Build an Ultra-Affordable Digital Microscope Using a Raspberry Pi Zero W

Microscopes aren’t just for biologists, and makers can find many practical uses for them.

Cameron Coward
3 months ago3D Printing

Microscopes aren’t just for biologists, and makers can find many practical uses for them. They can be helpful for soldering small SMD (Surface-Mount Device) components, inspecting your 3D-printed parts, checking the edge wear on your end mills, and much more. You can buy inexpensive digital microscopes online — I own one myself — but they don’t have the best picture quality. An alternative is to build your own using a Raspberry Pi Zero W like YouTuber Brauns CNC did, and his results were surprisingly good.

While more sophisticated digital microscopes exist, most inexpensive models use a single macro lens and a relatively low-quality CMOS camera. When you “zoom in,” you’re really just cropping the image in real-time and then scaling it up. For that reason, you won’t be looking at individual biological cells. But this style of digital microscope is perfect for makers who don’t need to see anything smaller than an 0201 SMD resistor. In this case, the camera is a standard Raspberry Pi Camera module connected to a Raspberry Pi Zero W.

The base of this digital microscope, along with the focus adjustment knob, were custom machined by Brauns CNC. That said, you can probably come up with a completely 3D-printed alternative. The rest of the mechanical parts were indeed 3D-printed. It’s a simple setup, with the camera positioned right above a cheap macro lens intended for smartphones. The Raspberry Pi Zero W is mounted above that. You can use the HDMI output to look at the video, or connect to the Raspberry Pi with a standard VNC viewer running on a separate computer. The results are very good, as the Raspberry Pi Camera v2’s Sony IMX219 CMOS sensor is much higher quality than what you’ll find in cheap consumer digital microscopes. It should also only cost a fraction as much to build your own digital microscope if you have a 3D printer available to you.

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