on September 28, 2011
Right off the top, the Amazon listing for the Aven 26700-300 claims 2MP resolution. I was only getting .3MP (640x480) via the primitive software pressing the shutter button. The instructions don't tell you how to get full resolution captures and I stumbled upon how it's done. Here's the arcane procedure:
Open the AMCAP application window so you can frame your image. This application only has controls for capturing video. If you press the shutter button you'll get a snapshot that pops up in a new window. However, this image will only be 640x480. To snapshot at higher resolution, you must use the tray application/control panel. This gives you access to Properties controls if you select the Properties Page, but that won't give you control over photo resolution. You must right-click or click and hold on the tray application, click on the snapshot menu item, then select a resolution from the fly out list. 1600x1200 is the sensor resolution if it's 2MP, but the Chinese manufacturer's specs (Oriental Inspiration, Ltd.) say 1280x1024 (1.3MP). When you pick the resolution, a snapshot is taken and it pops up in the snapshot viewer window. You'll only see a portion of the full res image since the viewer window can't be resized and there is no zoom. If you then press the shutter button on the microscope, new images will be captured at the resolution you set via the tray application. Be sure to save the image from the viewer window since the image will be lost if you don't. Beware -- when you quit the software the snapshot resolution will set back to 640x480. There's no way to make the full resolution be the default. This software isn't just primitive, it's stone age.
I appreciate Blake Ormand's extensive review, and I don't have experience with other USB microscopes to compare, but I find the software and the stand to be significant limitations on an otherwise good device. Pushing the image capture button on the side of the microscope causes it to move and blur images that would be simple to get sharp with a software shutter control. There is the snapshot control I outlined above and I recommend you use that instead of the hardware button.
The live view via the software is a small, low resolution window. If you maximize the software window, it expands to fill the display and thus distorts the image (at least with most current display aspect ratios). You can resize the window, but this distorts the image since the view will fit any shape window you create. The digital zoom function isn't particularly useful. The image quality is low and you don't see any additional detail. Plan on a real zoom utility of 50x. And you'll only get 50x with the microscope as close to the subject as the clear front ring allows.
Also, there's no white balance control (there's a hue control in the generic control panel, but that's not a substitute). Under normal ambient light, the image has a pink cast. The color is reasonably neutral when the LEDs are turned on via the oval slide switch on the microscope. Actually, the unit is now showing pink even with the LEDs and I suspect a problem with an RGB channel.
The microscope has a poor orientation for right side up. If the shutter button was on top, you'd get a bit more stability pushing toward the base. You can rotate and mirror the image via the generic software and I haven't seen if that's a viable workaround so I can work the unit with the shutter button on top. The stand has a really weak and narrow clip that isn't in the least bit secure or stable. The base and articulating arm are nicely finished, but the clamp barely holds the microscope at all. Unfortunately, the only optional base available from Aven is designed for backlit slide use akin to conventional optical microscopes. I'd like to find a boom-type stand with a clamp that could securely hold the Aven ZipScope's body.
The Dino-Lite model I was considering before buying the Aven is over $400. There are more and better stand options for Dino-Lites, and the software appears to be better (the high end software provides measurement capability). I have no professional use for a USB microscope,so the Aven's pricepoint is more rational for me to play with. I do volunteer fossil preparation and I'd like to use the USB microscope for demonstration and documentation purposes. It would be cool if I could use the computer display to do fine detail work instead of looking through a conventional low power stereo microscope, but I'm not sure that I could set the USB microscope up without having too much parallax error to work with.
Update 01/19/2012: I've found better software that works with this microscope. I did a trial evaluation of NCH's Debut Video Capture Pro Software. You can capture from the microscope at full 1600x1200 resolution and there's a still capture button. The preview scales proportionally, and there's a control that lets you view at actual pixel resolution. There's a 14-day trial, but when the license price is $40. There are other webcam video capture utilities for Windows, Mac, and Linux that you could try. Look up AMCap at the alternativeto.net website.
I bumped up my rating to four stars because good free alternative software is available. Thanks again to Blake, for recommending ProScope HR software which is available free online for personal use. There are also Mac OS and Linux versions of this software. I've installed it but haven't tried the software yet, so I can't compare to the relatively expensive NCH utility.
I'm using a Manfrotto Nano Clamp to mount the microscope to various photographic supports like an articulating arm or flex arm and have uploaded a few to show this. The Nano Clamp does partially obscure the capture button, but using software to trigger captures is far better for vibration.
on December 28, 2011
Picture quality is great. We are using other software to view images from Windows and Linux laptops, never had to instal software that came with this. Feels solid, handles well, focuses well, built-in light at two settings is great too. Whether the magnification is good enough for you is for you to decide, but it is amazing for our kids and for me to see stuff up close, sharp, intense colors, on large screen. Resolution is 1600x1200, but then it does only 5fps or so, which makes it harder to work with if you move stuff a lot, so I'm actually running it at 800x600 where is does 20fps, and it could 30fps at something like 640x480, but I like an integer divisor and 20fps is OK to work with. I did take a couple pictures too at 1600x1200 after I focused at 800x600.
on May 8, 2012
I bought this to use for school science projects and checking of solder joints for home electronics projects, and for this it works well. Image quality is decent but not stunning, up to 1600x1200 for still shots. The LED illumination is switchable off/low/high.
Optically, it's much better than I'd expected. Depth of field is pretty good. It has a great range of focus, from several mm behind the clear shield all the way to infinity(!), which makes it easy to use on irregularly-shaped objects. It's a fixed-focal-length lens, so magnification depends on how close the subject is to the microscope. Focused at the front of the clear shield, the field of view is about 9mm x 7mm, and features are distinct down to about 15um (0.015mm). That's enough to see all the fine engraving details on a $20 bill.
The reason for the pinkish color cast described by another viewer is that the sensor does not have an IR (infrared) filter. This is easy to see if you point it at a TV remote control and press a button on the remote. This might be a negative if you're interested in really accurate colors. On the upside, it means you can use the camera for infrared science experiments, or as a low-light camera (like a security video camera) if you wire up some IR LEDs.
The included software is functional if a bit clunky. I had some trouble with it losing track of the capture button on the side of the scope. I don't consider this a big negative, because there's lots of freeware video capture software, and the camera shows up as a standard webcam.
I plugged this into my Ubuntu 11 machine in my electronics lab. I wanted to be able to use this to read part numbers on s all components and double check soldering and other things like that. Out of the box, this works fine with Ubuntu--the camera shows up as a generic USB webcam and I was able to do both 1600x1200 and 800x600. The focus and aiming takes a bit of practice, but I am satisfied with the results. The included stand isnt great, but it is a huge improvement over no stand! I am going to invest in some better mounts, which will exceed the cost of the scope, but improve the value. The USB cord is a bit short, so you might find yourself wanting an extension cable. The LEDs have two settings, or they can be turned off (controlled via a hardware switch on the side of the scope).
Overall, I am quite pleased, especially for the low price. If you need to look at small stuff, this is a wonderful tool!
on August 2, 2012
This is a fun little digital microscope! I use it for inspecting circuit boards and solder work, and it is perfect for such work. My kids use it to look at bugs and other tiny things - they get a real kick out of it. It can focus at a relatively long distances (over an inch), or the focus can dial in right at the end of the plastic ring for higher magnification. The LED ring provides reasonably even lighting, but I prefer to use room lighting when possible for more natural color. The stand is barely passable, but it works once you get it adjusted. I recommend a proper X-Y table or a goose-neck if you need to adjust it frequently. The USB transfer speeds are slow; thus, the update rate at the highest resolution (1600x1200) is choppy. I recommend using a low resolution until you locate the scene of interest and then toggle to hi-res mode. The software is fair at best, but my needs are simple and it works to render the image on my large display in full-screen mode.
on September 15, 2012
Great little camera for the price. Works at full resolution on Photobooth, the default app that comes with your MAC! My kids are able to see high resolution images of bugs, the stuff they are not cleaning off their teeth (that was worth the price right there in dental bills saved!)
We are going to try it with iMovie to see if we can make magnified movies, I imagine it will work fine, as the camera is identified as a USB 2.0 camera, will work with all default apps. No drivers to install, no nothing.
Got to love Apple.