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I am looking for a magnifier tool for an electronics workbench and was wondering what sort of product would be best.

The device must be an all-rounder capable of doing some SMT as well as through hole stuff.

I reckon that something like this http://amzn.to/aoqmh6 would be about right, its a 1.75x 7' ring 28w magnifying lamp. Is this going to be a usefull addition to the bench?

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Sorry to take over your q/a - I'm thinking about getting one of these for my work area, and so I've been shopping around! –  Kevin Vermeer Jul 12 '10 at 0:34
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11 Answers 11

I've got one of the square ones on my desk at work, and I can't get used to looking through the magnifier. For me, the magnification benefit is cancelled out by the distortion. Moving my head moves the view and focus far too much to be useful, and my hands aren't where I see them, and, because I can see my wrists, my arms get confused. Maybe I'm just dumb, but it doesn't work for me - Some of my coworkers do all of their work under one of those.The light, however, is very nice - The color doesn't make my eyes tired, and I always have it on when soldering. Sometimes, I tolerate the distortion because placing the light between me and the soldering iron redirects the fumes out of my face.

Since you asked, the best magnifier is a stereo boom microscope, and they're priced accordingly (Think $1000-2000 for an industry-grade model). Think of the question "What is the best power supply." The answer is the $1500 Agilent, but a modded computer PSU will also work. That's the contrast between the stereo scope and the boom light.. We have models like this in the labs at my school and work; if you need the best, and can afford it, this is what you want. Maybe you're starting a business or something, I don't know. It's got to be stereo, because that's what gives you depth perception. A ring light around the lens is also a necessity; at high zoom, the ratio of the lens to your pupil diameter divided by the magnification means that a lot less light is going to your eyes. Something in the range of 8-40x zoom is good for soldering, you won't need more unless you're a magician with your soldering iron. Most of the time, 8 to 10x is adequate, and I just zoom in for inspection.

Scienscope carries more reasonably priced ones than the name-brand Luxo (Reasonable being $600+light source), and other stereo boom scopes run for around $500 on eBay. You can also get the traditional microscope style instead of of the boom, like the National Optical 400TL that you used to look at frog livers in high school for as cheap as $175 new, or look on eBay.

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I wouldn't call unattainable or money better spent elsewhere best or even good. –  XTL Jul 12 '10 at 7:29
    
I agree that the price of many of those models is an exorbitant price for for the hobbyist or even the casual professional who needs to work with fine pitch components every once in a while. However, some of my coworkers are using those microscopes for several hours a day, all week long. Elsewhere in the company, workers on the production line use them for the entirety of their shift, inspecting tiny components. The comfort and clarity mean that their eyes won't be damaged as they would from squinting through diopter lens. It is the best quality, just not the best value. –  Kevin Vermeer Jul 12 '10 at 16:31
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Get a second-hand stereo microscope (Ebay?). They're awesome for SMT work. –  Connor Wolf Jul 14 '10 at 7:45
    
I understand what you mean by distortion... I wonder if anyone knows if the larger diameter lenses are better or worse for this. Despite living in a city, I have not seen any shops carrying this type of equipment, so I have not had a chance to check for myself. My budget is around £20 - £90max (35$-150$ approx) which excludes the other equipment you suggest. But in a perfect world I would go for something like that rather than just dreamin. –  Justblair Jul 14 '10 at 8:41
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Get some cheap loupes and learn how to stick em in your eyes so you have both hands free for soldering.

alt text

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I like the idea of the eye loupes - kinda like the surgeon or jeweler look. I don't, however, like the idea of sticking them in my eyes. Ow. Apparently, this is how they're supposed to be used, and if I see some, I'll try it, but doesn't sound comfy. Besides, if they were at all out of alignment you'd have to go cross-eyed to compensate. No thanks. I do like the price and idea a lot, but any ideas on a pair of glasses or visor or something like that hold them? –  Kevin Vermeer Jul 11 '10 at 23:52
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I've always used loupes, even for fine PCBs, and with good lighting, they're more than sufficient. Confession time: in the spirit of "yer doin' it wrong", I've always held the piece to my eye, I had no eye-dea (sorry) that the damn thing was supposed to be "stuck" in your eye. Ow. I think I'll keep using the loupe incorrectly. –  Radian Jul 12 '10 at 2:25
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It doesn't hurt. :) Just put it in front of your eye and squint to hold it in place. It's really being held by your cheek and the bottom of your eyebrow. I don't think you use two at once, usually, so no need to go cross eyed. At least I don't. There are stereo glasses versions for dentists. I've never used one. –  endolith Jul 12 '10 at 15:32
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At less than $10 on Amazon, I'll have to add one to my next order! –  Kevin Vermeer Jul 12 '10 at 18:38
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The are good for after-the-fact inspection, but you cannot generally work (solder) under them as you could under a binocular microscope as the focus distance is usually too short. –  Chris Stratton Aug 13 '12 at 1:49
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I use the Luxo 17113, KRM Series, 3 diopter lense on my bench. The combination of the light and magnification is excellent. The Luxo looks similar to the lamp you linked to.

I also use the Bausch & Lomb 81-42-00 visor. It comes with 3 Lenses 1.8x, 2.2x, 2.6x Magnification Power. These were around $40 or so from Amazon. I have a pair on my bench and a pair in the garage. These work quite well but when I work on the bench I only use the lamp + magnifier. The portability of the visor is a major convenience. The multiple lenses is also handy.

I do primarily SMD soldering. My other tool picks are at http://wiblocks.luciani.org/FAQ/faq-tools.html

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I've seen those Luxo's on Stanley Supply, and never understood the price. What makes it worth $230 as opposed to the $23 for this one from Wal-mart? walmart.com/ip/Studio-Designs-Magnifying-Lamp-in-Black/14660620 Maybe this is why I can't stand the distortion on mine. However, I know that the magnifier lamps we use at work and school are the professional quality ones; I just linked the Wal-mart one to highlight the extreme price difference. –  Kevin Vermeer Jul 11 '10 at 23:45
    
The Luxo is well built and the optics are very good (and replaceable). it is a professional level tool. Until now I have never seen the ones at Walmart so I am not sure how they compare. MSC direct also sells some lower cost lamps (and IIRC Luxo). Their sales prices can be very good. Just as I was starting to do more SMD soldering I found the Luxo in a clearance bin at Charrette. IIRC it was around $120 or so. Well worth the money. –  jluciani Jul 11 '10 at 23:58
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I personally prefer the square style magnifiers, something like this.

I'd also recommend a good "third hand" type of device, i use a panavice unit they make a ton of different models though with various attachments and arms.

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Why do you prefer the square versus the round? –  jluciani Jul 11 '10 at 23:34
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I like the square too, the field of view that has the same magnification is larger. With the round ones, the middle inch and a half is in focus, and things taper off rapidly as they approach the edges. With the square/rectangular ones, you've got a larger area that looks the same. –  Kevin Vermeer Jul 11 '10 at 23:54
    
Third hands are also great, and probably necessary to hold the work steady under the magnifier tool (so they are relevant to this Q/A), I personally prefer the actual vice style: panavise.com/…. The jaws will get burned pretty fast, so order a pair of the p/n 344 grooved jaws so you can hold circuit boards. I also use a helping hands: amazon.com/Dual-Helping-Hands-with-Magnifier/dp/B0002BBZ2Y for a lot of work (quicker than using the vice). Similar to my struggles with the lamps, I've never found the magnifying glass usable. –  Kevin Vermeer Jul 12 '10 at 0:34
    
@jluciani well, mostly because i find it better suited to working with generally square or rectangular PCBs. Especially when working near the corner of a PCB. Round lenses tend to have a more rounded focus region meaning that when working near corners i spend more time adjusting my head / lens positioning. I imagine its very much a personal preference issue and probably deeply impacted by how an individuals eye tend to focus. –  Mark Jul 12 '10 at 3:44
    
I already use helping hands (the type with the clips) with magnifier. I dont find them to be particularly useful, A non-slip foam on my workbench is better I find.. The type with the vice looks far more practical –  Justblair Jul 14 '10 at 8:48
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I use a cheap stereo dissecting microscope (20x) for small surface mount assembly. It's Chinese, and cost about £60. The optical and mechanical quality are surprisingly good for the price.

Lakeland Microscopes. I got the SM20.

The boom version would be better, but costs a lot more. I have thought of making my own boom.

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How would you make your own boom? I've heard of people using LCD monitor mounts like this one: tigerdirect.com/applications/searchtools/… –  Kevin Vermeer Jul 12 '10 at 16:51
    
Something like the one on the boom version. I've got a small lathe and milling attachment. –  Leon Heller Jul 12 '10 at 20:50
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The techs where I work invariably have something that looks quite like what you linked to, I don't know what the brand would be, but the concept is the same. Large area, illuminated, on an arm so you can position it for hands-free use seem to be the critical requirements.

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I use an Edsyn MA10 magnifier headset for SMD work. It comes with 2.5x lenses, and 5x and 7x are available as extra lenses. 5x lenses work best for me.

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Ooh, you can also use a digital camera in macro mode!

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I just took that with my 8 MP Powershot SD870, and I totally can't see that much detail with a 10x loupe.

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good god how did that even occur? never seen solder string out and bridge like that. –  Mark Jul 13 '10 at 16:40
    
That's not solder, or the Arduino wouldn't work. :) I don't know what it is, though. Fibers of some sort. –  endolith Jul 13 '10 at 21:18
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It's from whatever method was used to clean and deflux the board after soldering. Probably toothbrush bristles. –  Connor Wolf Jul 14 '10 at 7:47
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Edit It could also be airborne lint. You wouldn't believe the crap that floats about in the air. I have a professional macro lens, and I've noticed if you leave things out for a few hours, they get filthy just from stuff precipitating out of the air. –  Connor Wolf Jul 14 '10 at 7:48
    
How close was your camera lens to the subject? –  DarenW Nov 4 '10 at 6:05
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The best magnifiers for electronics work are the Mantis range from Vision Engineering. Expensive, but the best. the x4 magnification gives about the right balance between magnification and field of view. Unlike a stereo microscope, you get a small amount of 3d effect by moving your head around, and you can also move it about hands-free with your forehead!

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Perfect for the job with X2 & X4 lenses. I find the 3d depth control useful too. And the Mantis will still be good enough for the holographic doctor on the USS Voyager in the 24th century (No kidding - if you ever see an episode, check-out sick bay!). –  MikeJ-UK Jul 19 '11 at 11:38
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I bought a little USB digital microscope for about Euros 60 whilst in Italy. It has a 30x ~ 220x - can capture stills as well as video. A very nice gadget to have.

I am not suggesting that it is a stereo optical microscope replacement, but is a beautiful tool to have on the bench.

Well worth the money.

http://www.gbconline.it/main.asp?L=1&COD_0=13&COD_1=492&ItmName=59.8390.10

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