... at first I was reading USB "microphone"... and it stayed that way for a good 3 minutes. "What the hell.. this looks more like a micro... OH!!!" anyway, good job. What magnification is this more/less equivalent to?

Braeburn (author)jongscx2009-01-16

60x to 100x maggnification. i have the same microscope, only smaller because it uses watch batteries.

pooboy (author)jongscx2007-11-22


bubba77 (author)jongscx2007-11-22

lol same here

BorisTheSpider (author)jongscx2007-11-21

I did the same thing. I saw it on the front page a few times and kept thinking "but those have got to be cheap to buy..." And then I saw the bit where he had said he had bought a camera. That really should have cleared it up for me, but it really just confused me more. That's when I opened it up and ..."OH!!!"

phar (author)jongscx2007-11-20

the microscope itself says 60x - 100x but without printing some sort of scale and viewing it under magnification i couldnt tell you exactly.. the webcam itself has some quantity of optical zoom as well.

ruktion360 (author)2007-12-05

Hey Ribs i live in Cape town and have the same problem. i dont know if you have experilab in joburg... that shop has things similar to these, although they dont have any hi tech stuff, so try or just cash converters.

BigMatt.ZA (author)ruktion3602008-01-27

i used to buy all my stuff at experilab when i was younger but like you said their stuff is a bit low tech and they dont have much variety...... its lekker to see some SA locals around... cheers man

Ribs (author)2007-11-30

Does anyone know of a South African equivalent to Radioshack? I am in Jo'burg.

BigMatt.ZA (author)Ribs2008-01-27

in jo burg you might find a place specifically dealing in products like radio shack has but usually one has to go to an electrics shop to buy electrical components.......problem is most electrics shops are privately owned and are not franchises like lets say you need to find one in your area.....or hack old toys, appliances etc for components that can be desoldered hope it helps... cheers

phar (author)2007-12-23

for people having a hard time finding the microscope, and for those that want to *attempt* higher magnification, i just noticed edmund scientific (even more of a dinosaur then radioshack i suppose) has a selection of inexpensive "pocket microscopes"

shop for something with a light or you will need an external light source, cheap CCD cameras arent very good in dim light.

jongscx (author)2007-11-23

Which part are you looking for? the scope or the electronics? I think an old pair of binocs or child's telescope, or possibly even a golf-scope/rangefinder would work for this. As for the webcam, all it needs is the Zeiss lens on it (I think it means that it's auto-focus, so you won't have to fiddle with the little wheel) I don't really see anything that needs specialty electronics here.

phar (author)jongscx2007-11-23

its true, theres nothing very special about the microscope, the webcam is really the most important thing.. the zeiss lens helps with polar distortion of the image, and the optical zoom on the len under software control helps you get the focus right when things are super tiny. if you wanted you could use an old lab table top scope, but.. why would you ruin a beautiful piece of equipment.. i only picked the radio shack scope because it is super cheap, and i had already purchased it on a whim.

justandy (author)2007-11-21

Oooof. A quality idea. Now I can scope my buds in even more detail.

uguy (author)2007-11-21

most excellent, thanks for sharing!

GorillazMiko (author)2007-11-20

I have to agree with bofthem, this is awesome! RadioShack has a lot of items in their cubby things but this is amazing! I might try this with my friend, we'll see.

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