A digital microscope will allow you to take HIGHLY detailed close up photos of just about anything. Anyone posting photos of their work online will find this incredibly useful - bloggers can show details [like on my saw post] of their tools and techniques while artists can include close up shots of their painting. The quality definitely goes beyond your average camera's close up, zoom and macro abilities.
TheWife points out that they can also double as a magnifying glass - watching your work blown up on a monitor while you paint and improve your technique.
This isn't a portable camera - it has to plug in to your computer via USB and save pictures to your hard drive. It comes with a stand to take still pics and avoid blurring, the silver scroller on top lets you change the zoom / focus and there's a ring of LED lights around the front because you need a strong light that close up. There's a "SNAP" button on the camera itself, but I found pressing it jars the camera and blurs the image. It comes with software for picture taking and even appears as a webcam, working with MSN, Skype, Chat Roulette... whatever floats your boat.
|Model||Cooling Tech CS01-200||bigC Dino-Lite AM-411T|
|Price||$35 w/ free shipping||$349 + shipping|
|Quality||2 MP||1.3 MP|
|Zoom||50x - 500x||10x - 50x, 200x|
|Max Resolution||5120 x 3840||1280 x 1024|
|Video Framerate||30 fps||30 fps|
|* not to rip on Think Geeks pricing - this is pretty comparable to other websites offerings.|
It should be pretty clear now that if you've ever been curious about picking one of these up, you've got some totally viable options.
The pics I've got on here are examples of some great shots I've been able to get out of it. The camera takes them larger, but they do need to be shrunk to look decent. (Unless you're doing poster sized printing) I would not suggest getting less than 2MP or 500x zoom and for the price, you shouldn't have to. The software that came with the camera saves as 5mb BMP files and I spent a few hours trying out other programs / webcam pic taking websites, and found the quality to be the same. Just use another program to shrink the pictures after they're taken and save as JPEGs.
Downsides? You do need to take a few shots sometimes as a slight motion at these zoom levels will cause a blur. The stand is required for the same reason. There's no automatic focus, it's all manual - and very precise. This is intentional so you can zoom on exactly what you want. (which means you need to get the focus right.) Also, being cheap from eBay means it might not be the highest quality and so I question it's life... but it's a product I wouldn't be able to afford otherwise, and the price is low enough that I'll probably be happy with however long it lasts.
Take a look at the following shots to see what the quality is like. There's some amazing shots that show what you can do with this camera, and some examples of how specific the zoom is. Yes, you can also click them for a larger view:
Man, kinda feels like I'm hanging out my dirty laundry...