$200 commercial microscope versus OpenFlexure

I’ve printed the main body of ther microscope = 6 hours and it’s quite intricate.
I’m looking at another 6 hours to print the other parts, ordering a whole slew of stuff online, building it without breaking it, software loading. And seeing videos of it in use, the flow is quite complicated with stitching software running on different platforms, etc.

So now I’m asking a fundamentla question which I should have asked first off.

If all goes perfectly well, what can OpenFlexure do for me that a $200 off-the-shelf miscrscope cannot?

Many thanks

That is a question, and it depends a lot on which $200 commercial microscope you are looking at.

For somewhere to start: on Amscope, where many get their lenses, $200 gets you a manual binocular microscope with three achromatic lenses and Abbe illumination. Alternatively they offer a monocular digital microscope with three lenses.

Having three lenses on a lens turret makes it easy to change magnification, and manual focus and translation is quick to move around a sample. These microscopes are metal and quite large and heavy, so they are not easy to knock over. A binocular microscope is quick to get going when you want to use it, no need to wait for a computer to boot or to arrange a screen, but you cannot record any images.

The Openflexure microscope is necessarily a digital microscope. $200 gets to the fully motorised version, and probably a better plan-achromatic lens. To start up you need a screen, and the motion is relatively slow. The illumination is wide field and high NA for maximum resolution, but it is not a full Abbe system. With those trade-offs you get complete automated control: autofocus usually only comes with high-spec microscopes, you get that together with automatic scanning of a sample, with focus stacking if you want. In the next software release there will be better automated scanning, detecting where a sample ends and automatically stitching images as it runs. If you are studying changing systems, you can script any time and position series of images. The Openflexure microscope is light and compact (even with a small screen), which can make all the difference for field work. You can have multiple microscopes in a small space to do parallel studies of many samples, run from a single computer.

For a microscope that is more similar to the lower cost commercial digital microscopes, we are developing a much lower cost version using the Logitech C270 webcam and manual motion, which means that there is no Pi, no motors and no motor controller, but it still has the fine position control of the flexure stage.

Finally, the Openflexure design is openly developed and openly licensed. If you want particular features you can work with the community to design them. If you want to locally modify, manufacture, sell and service microscopes that is allowed.

With all of that, how the Openflexure microscope compares to others depends on what you want. For a single, static, user, the direct speed of a manual and non-digital microscope is immersive. If you want to look at something together with anyone else, then digital makes sure that you are both seeing the same thing. The digital image quality can be excellent on the Openflexure microscope. If you make use of automated high resolution microscopy then the Openflexure really comes into its own. For high resolution time lapse you need the autofocus. Scanned and stitched images can be necessary for record keeping or for remote review of specimens.

What are you wanting to do with your microscope?

William many thanks for your time.

I already have a skip rescue from a school - it’s a Russian Lomo thing, very heavy and built like a tank. Four lenses on a rotating turret frmo 10X to 90X and Barlows up to 15X I think. However, the higher magnifications jusyt give you a dimmer smudge and no more information.
I have used it for looking at integrated circuits and biological things - leaves, insects, pond water, etc.

I have no burning need for a new microscope but I’m a maker.

I saw the OpenFlexure on Youtube and was wowed with the idea - especially the compliant mechanism in the movement. I like to make things, and I already build and sell photospectrometers and I thought I might build OpenFlexures too. I checked, and tThe license is, apparently, completely open to do that.

But it won’t sell if there’s no compelling reason for people to buy it. In the case of my spectrometer, it retails for about $200 which is very attractive to hobbyists and educators as commercial units start around $2,000. Given the work in building the OpenFlexure I’d need to sell it for, I don’t know - maybe $500 and so I wondered what it can do that hands-down beats a shop model.

I appreciate the stage movement for its technical innovation. In terms of benefits, I suppose you can make single images of larger samples at high resolution, effectively emulating a huge image sensor, but not in real time. In realtime use, I suppose you’d just scoot around the slide and look.

Same with auto focus - OK, but I can twiddle a knob. I’m not deriding the unit, I’m expressing my ignorance about how its capabilities are useful to people.

I understand your point about using several of them in parallel.

Several of the videos talk about how OpenFlexure can bring capabilities to African labs, so I was wondering which capabilitis it bestows which cannot be purchased off-the-shelf for $200.

Or if Joe Hobbyist wants to look at leaves, insects, sand, pollen etc. maybe with his children or as part of his gemology or other hobby, does anything compell him to spend on an OpenFlexure model?

I will certainly build one for the experience and to satisfy my own curiosity. But having written this I realise my interest is also commercial, and perhaps I should have made that clearer before. I quite understand if you don’t feel like giving me more of your time in responding.

Thanks, Chris

I did write a long reply, but it is really much more simple. The Openflexure microscope is not primarily about low-cost, it is about customisation and performance, with open source design. If you need the robotic operation, scanning, and digital record keeping, or if you need high resolution with low weight, or integration with automated laboratories, or remote collaboration, or a custom combination of optical and mechanical performance, then it provides a uniquely capable platform.

If it is produced locally in a low-resource location then the local manufacture also means local servicing and so higher up-time.

Hobbyists can and do build their own, but I think rarely because it is lower cost than other options. They also are not generally counting their time.

It is the wrong microscope for Joe Hobbyist to look at insects and leaves. The automatic stage is too slow with a lower magnification objective. There are certainly better options for this.

However if Joe hobbyist wants a digital microscope that is programmable then he may want an OpenFlexure. Does he want to try to image a whole sample in high resolution, stitch the images together and zoom around it later? Perhaps he wants to write scripts to time-lapse image things, but needs the microscope to autofocus? Perhaps he wants to teach inspire his children with digital programming using visual programming like blockly?

I think you bring up a good point. We do need a clear description of what OpenFlexure does really well, and what it does less well. Perhaps using the time tested table with ticks and crosses. Something like:

£200 manual microscope £300 Digital Microscope £60,000 Microscope slide scanner OpenFlexure
Good for looking at insects :white_check_mark: :white_check_mark: :negative_squared_cross_mark: :negative_squared_cross_mark:
Save images for later :negative_squared_cross_mark: :white_check_mark: :white_check_mark: :white_check_mark:
Has motorised stage :negative_squared_cross_mark: :negative_squared_cross_mark: :white_check_mark: :white_check_mark:
Can automatically scan and stitch images :negative_squared_cross_mark: :negative_squared_cross_mark: :white_check_mark: :white_check_mark:
Can scan entire microscope slide :negative_squared_cross_mark: :negative_squared_cross_mark: :white_check_mark: :negative_squared_cross_mark:
Provides tools for programming custom automated experiments :negative_squared_cross_mark: :negative_squared_cross_mark: :heavy_dollar_sign: Expensive add-on required :white_check_mark:
Easy to customise hardware :negative_squared_cross_mark: :negative_squared_cross_mark: :negative_squared_cross_mark: :white_check_mark:

Thanks again William.

I’ll throw these quiestions out there but I’m not pressuring you specifically to spend even more time to fix my ignorance on these issues.

I can’t translate “customisation and performance” into something tangible.

Customisation might be about allowing someone to select their own objective, camera, and automation options or something else. I can see how open source would help here.

Performance might be about higher resolution, bigger frames, automatic detection of something, or something else. You allude to automated record keeping, though I have no idea who would want that or why. (Again, I’m just declaring ignorance, not challenging your comments in the slightest).

I can see how low weight is a benefit if using a microscope while travelling in difficult territories.

So my take away here, is that this microscope is the one to choose if you have professional requirements around record keeping and automated scanning at low cost, or you want a platform which can be modified with considerable work and expertise for some esoteric need. But for the hobbyist this is a high effort, low reward choice.

I still think it’s amazing and I fully intend to build one.

Thanks once again.

Hello again J. Stirling and thank you for making time to reply to my post.

Ahh, the light dawns for me on the stitching thing. Explore a huge high res image after the capture and stitching is done. Something you cannot do with a manual machine. Got it. Timelapse - Aha! Wonderful!

“Saving images for later” so obvious now you’ve said it, but I didn’t really get that before.
I know you can attach mobile hphones to eye pieces - I’ve done it - but it’s not great.
And some scopes have a built-in camera - well, this one does too.

“Scan an entire slide” - another thing I can now see the benefit of. Your table says OpenFlexure can’t do it, but I can already see how it might in a future iteration.

Your splendid table has really concretised things for me. Thanks very much for the time you’ve given me. I’m glad to hear it may have helpd you also.


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Regarding the 2 red check marks on the Openflexure column.

  1. It CAN scan insects if the insect is dead :slight_smile:
  2. it CAN scan a whole tissue section which is usually all you may need. :+1:
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