Winter 2007 Issue

Stereo Microscopes
for Surface-Mount Soldering

Here are some suggestions from hams
about what to consider when you want to
buy a stereo microscope for
your soldering projects.

By Steve Bible, N7HPR

The Luxo MicroLux Microscope System. (Photo courtesy of Stanley Supply and Services)

A frequently asked question is what one should look for when purchasing a microscope for surface-mount soldering. What follows are some suggestions from various users of stereo microscopes.

Chuck Green, NōADI

You need a stereo zoom microscope, magnification 10X. Most of the time I use 7X to get a wider field of view. Higher magnifications are sometimes useful for looking at suspect items, but this is rare. I never use greater than 40X, and even this is extremely unusual. Distance to focal point should be as long as possible. Remember, you need to work in this space. Mine is about 3 inches, and that is often limiting.

Get a really good light. It might be a significant portion of your total outlay. Itís worth it! I have a 360-degree (goes completely around the objective lens) fluorescent light. It was pricey, but Iím glad I got it. Its only drawback is that it is a bit large and exacerbates the workspace under the microscope problem. Since I bought this, some LED lights have become available which might be better. I have no experience with these.

Donít get a microscope mounted on a stage. Get it mounted on a boom. The stage just gets in the way. You really want your work to only be on your anti-static mat, so the microscope needs to be able to swing out over this space. My boom is about 22 inches long and is just about right. The length that is best for you will depend on your workspace. Mine is a standard desk (5' • 30"). You want to be able to swing the microscope in and out as needed. This needs to be easy to do, as you will do it a lot. Itís also nice to be able to swing the microscope completely off the surface of your workspace so you can get large objects under it.

Assi Friedman, KK7KX/4X1KX

I agree with Chuck. We have a B&L stereo zoom 4. We got it from an industrial liquidator. You can often purchase them for around $400 to $500. We have the rear illuminator (itís the cylinder in the back), which isnít as good as a circular one. However, since we tend to work on a board from the left and right sides, I rarely block the light. The boom is a must indeed, as it allows you to work on a box or a bare board. It is also convenient when you want to get it out of the way. The only nicer microscope I have seen is a stereo one that gives you a 3D image. While not a must, it is a nicer viewing experience.

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