DIY Digital Cell Phone Microscope.

I’m lucky enough to have in my possession a 40+ year old Japanese made microscope that belonged to my mother as a child. Although small, it works quite well and produces good images even though I imagine it was only ever intended for use as a toy. It has three magnifications, 100x, 300x and 450x.

The mini microscope.

I recently bought a new HTC desire which has a 5MPixel camera with self focus built in. I noticed that the aperture of the lens for the camera on the phone was around the same size as that on the microscope. This made me wonder if I could pair the two up and use the phone to take video and digital photos through the microscope.

To my surprise, it works quite well!

Unfortunately its very hard to hold steady. So I used a PCB holder and some cut rubber end stops from a tube of relays to assemble an improvised phone holder. I imagine a car phone holder would work just as well, but this gives me the advantage of being able to see the screen still.

The PCB holder

The rubber end stop cut to shape.

I then clamped the microscope to a board on the bench and used a flashlight to illuminate the reflecting mirror on the microscope.

The microscope, stand and flashlight put together.

As you can see, the first thing I took an image off was an Australian $10 note. These are made from plastic that is then printed on. Its a little hard to see, but this note uses micro-printing as a anti counterfeit measure. This is what that fine print looked like under the microscope.

The 10 dollar note at 100x.

It turned out quite well. This was only at the lowest magnification, 100x. At 300x the letter ‘D’ seen in the image fills the whole screen, but I didnt take a photo when I had it setup. At 400x the image becomes too distorted to be of much use.

Next I used it to look at a broken laptop LCD screen.

A broken 10.2" LCD laptop screen.

This was quite fun to play with, as the liquid crystal is spreading from the cracks. Here is a video of it.

Over all i’m very happy with the results. I will look at the gap made by a micrometer tool next time I have it set up so that I can get an idea of the true magnification.


For anyone interested in trying this at home you can find a find a similar ‘toy’ microscope over at dealextreme here.

About Richard

I am a Materials Engineering working in the field of Magnetic Materials in Melbourne, Australia. This blog covers my personal interest in all things CNC.
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