DIY microscopy

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Nice Instruction

The Chapter about the DIY microscope can be downloaded here.

Home Made Bio Electronic Arts Do-it-yourself: Microscopes, Sensors, Sonifications - Christoph Merian Verlag / Migros-Kulturprozent: Dominik Landwehr, Verena Kuni (Ed.), 2013

The Chapter about the DIY microscope can be downloaded here.

DIY microscopy chinese.png

And available now with Chinese translation included! Thanks to I-Chern Lai and Dimension+! Download it here

See the other chapters of Book: Homemade Biological Art

DIY microscopy

Arrangement of microscope.jpg


To use a simple usb webcam as a microscope, only a few modifications are needed.

Diy microscope steps.jpg

In short, a small hack to the optics of a standard webcam with an adjustable focus-lens, allows to create video data, with a magnification of around 100 to 400x (depending on the model) at a working distance of a few mm. The highest magnifications can be achieved by inverting (putting upside down) the lens. Addition of good lighting by the use of leds allows to create images using a bright-field method (shine through the stuff) or dark field method (look at the reflections and scattering).

dark-field image sequence (4 sec) of an amoebae recorded on a modified webcam
bright-field image sequence (4 sec) of an amoebae recorded on a modified webcam

Video Examples

Movie recorded with modified webcams: Hackteria in Berlin

see more on wetPONG

Laser-cut microscopy stages

Laser-cut microscopy stages are here.

SwitchableMag DIY-microscope MaryWard.jpg


In der Arbeit DIY MICROSCOPE wird eine einfache Webcam in ein Mikroskop umgebaut. Die Webcam lässt sich mit wenigen Handgriffen umbauen. Die Elektronik bleibt dabei unverändert, modifiziert wird lediglich die Position der Linse. Eine solide Plattform erlaubt es, die kleinen Untersuchungsobjekte zu fixieren und fein zu fokussieren. Die Objekte werden mit einer Leuchtdiode (LED) angestrahlt.

Das DIY MICROSCOPE besteht aus drei Teilen, die in dieser Reihenfolge montiert werden: 1. Umgebaute Webcam 2. Stabile Plattform für die Beobachtung 3. Beleuchtung mit einer Leuchtdiode (LED)

Work with the DIY MICROSCOPE includes converting an ordinary webcam into a microscope. The webcam’s conversion can be quickly effected manually. The electronics remains unaltered, only the position of the lens is changed. A solid platform enables fixing and accurately focusing the tiny study objects. The objects are illuminated with a light-emitting diode (LED).

The DIY MICROSCOPE consists of three components, assembled in this sequence: 1. Converted webcam 2. Stable platform for observation 3. Illumination with a light-emitting diode (LED)

1. Der Umbau der Webcam Teil A: Niedrige Vergrösserung

Step 1 get stuff.jpg

1. Conversion of the webcam Part A: Small enlargement

  • Eine Auswahl von handelsüblichen Webcams. Am besten eignen sich Modelle, bei denen der Fokus durch Drehen an der Linse manuell eingestellt werden kann. Es hilft nur Ausprobieren.
  • Vor der Modifikation machen wir einen Test. Dafür wird die Webcam mit dem Computer verbunden. Meist muss auch eine Treibersoftware installiert werden. Webcams funktionieren mit Windows, Mac oder Linux.
  • A selection of standard webcams. Best suited are models allowing for manual adjustment of focus by turning the ring on the lens. The only solution is by trial and error.
  • Before the camera is modified, it needs to be tested. For that it has to be connected to a computer, and additionally the necessary drivers have to be installed. Webcams run with Windows, Mac, or Linux.

Step 2 screw lens outwards.jpg

  • Bereits so lässt sich die Webcam nutzen, um kleine Objekte von Nahem anzusehen: Die Linse etwas herausschrauben und ganz nah ans Objekt halten. Licht kommt von einer Taschenlampe.
  • Richtet man die Webcam nun auf kleine Objekte, so erlebt man eine Überraschung: Auch ohne Modifikationen sieht man damit Dinge, die dem blossen Auge verborgen bleiben.
  • Already with this configuration the webcam can be used to inspect objects up close. You only need to screw out the lens a little and move closer to the object. A pocket lamp improves lighting conditions.
  • Pointing the webcam on tiny objects produces surprising effects: Even without modifications one begins to see things hidden to the naked eye.

1. Der Umbau der Webcam Teil B: Maximale Vergrösserung

Step 3 invert lens.jpg

1. Conversion of the webcam Part B: Maximal enlargement

  • Nun machen wir uns daran, die Webcam zu demontieren. Die Schrauben werden gelöst. Teilweise sind solche Schrauben unter Etiketten oder Gummikappen versteckt.
  • Now we begin dismantling the webcam. The screws are removed. Partly such screws are hidden beneath labels or rubber caps.
  • Mit einem soliden Instrument – in diesem Fall dem Schraubenzieher eines Schweizer Taschenmessers – wird die Abdeckung der Webcam entfernt.
  • With a solid tool – in this case the screwdriver of a Swiss Army knife – the webcam ’s cover is removed.
  • Das Innenleben des Geräts wird sichtbar: Es besteht aus einer Optik und einer elektronischen Schaltung. Die Leuchtdioden (LEDs) brauchen wir nicht. Wir konstruieren später eine eigene Beleuchtung.
  • The appliance ’s interior can now be seen: it consists of optics and an electronic switch. We can do without the light-emitting diodes (LEDs). We shall later construct our own light.

Step 4 make stage.jpg

Step 5 adjustable focus.jpg

Step 6 add ligthing.jpg

Step 7 go hunting.jpg

The Stage

Microscopes overview.jpg

More info about stage designs and laser-cutting files are on Laser-cut microscopy stages are here.

Different samples

Webcam micro images.jpg

old stuff

Hacking the webcam


Step1: get a standard webcam, make sure u got the right drivers for your OS


Step2: break it open. of course take care not to destroy anything


Step2: break it open. of course take care not to destroy anything


Step2: break it open. of course take care not to destroy anything


Step2: break it open. of course take care not to destroy anything


Step2: break it open. of course take care not to destroy anything


Step2: break it open. of course take care not to destroy anything

Further modifications

mounting the microscope

There are many ways to finally build the microscope itself. here are a few examples from the workshop hackteria & lab_hacking @ NK, Berlin.

Simple microscope setup


Fixed, massiv and stable setup


Silicone embedded setup


Tape and cardboard setup


Magnification and Field of View

See: fieldofview for more details.

after completing the hack with the lenses, the magnification can be increased upto a field of view of 0.7 mm.

InversedMagnification.jpg Nematode.jpg

Where to get them, and which models

Ebay webcams.png
Webcam easy hackable.png

Am besten auf ebay aus hongkong bestellen (5-10 CHF). Billige modelle eignen sich generell am besten. an sonsten in mediamarkt oder pearl vorbei schauen (15-20 CHF).

deal extreme

Booklet for printing and folding (for kids and only in german)

File:Zine empty layout nina2.pdf

hacking a digital camera

Cam ani big.gif

some notes about DIY microscopy

For more enlargement, you can not only invert the lense but also put some (iron) rings between the lense and the "webcam" and fix it with duct tape. The more rings you put between the more light you will need that you can see something. 5mm works without problems, the light from 1-2 LEDs will suffice to see the things.

For savers: A cheap solution is a standard logitech webcam, which can be bought for about 25.- SFr. --> videos(500x600), pics (3MPixel)

Links on Microscopy


General Resources

DIY Microscopy


Pure Data


pure data

Pd (aka Pure Data) is a real-time graphical programming environment for audio, video, and graphical processing. It is the third major branch of the family of patcher programming languages known as Max (Max/FTS, ISPW Max, Max/MSP, jMax, etc.) originally developed by Miller Puckette and company at IRCAM. The core of Pd is written and maintained by Miller Puckette and includes the work of many developers, making the whole package very much a community effort.


Pd microscope.png

We have developed several patches for the pd_microscope

or see more here: New pd-microscope patch

Image Processing and Analysis




ImageJ is a public domain Java image processing program inspired by NIH Image for the Macintosh. It runs, either as an online applet or as a downloadable application, on any computer with a Java 1.4 or later virtual machine. Downloadable distributions are available for Windows, Mac OS, Mac OS X and Linux.


Ccv nui.jpg


Community Core Vision, CCV for short (aka tbeta), is a open source/cross-platform solution for computer vision and machine sensing. It takes an video input stream and outputs tracking data (e.g. coordinates and blob size) and events (e.g. finger down, moved and released) that are used in building multi-touch applications. CCV can interface with various web cameras and video devices as well as connect to various TUIO/OSC/XML enabled applications and supports many multi-touch lighting techniques including: FTIR, DI, DSI, and LLP with expansion planned for the future vision applications (custom modules/filters).

This project is developed and maintained by the NUI Group Community, We encourage you to get involved.

Webcam and Video




VideoLAN is a project, run by volunteers, backed-up by a non-profit organisation, which produces free and open source software for multimedia, released under the GNU General Public License.




AMCap is a small yet fully functional video capture application compatible with Microsoft DirectShow.




macam is a driver for USB webcams on Mac OS X. It allows hundreds of USB webcams to be used by many Mac OS X video-aware applications. The aim is to support as many webcams as possible.



GTK+ UVC Viewer

This project aims at providing a simple GTK interface for capturing and viewing video from devices supported by the linux UVC driver, although it should also work with any v4l2 compatible device.

ffmpeg FFMPEG

Command line converter of all video formats and all platforms. <a href="">ffmpeg howto</a>