A magnifier or magnifying glass is a useful instrument to make something appear larger than it actually is. The lens of a magnifier could be acrylic or glass and may contain other optical components such as additional lenses to achieve the purpose of magnification.
The types of magnifiers discussed here are useful for doctors, biologists, geologists, teachers, students, collectors, hobbyists and those that need an occasional stronger lens than their eye for work, reading, hobbies or crafting. Keeping that in mind we can divide magnifiers into nine broad categories:
Before we get into the above categories there are a few things to be mindful of when buying a magnifier.
Ask yourself a few questions. What is the primary purpose or how will I be using the instrument? Will I be using the magnifier for long periods of time or only occasionally? Does it need to be portable? Does it fit in my pocket or purse? Or does it matter? Is price important?
Some people will try to buy the highest magnification they can find. However, high magnification isnt the best solution for most applications. For example, have you ever looked through a microscope? Do you remember how difficult it may have been to get a clear view and how the strong magnification made the object viewed better for science work rather than hobby work? To a certain extent the same holds true for magnifiers. There are magnifiers that may be too strong for your application. Perhaps a 2x or 3x hand held would work well but lets suppose you bought a 30x loupe. If you dont remember anything more, remember this.
The stronger the magnification, the smaller the lens and the closer to the eye and the object the magnifier must be. In the above example the 30x loupe would be right up against your eyeball and the object would be a fraction of an inch away from the lens. The object would be hard to view because of little light and the 30x loupe would give you exploded detail you probably wouldnt use or need. Also you would have detail that cant be seen with the naked eye. In short, only a trained person should use a 20x or 30x loupe. I will cover the loupes in more detail later.
I like both but for different reasons. The acrylic lens is good if you are looking for a lightweight, inexpensive magnifier that wont make you feel fatigued from holding it for a long period of time. But the downside is acrylic scratches easily. Glass lens magnifiers will weigh more but not scratch as easily and you can get better quality and less distortion in the glass optics. Also, with glass you can get multiple elements in the lens, which may be important in geology and biology. Not all glass is created equal -- the better ground the glass, the more elements, the more expensive it will be. Ok lets get back to the nine broad categories and see some examples.
Clip-on magnifiers are for those of us who wear glasses. Whether it has one or two lenses they all have a small clip that attaches to the frame of your glasses. Since the lens will be close to the eye the object you are viewing will likewise be close to the lens. The lenses are small and will swing out of the way. Single lens can be anywhere from 2x to 5x with the 5x being like a loupe. The two-lens models will be one 2x and one 3x lens. Use separately or together for additional power. To see pictures and a detail description of this style follow this link: clip-on magnifiers.
From 2x to 30x the loupe magnifier comes in a variety of styles. The plastic or aluminum eyecup with glass lens design is the least expensive. Sold individually (less than $7.00) they are also sold in sets of 2 or 3 loupes with multiple powers. Sets are sold for $12.00 or less. Some are known as Photographer loupes, Jewelers loupe and hobbyist loupe. For examples of this type of magnifier loupe go here: magnifier loupes
The most popular loupe is the folding loupe. It comes in a variety of finishes with chrome/steel being the most popular.
Body shapes include round, egg and hexagon bodies and power runs from 8x to 30x. A jewelers loupe is usually always 10x. This is because gem standards call for gems to be rated at 10x. Looking at gemstones found in nature at a higher magnification than 10x will most likely show inclusions (flaws) but the majority of these inclusions cant be seen with the naked eye. If they can be seen this distracts from the appearance of the gem and the price is usually much lower than a gem where you cant visually see inclusions. You get what you pay for!
If you are out hitting the yard sales or antique shops for jewelry, the magnifier of choice is the 10x loupe. The 15x 20x and 30x loupes are useful to biologists and geologists. As mentioned earlier, it takes a degree of skill to use these higher magnification loupes. Some good examples of these types of magnifiers can be found at this link: 10x loupes.
If it fits in your pocket or purse it can be called a pocket magnifier. However, most consumers and dealers associate the term with a magnifier where the lens folds or slides out. Of course there are exceptions and terminology is not worth splitting hairs over. There are glass and acrylic lens magnifiers in this category and it is just a matter of preference as to which type you like the most. It is noteworthy that some magnifiers in this category may be 2x (or more) but has a small higher magnification spot lens built into the main lens. The most popular of the pocket magnifiers are the 2x and 3x models.
The slider magnifier is one where the lens (lenses) slides into the body of the magnifier. These lenses will have different power(s). If it is magnification you want, this type of magnifier may fit your need. To see some examples follow this link: pocket magnifiers.
You wear this type of magnifier around your head. These headband magnifiers have multiple lenses that flip down from the inside of the unit. Some have a single folding spot lens that can fold down in front of the flip down lens to increase the magnification. The strap you wear is a Velcro arrangement so one size (should) fit all. So what are the advantages? It is hands free, you wont tire from holding the instrument, you can work for longer periods of time (hmmm, not sure if thats an advantage), adjustable magnification, low price and oh yes, some models have headlights! The question is: are these something you would find useful? I know folks who do intricate craft work, others make trout flies, some make jewelry and others work on electronics circuit boards and they all say it is the best tool they own. However, some young students of biology use it for dissecting and the feeling is that it makes Yuck just a bigger Yuck.
The newest models now have LED lights, which are brighter. There is one other type that you wear like glasses (has a similar eye glass frame) and lenses snap into the front of the frame, this type usually has one light in the center. To view these types of magnifiers go here: headband magnifiers
These instruments are useful for desk or bench work and there are several types that go around your neck and are supported by your chest. This may be helpful for sewing and craftwork. To see these follow this link: hands-free magnifiers.
When we think of magnifiers this is the one that conjures up an image. This traditional style hand-held magnifier comes in varying magnifications, usually 1.5x to 5x. It is still used in detective work looking for evidence, it is used for reading small print, and kids still burn bugs and set dead leaves a smoking with it.
It is available in glass and acrylic lens, varying size diameter of lens and different handle lengths. To see these different styles go here: reading magnifiers
Without getting into the history or how it works, the Fresnel Magnifier sometimes referred to as a page magnifier or sheet magnifier is a very light weight sheet of a flexible material that makes it useful for reading. Many people will keep several around the house. One in the phone book, one in a novel theyre reading and one next to the newspaper. These magnifiers are inexpensive (less than $5.00) and have helped many with low vision. To view this type magnifier go here: Fresnel lens
By the way, if you want more background information on the Fresnel lens go here: history and construction of the Fresnel Lens .
Tabletop magnifiers are useful instruments to have around the house or shop. Magnification runs 2x to 5x with the 2x being the most popular. Theyre great for hobby work and if your hobby is woodworking, the lighted tabletop magnifier is useful in aiding the removal of splinters. These types of magnifiers are very popular with hobbyists and are enjoyed by collectors all over the world. To see some of these instruments go here: tabletop magnifier
There are a number of lighted hand held magnifiers on the market. Most come without batteries and for good reason. The overwhelming majority of magnifiers are made in Asia and manufacturers dont want to risk damage to the instrument from a leaking battery. Some may include a battery packaged separately but risk customer dissatisfaction if the battery doesnt work. Manufacturers cant control the battery so many opt not to include it.
The majority of lighted hand held magnifiers are available from 2x to 15x, which should be sufficient for most applications. If you need high magnification there is a 30x lighted loupe. One of the nicest 5x hand held lighted units available (under $40) is one with a removable textile plate. Ironically, it has found much favor with the stamp and coin collectors. To view some of these lighted hand held magnifiers follow this link: lighted hand-held magnifiers.
Kids love to play with magnifiers, please teach children not to look at the sun through the instrument or to focus a beam on their skin or clothing.