Varying Prices &
Since I couldn't hope to do an exhaustive review of every loupe you could possibly encounter, my list is somewhat arbitrary. However, I think it includes enough variety to prove useful. I've done some hunting for loupes on websites and eBay auctions. There are some pretty decent loupes to be had on eBay, even in the single-lens "fake triplet" category (see below). I bought a few of these way-back-when at $3 each and have found some of them to be pretty decent, others not (see below). Today, the cheapest price for these "no-name" loupes is more than $3, but they're still not expensive.
Bausch & Lomb- 10x (Hastings Triplet); nickel-plated or gold-colored teardrop-shaped enclosure;
PRICE: medium to high ($50-$75);
Compound, 3-element lens; among the best available.
Bausch & Lomb- 10x (Illuminated Coddington); penlight-like metal barrel holds two AA batteries and has switch; no pivot- lens is at end of metal barrel...
PRICE: medium (about $30-$40);
QUALITY: very good to excellent.
Lens is single-element but has specially-incised channel to add correction. With a brand name such as B & L you can be sure the optical quality is consistently high. Note: illuminator bulb seems to burn out easily but is replaceable.
Belomo- 10x; 21 mm lens; marked "Made in Belarus"; black enclosure of unusual shape; pivot has small Phillips screws.
PRICE: medium (about $35-$40);
Lens is composed of three, joined elements. I've tested dozens of these; it appears their quality is pretty much consistent no matter how many I test. It also has a bigger field of view than the Bausch & Lomb Hastings. Even at 40 bucks, the Belomo's quality is so good that it's worth it.
Schneider- 10x; hexagonal enclosure;
PRICE: so high that it crashed my web browser ($325);
I wasn't able to afford an example for testing. If you're going to spend $300+ on a single item for this hobby, put it toward a decent stereo inspection microscope. In fact, you shouldn't spend much over $50 for a top-quality loupe unless your job is to grade diamonds all day. You could still probably do the job just fine with a Belomo or a Bausch & Lomb, but then again I'm not a diamond grader so I wouldn't know for sure.
"SE Brand"- 10x; 17 mm lens; chrome plated, teardrop-shaped enclosure; pivot has small Phillips screws....
The one I tested had surprisingly low spherical aberration. I ordered an additional 10 of these to test. Eight of them were quite good for the price, while two had weird blurring near the centers (ridiculous!!), making them just about unusable. Not bad overall- nine keepers out of 11 tested units. Who knows whether another sample lot would have the same number of keepers, though. That's the problem; the quality control is pretty much random.
"SE Brand"- 10x; 21 mm lens; chrome plated, diamond-shaped enclosure; pivot has small Phillips screws....
PRICE: very low
Single lens element. Out of four I tested, one of them was surprisingly good. The other three were not that great, but I guess they were adequate for field collecting. That's really the point of these loupes. If you accidentally leave it on a rock somewhere, it's no great loss.
"Triplet 20x"- 20x; 21 mm lens; black, hexagonal enclosure
PRICE: low to medium
The lens is definitely a triplet / compound setup. The high magnification gives very, very shallow depth of field. There is still some spherical aberration despite the multiple lenses. You also have to hold the thing very close to the item you're planning to view... so close that it blocks out most of your light. This is not a problem with the 10x, just the 20x version. I think 14 to 16x is as high as I'd recommend for a handheld loupe, especially for microminerals. The shallower depth of field at 20x is alright for tiny crystals, but the real drawback is that you're so close to the specimen that it's blocking out most of the light.
There are several different types and qualities available on the market for loupes. Even at $40, the Belomo is still the best thing for the money. However, due to the rough treatment that any real field-collector gives to a loupe, you might also consider a cheaper model for field use. Here's another big reason: if you're into micromounting or micromineral collecting, the loupe is mostly just a sorting tool. Once the loupe tells you a specimen is worth further study, it gets viewed under a stereo microscope. So, spend $10-$25 on a loupe and save the rest for the microscope. Or, get a Belomo and a "cheapo" and keep the Belomo for when you visit mineral shows and symposia.
Earlier I said there was a way around the cheap quality of "singlet" loupes. These bogus "triplet" loupes, which really have only one lens element, have a tendency for poor quality-control. However, if you deal with a seller who culls out any obviously bad ones before even selling them to you, it works out alright. That means a bit of loss of inventory, so it obviously drives the price up a bit. However, that still puts it in the under-$15 range (according to 2012 prices).
I happen to know such a dealer who inspects each one prior to shipping to make sure it's usable. Twelve bucks, and you've got a passable loupe for field use. And hey, if you leave it sitting on a rock, at least it wasn't a forty-dollar one. Then again, my Belomo has accompanied me to dozens (if not hundreds) of collecting trips, and it's still intact.
To avoid losing that magnifier, wear it around your
neck for safe keeping. I used string, but you can buy lanyards from
At left: The pile of rocks that ate one Bausch & Lomb Lenscope, a prybar, 2 or 3 chisels, several gloves, an Estwing crack hammer, and at least three sets of goggles. Franklin, NJ.
Don't set your loupe on a rock and then think you're going to come back and find it later.
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