Choosing a Hand Lens for Nature Study

My collection of hand lens including a triple-lens, a Coddington and a Hastings Triplett. The bright ribbons help make the lens easy to see if it is dropped. Photo by Donna L. Long.

Hand Lens are small but powerful magnifiers and very useful for naturalists. But how many times do you see a guide to choosing a hand lens for nature study? Rarely, but here is one.


Using a Hand Lens for Nature Study

Hand lens are held in the hand. I use a hand lens to look at tiny flower parts, dead insect legs, or the shiny crystals in a rock.

The photo above shows my collection of hand lens. The black and silver hand lens on the bottom is my Bausch and Lomb 10X Coddington Magnifier. It magnifies an object up to ten times the actual size.

The top two magnifiers are inexpensive plastic models. The magnifying power ranges from 5  to 20 times. I bought them when I thought an inexpensive plastic magnifier would be just fine for the simple nature study I wanted to do. I should have just saved my money and bought the one high quality Bausch and Lomb magnifier. I find quality is always worth having and extends to most things in life.


Choosing a Magnifier

There are three basic types of hand lens, the Hastings Triplett, the Coddington and a plain old low powered magnifier.

Basic magnifiers consist of plastic or glasses and magnify at most 3 or 5 times actual size. They don’t always deliver clear sharp images like the Hasting Triplett or Coddington magnifiers. The Hastings Triplett and Coddingtons magnifying power ranges from 10 to 40 times.

Keep these thing in mind:

  • 3x to 5x is small magnification
  • 10x to 14x is good magnification for nature study, 10X is the most common
  • 20x is  small diameter viewing area, you must hold it close to your eye to focus: for specialist use
  • over 20X is for specialists like jewelers and diamond merchants


Hastings Triplett hand lens with light for illumination. I think the circular metal thing is the battery cover. Photo by Donna L. Long.


The Hastings Triplett

The Hastings Triplett was invented by optical designer Charles Sheldon Triplett. It has three separate lens, two concave and one convex bonded together to form a compound lens. It has a sharp focus over the entire lens. The silver hand lens with the clear lens is a Hastings Triplett. I received it as a gift and I use it more than my Coddington, simply because it is illuminated. You use it the same as a non-illuminated hand lens but make sure the light is pointed at the object you are viewing. I haven’t changed the battery yet, can’t report on how easy or tough that procedure is or isn’t.

Hastings Triplett hand lens with light for illumination. The two round things are the lights. Photo by Donna L. Long.

Hastings Triplet Magnifiers, Bausch & Lomb, 10x – Model 81-61-71 on

Here is my illuminated hand lens on 20X Lighted LED Illuminated Jewelers Jewelry Loupe Magnifying Glass Magnifier



My Coddington Magnifier, 10X by Bausch & Lomb. Photo by Donna L. Long.



The Coddington

The Coddington Lens was a refinement of an existing design by Henry Coddington in 1829. It is a single thick lens with a central grove around the equator of the glass. It provides a sharp clear image. The grove around the equator of the round glass limits the rays  close the axis and minimizes optical distortions. This allows for greater magnification and smaller lens. In the photo above, the hand lens on the bottom is a Bausch & Lomb 10x Coddington.

Bausch & Lomb Coddington Magnifier, 10x on

Here is an illuminated Bausch and Lomb Coddington Magnifier, 10x on


, My plastic triple lens Bausch and Lomb with 5X to 20X magnifying power. Photo by Donna L. Long.


The Low-Power, Low Cost Models

The three lens magnifier in the photo above is not a ‘Hastings Triplett’ but a low-price, plastic Bausch and Lomb hand lens with three lens which range in power from 5X to a combined power of 20X. I found juggling the three lens a hassle and I don’t take use this one at all anymore. I rather use my illuminated Hastings Triplett or my Coddington.

If you like this model, here it is on – Bausch & Lomb Folding Pocket Magnifier, 5-20x


How to Shop for a Magnifier

This video explains the differences between Coddington and Hastings Triplett magnifiers.



How to Use Your Magnifier

  • hold the magnifier close to your dominant eye.  How do you find your dominant eye? Watch the video.
  • move the object, not the magnifier, until the image is sharp and clear




More Information:

How to Chose Binoculars for Nature Study

Basic Information on Keeping a Nature Journal 


  1. There is a great nature study book: Nature In Miniature, by Richard Headstrom. It is available as a paperback with a different title.

  2. Dear Ms. Long,

    I have had a Bausch & Lomb 10x Hastings Triplet Magnifier for many years. It is extremely sharp, with a very flat field. I don’t know if this lens is still in production, but I also have a 10x Nikon magnifier that is also very good. I think that Zeiss makes a magnifier like this, that may cost close to $100.00

    I keep mine on a cord, never set it down, and don’t let anyone borrow it. I have an inexpensive folding magnifier (also on a cord) that I let other people use.

    Edmund Scientific is a good supplier of magnifiers, located in Southern NJ

    This business of lending precision instruments is a headache. I’m a mechanical engineer, and when I was about to buy a Starrett vernier caliper, which, if my memory is correct, cost about $200.00, back in 1981. An old machinist warned me that everyone will want to borrow it, and do you really want to be in a position of saying no to your co-workers? It wasn’t nice.

    The caliper was in my desk drawer, where I found the case badly damaged one morning. My boss, who was a wonderful person, worked late and had a bad drinking problem. He never owned up to the damage, and I never said a word. The caliper itself was not damaged.

    Good Luck,

    Steve Lepp

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