$2 Smartphone Microscope in 2 Minutes

Here is the whole process in one gif:

DIY Smartphone Microscope

As you can see, it’s easy to use the focus lens from a cheap laser pointer to create a microscopic or macro lens for your smartphone. Using two lenses gives you increased magnification.

This is the cheapest and fastest way to take micro and macro photos with your iPhone or Android phone. All you need are the lenses out of one or two laser pointers and some way to hold them up to the lens of your smartphone.

Laser Pointer Lenses

Since you are going to destroy them, you want to use cheap laser pointers, like cat toys. The Laser Pet Toys pictured below worked perfectly. I found them in a counter display at Ace Hardware for $1.99 each, but dollar stores are also a good place to look. They are not as easy to find online, perhaps because the shipping might cost more than the product. I tried ordering some online from Ali Express, and while they functioned as laser pointers, the lenses were not of the type that would work for this project. They were dual red laser and white LED, so you may want to avoid those and go for the type that is solely a laser pointer.

Laser Pet ToyOnce you have a cheap laser pointer, you will have to take it apart using needle-nose pliers or a similar tool. Start by unscrewing everything that will come apart by hand, including the back end, where you can remove the batteries. Then you may be able to use the eraser end of a pencil to push the rest of the parts up through the front so that you can get hold of the focus lens with pliers and pull it free. I had to actually tear open the metal casing of the laser pointer, but it is very flimsy metal, so it was not hard to do. What you are looking for is the focus lens of the laser pointer, which is a small clear plastic disc. Just yank it on out of there. When held up to the lens of your smartphone, it will provide extreme magnification. Using two lenses will greatly increase the magnification. So now you need a method of holding the focus lens up to your smartphone.

Using a Clip to Hold the Lens

plastic spring clip
Amazon link

There are at least two possible methods to hold the lens up to your phone. One is to use a clip of some sort. You could use a bobby pin and tape it to the back of your phone, as in the gif above. If you want something sturdier, you could use a plastic spring clip, like the magnetic kind used to clip papers together and stick them on your fridge. You would have to drill a hole in one side of the clip to hold the lens, matching the drill bit to be a little bit smaller than the lens, and then carefully sanding away the inside using a rolled-up piece of sandpaper. You will want it to be a snug fit so the lens doesn’t fall out. I haven’t actually tried this method yet, so if you try it out, let me know how it worked!

When you clip a single focus lens onto your smartphone, you have in essence created a macro lens. The clip method has the advantage of portability, but it also has a couple of disadvantages. For one thing, it may be difficult to get the right lighting for a photograph. You can use the flash on your phone, but it may not work very well so close to the subject. It’s also hard to hold the phone steady enough to get good focus when you’re so close. And the clip may not work as well for holding two lenses at once. So the second method is to build a rig to hold everything steady in the right position.

Building a Smartphone Microscope Rig

Instructables user Yoshinok has published detailed, step-by-step instructions for building a cheap and simple rig that will hold your smartphone, the laser pointer lens(es), your specimen, and a small LED flashlight to backlight your subject. I followed his instructions fairly precisely, and the rig worked great. Here is Yoshinok’s video:

The instructions are also available in Instructables form.

Everything to build this kind of rig is available cheaply at the hardware store. For the LED flashlights, I ordered this pack of 4 for $10 from Amazon.

LED flashlights
Amazon link

Yoshinok’s instructions are almost perfect, but I recommend using carriage bolts that are longer than 4 1/2 inches. Between 6 and 8 inches would be better. Otherwise, many LED flashlights, including the ones linked above, won’t fit in underneath the specimen stage. And you may not want your light source to be right up against your specimen anyway. With longer carriage bolts, you can adjust everything to your liking. If you come up with other improvements, Leave a Comment and share your findings.

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