Employee inspects PCB under digital microscope


When to choose and when to skip USB microscopes: A full guide

A USB microscope is just one example of how to go digital with your inspection processes.

It's important though to know the benefits and disadvantages of this solution when going digital.

More and more businesses are replacing their traditional magnifiers with a digital alternative as they realize that they can’t use it to document their work in an efficient or adequate way.


What is a USB microscope?

As they hunt for a digital alternative, many come across the handheld USB digital microscopes readily available online. These often come with an attractive price tag and offer new and exciting capabilities compared to their current systems, including easy documentation processes.
What many find, however, is that the image quality of the USB digital microscope is not up to par, resulting in unsatisfactory documentation material. The result? The key reason for choosing a USB digital microscope in the first place hasn’t been solved and companies are sent back to square one.

In this article, we’ll go through the differences between a USB digital microscope and other digital solutions, hopefully showcasing that digital microscopy is much more than USB microscopes.

NB: In this article, USB microscopes refer to often handheld microscopes that are connected to and powered by a computer via USB ports while other digital solutions refer to desktop or table mounted microscopes.  This distinction is important even though the TAGARNO microscopes have USB 3.0 ports as well as HDMI output for high quality documentation and results sharing.




What’s the difference between USB digital microscopes and other digital solutions?

Key differences between the USB digital microscopes and other digital solutions are:

  • Image quality due to technical specifications of the camera within the microscope itself
  • The affect of different USB outputs on image quality
  • Additional hardware needed to operate the microscope 
  • Placement of the microscope during inspection
  • Volume and quality of available software that can assist you in your inspections 


Choosing a handheld or stationary USB digital microscope

Although stands are available, USB digital microscopes are often handheld. This allows the operator to move the USB digital microscope around and across the sample as they’re inspecting it. In contrast, other digital solutions are often either table or desktop mounted, meaning the sample is the manipulated object while the microscope stays in position.

At high magnifications in particular, a shaky hand holding the USB digital microscope can create an unsharp photo that is not only difficult to inspect from but also capture. It is therefore worth keeping in mind what magnification levels and level of detail you will need before choosing your preferred microscope.



Don’t forget to check the USB digital microscope frame rate and camera settings

The technical specifications of the camera within the microscope itself is important to consider as frame rates as well as camera settings will greatly affect not only the live image as you move the microscope or sample around, but also the quality of your captured images. Let us elaborate..


Choose between high or low frames rates
Frames per second refer to how much data is displayed every second to you as a viewer. A low frame rate, typically specified as 60 fields or 30 frames per seconds, will only display half of what is actually recorded by the microscope. This will create a choppy image with delays between what happens under the microscope and what you see on your screen. In comparison, 60 frames per second, specified as 60 fps, will create a smooth image with no choppiness or delays, significantly improving the experience with the digital microscope as you’re working with a live image.

With that in mind, go for the highest possible frame rate for the best possible user experience.


Camera settings
Although lighting is crucial to see a sample clearly, whether it’s during live inspections or captured images, sometimes it isn’t enough. If you’re working in an area with harsh overhead lighting or no natural light, you might need additional settings such as iris, gain and exposure adjustment in order to finetune the display of your sample and see the necessary details.

Without these settings, the digital microscope might not be able to produce a satisfactory image and thus certain locations within your building might not be suitable for a microscopy station. Considering how much flexibility you need in terms of where to place the digital microscope and what level of detail you need is equally as important when choosing a microscope.


Check the USB ports
Along the same lines, it’s important to know which output options are available for the microscope of your choice. If you want to connect the microscope to a computer, you need to consider the USB ports available with your microscope and how it will affect the image quality.

With USB 2.0 outputs, what is displayed on the computer is a compressed version of what the microscope initially recorded, resulting in a significant loss of detail for your inspections. For comparison, USB 3.0 is a non-compressed display format that will not reduce the amount of detail before displaying it on a computer.

This distinction between USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 is important to keep in mind and should be a significant factor when selecting a digital microscope if you are leaning towards using the USB output as part of your setup.


Microscope operators inspect sample together on a digital microscope




Do you need to use a computer or not?

When considering which digital microscope to purchase, it’s also important to note where you want to install the microscope. Perhaps the microscope needs to be installed in a small area where you don’t have room for an additional computer. In this case, a digital microscope which is a stand-alone product that requires no computer during inspections might be right solution. If you have more room and don’t mind connecting a computer, a USB digital microscope might be suitable for you.



Software capabilities on USB digital microscopes and other digital solutions will vary

A key benefit of USB digital microscopes as well as other digital microscopes is the complimentary software that can assist you in your inspections. How many features are available will vary depending on which kind of digital microscope you choose. For that reason, it’s important that you have a look of what is included in the basic software of each microscope types and what are add-ons. It’s also worth looking into which features you currently need and whether you see your needs changing in the future. If so, choosing a microscope with more software add-on options might be the best solution to ensure that the digital microscope can evolve with you.



Tagarno Inspection on PCB

In summary when comparing USB digital microscopes to other digital systems

As evident by the wide variety of microscopes available, the world of digital microscopy has seen significant development within the last couple of years. Which model is right for you will heavily depend on your budget and needs, and we therefore suggest that you do your research and understand the benefits and limitations of each type of digital microscope before selecting one for your business.

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