Introduction: Microscope for Tiny Soldering in ONE STEP.

Well, as I age, I find my eyesight not quite what it used to be, and soldering becomes a bit more difficult especially when working with SMT devices.
So, I took what was normally meant as a child's educational toy, and repurposed it as a piece of lab equipment.
I was initially going to hobble together an old webcam and a jeweller's loupe for this, but then I found out that these devices can be had for $19 including shipping. If you put it on a better stand, it becomes a very professional piece of hardware!
Certainly much more affordable than other devices used in the industry!

These "digital microscopes" work well, and have a great manual focus that will usually work from a couple distances.
Further away allows for the soldering iron to get in there, and closer up to inspect your work.
Yes, I actually look at the screen while soldering rather than the board itself. It can take a little getting used to but it's much easier once you do. It's easier too if you take off the light diffuser (clear plastic ring at the front over the LEDs - already removed in main photo) too as it gives you more room to get the iron in there.
Oh ya, did I mention it has an adjustable brightness LED light ring built into it? Ya, six bucks well spent!

Find an old generally useless-for-today's-apps laptop running XP or better - maybe grab one off ebay with a bad charging circuit / dead battery or other defect that won't hamper the actual use of a single app. Mine was just OLD.

Install the drivers for the digital microscope.
You can use their application, but I prefer AMCAP 9.00 from Microsoft, which is a free application for capturing video. Just use the live function - but it's nice that you can use the button on the camera to take a snapshot for documentation purposes at any time.
You now can use the laptop screen as a magnified view of your working area for those hard to see solder joints.

Above is my setup while repairing a 1181 Macbook.
On the old IBM Thinkpad in the background which has been dedicated to this purpose now because of it's age and (lack of) speed, you can see the circuit I am soldering and inspecting. This is the "further away" sort of view I was talking about.
some other photos are closeup inspections of a suspected damaged component. Of course up close, sometimes there's no doubt it's toast!

Comments

author
greintsma made it!(author)2013-09-18

Um the program you mentioned costs quite a lot:
Free to try (Time-limit during video capture and watermark on still images); $29.00 to buy

SOURCE; http://download.cnet.com/AMCap/3000-13633_4-10504734.html#ixzz2fG8GxTHE

that brings the total to somewhere around $50!

author
psychlones made it!(author)2014-04-19

Apparently, there are a number of different versions of AMCap available for download on the web. The software greintsma referenced is not a Microsoft product - though conceptually it may have been derived from the sample application that Microsoft provided to developers. The publisher for the program greintsma mentioned is listed as Noel Danjou and his website is http://noeld.com/ As you can see - no connection to Microsoft which would explain the discrepancy - same name but not the same software. The Microsoft version of Amcap.exe is a sample DirectShow capture application that was included in the DirectShow Software Development Kit

[http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc939106.aspx ]

I hope this helps to clear up the confusion :-)

Thanks to SuperTech-IT for taking the time to share his instructable with us.

author
SuperTech-IT made it!(author)2014-04-19

Thanks for the info.

Please take a moment to visit my other instructables too.

author
SuperTech-IT made it!(author)2013-09-18

I tried finding V9.0 which Microsoft put out years ago as a solution to a plethora of problems they had with many pieces of their software. It was always free and unlimited back then. So, I have taken my copy of the 9.0 and put it here for you to download.
You will need to rename the file to AMCAP.EXE for it to work, of course.
If you are paranoid, scan the heck out of it before and after you rename it, but I have been using this software since I can't remember when. If you have any issues with the capture not working, set the video capture pin to 320 X 200. I have to do that if I have my USB TV tuner running at the same time I am doing capture on my big system. Otherwise, it just seems to work fine on just about every version of Windows I have thrown at it. However, as I said, the microscope DOES COME with it's own FREE capture software - AMCAP is simply my PREFERENCE - it is not a NECESSITY, and therefore doesn't bring the cost up to anything even if it wasn't free.

RENAME TO AMCAP.EXE .hex
author
SuperTech-IT made it!(author)2013-09-18

yes, but the microscope comes with it's own free software.
I just like the way AMCAP works, and I have an old version that was just plain free, and you may be able to find it somewhere - besides, normally you just want the live mode without capture.

Personally, I don't consider $30 to be quite a lot of money if you are using it in a professional manner. If you are just using it for fun or education, stick with the software that comes with the camera.
I am using AmCap version 9.00 Copyright 1997-2002, so see if you can find that version or earlier. I know that the version I am using is WIN7 compatible because that's what I am using it under.

author
miharix made it!(author)2013-11-24

Thanks for this great tip!  

Ps: Could you test if my software works with this USB Microscope?

author
dsgreene71 made it!(author)2013-10-01

Thank you for sharing your experience and details, it looks like an application I will try to setup for my own use.

author
SuperTech-IT made it!(author)2013-10-01

Glad you found it useful.

author
harvsch made it!(author)2013-09-15

The price of the usb microscope is more like $22. Still not a bad way to do it,

author
SuperTech-IT made it!(author)2013-09-18

I have found them for under $10 in the past, but presently they are $19 and up from the time of my most recent search. Your milage may vary. Keep an eye out for "loss-leaders" trying to make a name for themselves by offering these at dramatically slashed prices - but honestly, just the magnifier I was going to put on a webcam costs more than this device does including shipping. I think this is the best application of "toy to tool" I have come across.

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Bio: Just getting into the microcontroller craze. I used to do this sort of thing building circuits for 8 bit microprocessors back in the early 80s ... More »
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