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Carson ePix MM-640 Digital Microscope

Posted by david elosser   07/29/2007 07:00AM

Carson ePix MM-640 Digital Microscope

I like to play with four things that have glass in them: telescopes, binoculars, cameras, and microscopes. I have more than plenty in each category! Searching the web for different types of microscopes I stumbled upon the Carson ePix MM-640 digital microscope. This immediately caught my eye. An all-in-one microscope/digital camera that plugs directly into the USB port of your computer- now how cool is that? This is apparently not a popular concept. Browsing the web, I could only find one other brand that has something similar. But whereas the Carson has a zoom magnification range, the other brand had only two settings for magnification. One of these settings was a 400x. In my opinion, 400x in an inexpensive microscope is not nearly as useful as the powers in the 75-150x range. The Carson seemed to me to be the more versatile unit having a continuous zoom from 26x to 130x.

Now, you can buy a digital camera eyepiece that will fit into most monocular microscopes. You can also take afocal pictures with just about any digital camera through the ocular. But none of these options give you the convenience in such a small package as the Carson ePix. But what about the picture quality? Would the Carson give a decent image for the money? Or would this be just a $79 toy? I decided I had to find out.

My ePix MM-640 microscope arrived in very good condition. The package is an attractive layout, suitable for use as a gift box. The top lid hinged upward to display all of the contents. You get everything you need to get started: microscope, stage, one prepared slide, three blank slides, small plastic eyedropper, and plastic tweezers. The last two are admittedly very cheaply made, but they are functional and the entire package in my opinion represents a good start.

The microscope itself is very well made. Although it appears to be all plastic construction (I’m not sure if the lens is glass or plastic), fit and finish is excellent. It has two helical adjustments, one for the continuous zoom of 26x-130x, and one for the focus. The adjustment rings are firm and smooth in operation. The microscope can be used by itself, but it also has a stage that snaps snuggly into place. The design of the microscope is very well thought out. It gets its power from the USB port, which operates the camera and runs the lighting.

Four bright LED’s in the microscope and a milky white disc in the stage create a light box that completely and evenly illuminates the subject from below as well as from above. If dark or opaque objects, like grains of sand, fool the auto exposure into making too dark an image, you can adjust the settings manually or remove the stage and place the subject on a darker material. (See photos of sand grains below.)

The directions are easy to read and follow. It takes you step by step through installing the software and operating the microscope. The software installs in one minute and the microscope itself is so easy to operate even a caveman could do it. You simply plug the microscope into the USB port, open the software, place the specimen under the microscope, zoom, focus, and snap the picture. Everything is basically automatic, but the software will allow user adjustments of brightness, contrast, and color if desired. So far, I’ve found the auto controls to be accurate most of the time. In fact it gives more accurate color than I have been able to get using my P&S digital through the ocular of my research microscope. But there are some objects, because of their size or opacity, which are hard to image through the microscope.

Where this unit falters a bit is in image quality. The live image on the screen is low resolution (even at the highest resolution setting which can be adjusted by the user through the software) and I found focusing the target a bit tricky. Fortunately, the photos themselves were less pixilated, and I don’t have to save any pictures that do not look good. But I still get better pictures using my P&S digital camera afocally through my research grade Steindorff microscope. (See photos below.)

But the Steindorff costs quite a bit more money than the Carson ePix. In my opinion, considering the price tag, the images the ePix produces are good and certainly useable. But if you want to study objects with the finest detail and resolution, than the ePix is not for you. Even a medium priced laboratory microscope would be a better option. One real disappointment I have is with the image file size. VGA just does not cut it. I would want at least 1.3 mega pixels, preferably 2. I do like the fact that the ePix uses bitmap image files. This makes the photos easy to enhance. You will need to have your own photo software though, to enhance the images and change them to jpeg format. I did find the video feature to be entertaining if not useful. But the video can produce a VERY BIG file! It is best to start out with the lowest resolution setting with videos, as the highest setting can eat up hundreds of mega pixels of computer memory within 30 seconds!

I think that the Carson ePix MM-640 is a good, basic digital microscope that the entire family can enjoy. The images I have obtained are good and show plenty of detail. But it does have some downsides:
1) It is not a stand-alone unit (must be used with a computer)
2) Zoom is not marked, other than 26x and 130x, you have to estimate the power
3) Small image photo size
4) The image on the screen is somewhat pixilated and difficult to focus
But the ePix does score home runs with:
1) Overall fit and finish, apparent durability
2) Good image quality
3) Very simple, easy to use all-in-one unit
4) Takes up little space at your computer station
5) Attractive packaging
6) Lots of fun for the money!

In conclusion: this is not a professional research grade instrument, but I found the overall image quality to be very appropriate for its price tag. There was no age limit on the box, but I feel that any child that can use a computer, and read and understand directions (or follow your verbal directions), can operate the ePix. It can certainly be used for grade school science projects. For example, a student can take magnified pictures of different insect wings for a class project on insect morphology. Certainly, there is no upper age limit, and I think and even adult “children” will enjoy the Carson ePix!

David Elosser
Kernersville NC

Click here for more info on this product. - Ed.