Simple, intuitive, sturdy, and inexpensive, the Celestron Handheld Digital Microscope is the beginner’s digital microscope I’ve been searching for.
Set up was a breeze. I plugged it into my laptop and images instantly appeared on my screen – the software was simple to install. I immediately snapped some accidental (and blurry) shots of my tablecloth but I quickly figured out the focus. Soon, other flat items found their way under the microscope: a five dollar bill, some snake skin, and a penny.
The penny proved to be a challenge. You see, I suffer from the affliction known as “beginner microscopist” and it manifests itself by making it difficult to move a specimen in the correct direction on the first attempt. I academically understood that movements are mirrored (moving the penny away from me made the image on the screen drop) but it took a few tries to coordinate my intentions with the results to frame the right image for the money shot.
Satisfied that this tool would be great to use for investigating all manner of two dimensional objects I turned my attention to the third dimension. It is a challenge in optics manufacturing to achieve high magnifications and a reasonable depth of field. Individually these factors can be achieved rather easily but in combination can prove difficult. However, the Celestron Handheld Digital Microscope met that challenge. There are some limits on the depth of field (things that are above or below the focal plane are out of focus) – as you can see in this shot of an old ficus leaf – but it certainly exceeded my expectations for an inexpensive, entry-level microscope.
The microscope can be used both on and off its stand. If you have a smartphone or tablet with a host USB port (rare now, but most manufacturers have announced it as standard by the end of 2012) or don’t mind hauling your laptop around, it’s easy to take this microscope out into the field (or your garden, yard, or park) and (with a steady hand) get some great shots while exploring the outdoors. Or, for a more thorough investigation, attach the microscope to its stand to work hands-free. The ruggedly solid metal stand has two ball joints for articulation which provide a wide range of possible angles. I did find the adjustment mechanism to be a bit delicate – there is a very slim margin between “just tight enough to hold a position securely” and “flailing loosely like a wet noodle”, which made fine adjustments a somewhat tricky affair at first. These frustrations may be more acute if you also suffer from “beginner microscopist”, but will ease over time.
All in all this is a great microscope at a great price. It is a perfect tool for exploring the world by both children and adults, has an acceptable learning curve, and is rugged enough to put in the (supervised) hands of those younger than the suggested age.