I am a sucker for gadgets, but I am also a skeptic, so when I took the plunge on an inexpensive handheld digital microscope I found for macro photography, I didn’t have high expectations.
I am glad to say my low expectations on the $25 Jiusion digital microscope were thoroughly exceeded. In this cheap little device, I discovered a novel and fun alternative approach to the common methods of making close-up images, although admittedly not without a little extra work on the software side of things to produce a share-worthy result.
I found the digital microscope while browsing Amazon, and its form factor made me curious. Shaped and designed to be held like a Dremel tool, the little scope has a ring light attached to the tip and comes with a stand for hands-free operation. A dial on its side is labeled 40x-1000x, and I don't know if those claims are accurate, but I can say the range is both wide and able to get very close.
Operation of the scope is very simple, although not easy to master by any means. Focusing is done by physically moving your subject nearer or further from the tip of the scope or vice versa. A steady hand is needed to get good results, although the stand can be used to set up a shot without holding the scope or your macro subject. A shutter button on the side allows for one-handed operation.
One of the fascinating characteristics of the device is that it is not a lens meant to be attached to a camera body that allows you to focus very close to your subject. It is the entire capture device, and it is operated through the use of a USB connection to a smartphone, tablet, or computer running a capture app. The app, which stores all the capture data, allows you to adjust some settings for the scope and has shutter release functionality as well. You can capture both still photos and video.
The microscope is advertised as offering 2,560x1,440 (or 2K) resolution, but video creators are sorely mistaken if they think they will be producing crisp ultra-close video clips until they have a lot of practice with the device. Video functionality is plagued by the extreme effect of hand-jitters and the general limitations of the device. Where I found it shines more is using it for still macro photography.
With its claimed 2,560x1,440 resolution output, many will be put off by the low-res images having minimal end use potential, especially where prints are concerned. To counter this problem, I found good success with both the built-in super resolution feature in both Lightroom and Photoshop, as well as using the excellent Topaz Gigapixel AI upscaling software. Additionally, the use of Topaz Sharpen AI helped compensate for some of the extreme difficulty focusing and capturing with a handheld device. Through judicious use of these upscaling and sharpening tools, I was able to turn low-res images captured on a budget device with low-end optics and refine them to the point that they have real value for creative purposes.
My workflow for the device is simple, and that is part of its charm. I tuck the small scope in my pocket, where it fits well, and when in the field, I pair it with my Android smartphone, which is always on me anyway. Often, I would simply sit or kneel next to something of interest to me, taking care to focus well and control my breathing for a steady hand. After I got what I needed, I would slip the gear back in my coat pocket and continue on my way in search of the next micro-discovery.
Having previously lugged around my mirrorless camera equipped with a dedicated macro lens, this new approach lets me forgo the weight and bulk of a camera setup and even encourages the practice of keeping the scope on you at all times should a good photo opportunity arise. The addition of the built-in toggle ring light allows its use in even less-than-optimal conditions.
Alternatively, setting the device up on its included stand on top of a desk and attaching its USB cable to a nearby laptop gives you a stable workstation to photograph your miniscule subject with. This goes a long way to eliminate the problems with accurate focus while handholding but has issues of its own, since the stand is very basic and a bit flimsy. Don’t expect the stable, easily adjustable stands found on higher=end digital microscopes. For this reason and my love of working on the go, I found myself preferring to take the little scope with me into the field.
I found myself with my eyes glued to the ground, looking for interesting flora, odd rocks, and anything else that might offer some new little world when looked at from up very close. Some seemingly mundane thing can turn out to be a tiny, vibrant work of art on a very small scale.
Something like this will be overlooked by the vast majority of photographers who come across it. The relatively low specs, combined with the non-traditional design and capture workflow required might be too much of a drawback for some. However, for $25, the mediocre optics, difficult focusing, and poor build quality should be forgiven because of the convenience and flexibility it offers for so cheap. Those who have an interest in macro photography on a barebones budget, this opens the door at a very low entry point. On top of that, with patience, practice, and polish, you can create some pretty awesome images from the device.
Admittedly, you can find much nicer digital microscopes on the market, but expect to pay substantially more for them. I find it's far easier to test the waters on a new photography discipline by sticking your toe in first, and $25 isn’t much to lose if you find yourself not enjoying the careful and methodical efforts required in shooting macro. That being said, now that I have had some fun with this inexpensive little microscope, I must admit I am curious what kind of fun I could have with a nicer, pricier model.