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Choosing the Right Magnifying Glass

April 03, 2016

Choosing the Right Magnifying Glass

With a wide range of styles and features to choose from, finding the right magnifying glass for your needs may seem a rather daunting task. But instead of exploring every option on the market, think of finding the right magnifier as shopping for your next pair of shoes: you want comfort and the best style, but above all you want the right fit.

To help with your selection, consider these two simple steps:

Step 1 – What Style Do You Need?

First and foremost, you should decide what purpose your magnifying glass is going to serve. It’s far better to let the project determine the magnifier required, than to try and turn a single magnifying glass into a one-size-fits-all tool:

Do you need to enlarge the print of your book, newspaper, or crossword puzzle?

  • Consider a handheld reading magnifier.

Do you want to take your magnifier to the restaurant or grocery store for deciphering menus and labels?

Do you need to magnify a hobby that requires the use of your hands or other tools, such as knitting or model-building?

  • One of the many hands-free options is probably your best bet.

Does your project involve studying the fine details of a gem, stamp, or document?

Honing in on your personal needs will let you eliminate certain categories of magnifying glasses from your search right away.

Step 2 – What Specifications Should You Look For?

A number of components contribute to the performance of your magnifying glass, but for the average user, there are three main features you should consider:

  • Magnification, or Power

  • Focal Length, or Working Distance

  • Field of View


It may sound strange, but the magnifier with the highest power isn’t always the best choice. The human eye has an optimal viewing distance: the closer we hold an object to our eyes, the more of its detail we can theoretically see, but it will be out of focus. That’s where the magnifying glass comes in. A magnifier with a 2X power, for example, enlarges an object and lets us see it as though it were two times closer to our eyes, but the object remains in focus. Does that mean that a magnifier offering 20X power is ten times more useful than our 2X magnifier? Not necessarily. There are limits to the practicality of a high-powered magnifying glass, because of the way that magnification, focal length and field of view work together.

Focal Length

The focal length of a magnifier is the distance from its lens to the object being viewed, when the object is in focus. The power and focal length of a magnifying glass are actually inversely related. In other words, the higher the magnification, the shorter a magnifier’s working distance is, and vice versa. Having sufficient room to manoeuver beneath the lens is an important consideration when your hobby or project requires the use of tools, and it’s one of the reasons why a higher magnification isn’t always the better choice.

Field of View

The field of view refers to the size of the area that’s in focus when viewed through a magnifier’s lens. In much the same way that focal length is inversely related to magnification, so too is the field of view. The higher the power of a magnifying glass, the smaller its field of view will be. That means you’ll be able to see more detail with a higher magnification, but only across a relatively small area. Generally speaking, a 2-3X magnifier offering a larger field of view is better for scanning activities like reading, while the smaller field associated with a higher magnification would be more appropriate for the inspection of fine detail.

Once you’ve determined the style and technical features that best suit your needs, you may also want to consider some of these important magnifying glass properties:

  • lens quality (distortion, color clarity, scratch-resistance)

  • weight, comfort, and ease of use

  • durability of frame or handle

  • incorporation of a light source

Although the perfect lightweight magnifier, combining a clear, high magnification with a wide viewing area is an optical impossibility, finding the perfect magnifying glass for your personal needs is not only possible, it’s a definite reality.

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