I bought the @adafruit USB Digital microscope http://www.adafruit.com/products/636 for $80. After some initial fumbling (ignore the enclosed CD and download the drivers/software from Adafruit…oh, and RTFM), it works great…especially for the price.
The Windows software has all the advanced features, but the Mac program works fine if you just need to get a quick shot or video. Bio geeks will want the Windows version to do time-lapse recording, etc.
NEW PRODUCT – USB Microscope – 2.0 Megapixel / 200x magnification / 8 LEDs. As electronics get smaller and smaller, you’ll need a hand examining PCBs and this little USB microscope is the perfect tool. Its smaller and lighter than a large optical microscope but packs quite a bit of power in its little body. There’s a 2.0 megapixel sensor inside and an optical magnifier that can adjust from 20x (for basic PCB inspection) to 200x (for detailed inspection). Eight white LEDs are angled right onto whatever you’re examining so you get enough lighting to see, and are smoothly adjustable via a dial on the side.
If you plug this into any computer, it just shows up as a standard USB camera (we used this for our weekly Ask an Engineer show) and the Windows/Mac software lets you take snapshots using the button on the side of the microscope or direct from the software (so you don’t move the camera).
We tried a bunch of different USB microscopes and found this one to be the best combination of optical clarity, usability, and price. It’s perfect for electronics hacking, rework, SMT (de)soldering, inspection, and soon you’ll find yourself pulling it out to look and photograph all sort of cool small stuff around your lab and home.
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I wasn’t able to start the official software on Snow Leopard — it reports “LSOpenURLsWithRole() failed with error -10810 for the file /Applications/MicroCapture.app”. Running ‘chmod +x MicroCapture.app/Contents/MacOS/MicroCapture’ and then executing that program worked.