Our New Computer Microscope-The QX5

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As I wrote a few weeks earlier, we’ve been happily using our standard student model microscope to observe biology specimens and take photos and videos. But it’s always bugged me that I never got the QX3, a neat-looking computer microscope for kids I saw when my sons were young. Making my regrets all the more keen was the fact that several of the microscopy websites I’ve been using to plan our studies describe using the QX3 for school and lab use, as well as a toy. How cool must this thing be?

And so I contacted the Digiblue, makers of the latest model, the QX5 Computer Microscope. They kindly sent me a review model, which we’ve been using the past two weeks to record the life cycle of our latest pet/biology experiment, a Triops longicaudatus. And I have to say I love this microscope. GeekTeen John set it up for us, with some help from Dad in figuring out how to export videos for posting to YouTube. That was it — the learning curve is virtually non-existent.

The QX5 is basically a webcam with three lenses, offering magnifications of 10X, 60X and 200X. It comes with a USB cable about 6 feet long and a stand on which you place specimens, with LED lighting on both the camera and the stand. So far, we’ve only used it in hand-held mode to look at our Triops tank (and anything else within reach) but it seems pretty much kid-proof, as everything is housed in a sturdy see-through plastic cover, including the lens. (Luckily for us, as it’s already been dipped in the triops tank, breathed on by a friend investigating his tonsils, and generally handled in kid-typical ways.)

The software that’s included lets you edit photos and videos, create slideshows, program the camera for time-lapse photography, and add sound and visual effects. All in all, even though we haven’t tried out all of the bells and whistles yet, the QX5 is worthy of the GeekDad stamp of approval.

But don’t have take my word for it; a review with all kinds of specs, plus suggestions for modifying the camera for enhanced use (mainly by removing some of the protective features) from the December 2004 edition of Micscape magazine calls the QX5 "A great way of introducing the youngster to the world at the microscopic scale and digital imaging." And you can view images from seven online QX3 microscopes and find a few other hacks, including a lighted tube for underwater viewing, at Marly Cain’s Micronautic Adventures.

Kathy Ceceri is author of Around the World Crafts: Great Activities for Kids who Like History, Math, Art, Science and More!

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