Transform Your iPhone Into a Microscope: Just Add Water
A droplet of water suspended on an iPhone camera acts as a magnifying lens.
I’ve engineered a fair number of inexpensive DIY camera hacks.This one is by far the cheapest: it’s free! Simply place a drop of water on the phone’s lens, carefully turn the device over, and the suspended droplet serves as a liquid lens. Behold:
Crocus flower as seen by an iPhone 4s through a water droplet.
Droplet images are dreamy, blurred at the periphery, and just a little bit…wet. But the tiny subjects underneath are magnified with sufficient resolution for an impromptu microscope. Indeed, I started playing around with the technique after reading that the U.C. Davis iPhone microscope team experimented with water before moving to a solid lens.
After spending a few hours this weekend with a slightly moist iPhone, I am pleased to report the following:
Larger, rounder droplets lead to higher magnification, and as the droplet evaporates and shrinks magnification decreases.
The liquid lens is jiggly and sensitive to vibrations. The phone should be placed on a stable platform for maximum clarity. For these photos, I coopted a pair of short drinking glasses as a stand.
Image quality is not as sharp as that provided by solid, commercially available clip-on lenses like Olloclip. But hey. You get what you pay for!
Water is not generally good for cell phone electronics, so be careful when applying the droplet.
Below are my attempts at iPhone water-graphs.
Odorous house ant, backlit with an LED array under the leaf.
Give me liberty, or give me 10 cents
The water lens has sufficient power to resolve a honey bee's hairs!
A printed image from a book, up close
Tipping the phone slightly distorts the droplet lens into yielding a tilt-shift/lensbaby effect.
If you try the technique, I’d love to see your results! Drop a link in the comments, or send me an email.
About the Author: Alex Wild is an Illinois-based entomologist who studies the evolutionary history of ants. In 2003 he founded a photography business as an aesthetic complement to his scientific work, and his natural history photographs appear in numerous museums, books, and media outlets. Follow on Twitter @myrmecos.