Now this is cool: Kickstarter project aims to turn your smartphone camera into a microscope


posted Monday, August 26, 2013 at 4:03 PM EST

Most of us are used to carrying a camera everywhere these days -- thanks to the smartphone in our pockets -- but its photographic capabilities are fairly limited. However, a recent project on crowdfunding site Kickstarter aims to magnify your camera phone's power by transforming it into a low-powered microscope designed to deliver extreme close up shots. The good news is the project is nearing reality as it has already long-since surpassed its funding goal, more than two weeks ahead of schedule.

Somewhat confusingly named the Micro Phone Lens (it has absolutely nothing to do with microphones), the new product is a tiny silicone-and-plastic accessory created by Thomas Larson. The lens simply adheres over the top of your smartphone's camera, thanks to its own naturally-tacky surface. The Micro Phone Lens is supposed to be compatible with almost any camera phone or tablet -- although if you're concerned, you can simply measure and see if there's 1/4-inch of smooth surface around your smart device's lens, giving the accessory room to stick. The cost for the microscope lens? About US$15, or the cost of a fast-food lunch for two.

An introduction to the Micro Phone Lens accessory.

The Micro Phone Lens' maker claims its miniature creation yields a 15x magnification, and is impervious to scratches. Better still, it can be washed with regular soap and water if you get it dirty, or if it starts to lose its tackiness. And although it's not going to rival your DSLR and a proper macro lens, results from the prototype really aren't too shabby. At least, no more so than those of your smartphone's camera compared to an SLR; you're just continuing the same tradeoff you've already accepted in the name of portability and instant sharing.

This tiny lens can, says its maker, turn your phone into a microscope with 15x magnification.

A small clamshell case with stamped logo will be included with each Micro Phone Lens, and it will double as a spacer to hold your phone at approximately the right distance from flat subjects for a good image. According to Larson, the container will be small enough to fit in a pocket, but large enough that it won't easily be lost.

The Micro Phone Lens adheres to the phone's camera thanks to a naturally tacky surface.

Early backers scored their Micro Phone Lens for just US$12, but current pricing is set at US$15 including U.S. shipping. Those overseas will pay an extra $5 to cover the extra shipping cost. Availability is slated for some time around October. And as with any Kickstarter project, you can choose to donate more for added bonuses -- or just because you want to reward the project's makers -- if you so choose. (And one person has already committed to do just that, spending US$250 to receive a limited-edition T-shirt and autographed design document.)

Crops of example images showing fabric (left) and a coin (right) shot in extreme closeup with the Micro Phone Lens and an unspecified camera phone.

Find out more over on Kickstarter.