I'm looking to perform feature identification on small tick/bug/mite-like creatures approximately 0.3mm to 1mm in size. I'd prefer to be able to project magnified images onto an external screen, as I personally find looking through magnification lenses and/or holding one eye shut to be an annoying strain (I think my eyes don't focus well).
Working with a budget of $150-$200 (closer to $150 if possible), I'm primarily looking for a solution that is "good enough" to help sort and filter samples, although higher resolution would be awesome.
With no experience with photography, I'm not sure how best to go about this, and would appreciate a bit of advice.
I've done a bit of research and found some interesting-looking options, but with no real working knowledge of photography, I am way out of my depth in terms of concretely deciding exactly how I should proceed.
I feel the macro-photography element of my question brings it at least minimally within scope for this forum, but I would welcome being redirected to a more on-topic environment if here is inappropriate.
Not really knowing where to start, I started by looking for microscopes. I found some basic-but-passable-looking options floating around on eBay like this one:
This particular one cites "40X-1000X" zoom, starts at around the US$100-US$150 mark, and includes a USB camera.
A microscope isn't what I'm looking for though. Worrying about reusing/preserving/breaking slides, whether oil solution is needed, etc etc is completely the wrong type of solution for my scenario.
So when my search for microscopes turned up video inspection cameras, I saw a much more promising option.
This thing is cool.
It outputs up to 4K@60fps over either Gigabit Ethernet or HDMI, and when using the HDMI mode, you can directly attach a mouse and use the builtin Linux-based UI to measure distances/angles/shapes, adjust settings, and store photos/videos onto USB flash storage.
At US$400-$700, this kind of thing is firmly out of my price range. :D
(Hunting around on Aliexpress will find example videos of these cameras in use. Some also show photos of what's displayed on the screen. It's very obviously Linux-based.)
Affordable inspection cameras
After blindly wandering around for a little while, I stumbled on this bit of interestingness at the other end of the spectrum:
With a maximum output resolution of 1920x1080 (2073600 pixels), it actually kind of makes sense that this only has a 2MP sensor in it, given that it is expected to be used with a zoom lens. (Of course a scaled-down high(er)-resolution image would be sharper, but still.)
In a sea of $60-$100 offerings (including for cameras that looked exactly like the one above) I kind of did a double take when I saw this particular camera listed for US$15 (on eBay!). I have no idea what you get for that kind of price; I'll update this question when whatever I've ordered gets here. :D
It may well not be up to the task, and I might look for for something a tad better. But 2MP is already an improvement on the 640x480 (!) camera supplied with the microscope above...
With the camera (potentially) out of the way, lens are where things get a bit, um...
...ambiguous, is maybe the right word?
It seems that inspection-type cameras all use a 25.4mm C mount. Unfortunately, there are a dizzying amount of C mount zoom lenses of different magnifications available - and none of the item listings provide objective references of what kind of magnification can be achieved. :(
This 180X lens pops up in a lot of offerings:
I've found listings for "360X" lenses that combine the above with a 2X objective lens.
I even found someone supplying these units with a 2X objective lenses and some other kind of 2X lens, creating a 720X configuration.
But after quite a bit of back and forth between eBay and Aliexpress, I found this "500X" zoom lens:
Please forgive my complete lack of domain-specific terminology here, but it seems to be based on a lower half that provides 0.7X-5.0X zoom, and an upper half that only ever seems to be available in 1X.
Of particular note is that the lower half on this "500X" lens goes from 0.7X to 5.0X; almost every other "large" zoom lens option (180X, 360X, 300X, 600X) on eBay/Aliexpress seems to use a lower half that spans 0.7X-4.5X, with the upper halves and objectives varied to produce various other magnification levels.
I think I can find the upper half of this "500X" lens separately (eg, top left in the montage image), but not the lower half. I'm not sure why.
I'm also extremely curious why the 1X lens used in this 500X camera is so much shorter than the 1X lens used in the 600X option above. (Both 1X lenses can be seen discretely on the far left of the montage.)
I've found a few "1000X" listings that supply the above "500X" lens with a 2X objective, and quote a visual field of around 1mm-5mm (which sounds like exactly the level of detail resolution I'm looking for). These tend to list on Aliexpress for around $120 (without shipping).
I'm happy to accept that price point... if it's an ideal approach.
At $15, I'll be able to empirically find out if the VGA/USB camera noted above is suitable/adequate once it gets here. (It's a 2MP C-mount webcam that can simultaneously output to USB and VGA (neat!). It'll be hard not to find something interesting for it to do unless it's absolutely terrible.)
But I can't quite be as iterative with a ~$120 (+ shipping) lens. So, my question is, are lenses like this "500X" item (with a 2X objective) a good idea?
I don't really expect I'm getting a "1000X" lens (I've been putting all the zoom levels in quotes...), mostly because I don't quite believe it's possible to buy 1000X magnification for $120. Ideally, I've made an invalid and cynical assumption.
But I did find this Aliexpress review for a 600X lens built using a 4.5X lower half, 1X upper half, and 2X objective (kudos to the remarkable translation from Russian):
No photo was included with the feedback, and I have no way to find out more. But reading this made me realize: maybe all the zoom ratings are the maximum possible achievable using a zooming camera also dialed all the way up? That's very, very technically correct :/
TL;DR: is there a better entry-level way to get 1-2 millimeters to fill a screen for ≈$150?