Choosing a Hand Lens for Nature Study

My collection of hand lens including a triple-lens, a Coddington and a Hastings Triplett.
My collection of hand lens including a triple-lens, a Coddington and a Hastings Triplett.

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.

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 I drop it.

Buy Hand Lens from my Naturalist’s Shop 

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.

hand lens

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 Triplet or Coddington magnifiers. The Hastings Triplett and Coddington magnifying power ranges from 10 to 40 times.

Keep these things 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

 

My lighted hand lens takes four tiny hearing aid batteries.
My lighted Hastings Triplet hand lens takes four tiny hearing aid batteries.

Hastings Triplet hand lens with light for illumination. Hastings Triplet hand lens with light for illumination. The two round things are the lights. Photo by Donna L. Long. The circular metal thing is the battery cover. Photo by Donna L. Long.

 

The Hastings Triplet Hand Lens

The Hastings Triplet was invented by optical designer Charles Sheldon Hastings. It has three separate lenses, two concave and one convex bonded together to form a compound lens. It has a sharp focus over the entire lens.

The silver magnifier 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. Update: Replacing the four little batteries is not too difficult. The batteries are placed in a stack.

More on the history of hand lens design on the website: Data Deluge: The Intimate Study of Lenses and Tidepools

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

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

 

 

A basic Coddington hand lens on the left. A lighted hand lens on the right.
A basic Coddington hand lens on the left. A lighted hand lens on the right.

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

 

The Coddington Hand Lens

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 magnifier on the bottom is a Bausch & Lomb 10x Coddington.

Bausch & Lomb Coddington Magnifier, 10x on Amazon.com

Here is an illuminated Bausch and Lomb Coddington Magnifier, 10x with a long handle on Amazon.com

 

My collection of hand lens including a triple-lens, a Coddington and a Hastings Triplett.
My collection of hand lens including an inexpensive triple-lens, a Coddington and a Hastings Triplett.

 

The Low-Power, Low Cost Models

The all black magnifier in the photo above is not a ‘Hastings Triplet 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 on field trips anymore. I rather use my illuminated Hastings Triplet or my Coddington.

If you like this model, here it is on Amazon.com –  Three Lens Folding Pocket Magnifier

 

How to Shop for a Magnifier

This video explains the differences between Coddington and Hastings Triplet 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 on Naturalist Equipment

Buy Hand Lens and binoculars in my Naturalist’s Shop

Simplicity: Basic Equipment for the Naturalist

Choosing a Hand Lens for Nature Study

Choosing Binoculars for Nature Study

Choosing a Field Guide (with Videos)

Best Books for Nature Journaling Keeping and Drawing

Basic Information on Keeping a Nature Journal: A List of Posts

 

6 comments

  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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