(31March2016, 22June2016)....

We all make mistakes.    For years I tried to build circuits with surface mount components while using no optical assistance beyond a headband magnifier.    I managed to build boards and they even worked, but it was difficult, especially as the years accumulated and my eyesight degraded.   So this spring I took the plunge and purchased a microscope.    The one I got (via Amazon.com) was the AM Scope SE400-Z.    It's been wonderful.   What was a struggle in the past is now a lot of fun.   I can see the details of the boards I'm building and there is still more than ample room to put a soldering iron in the field of view.     My mistake was in waiting so long.

The stereo microscope I purchased comes with two eyepiece sets.   One provides 10X overall magnification while the other is 20X.   The 10X is the only one that works well for SMT work.   A region about a centimeter across is seen with these eye pieces.   The field of view drops by two with the 20X system, which is OK for inspecting a small SMT part, but is otherwise not all that useful.    I believe AM Scope has an option that provides 5X and 10X.   This might be more useful.

One additional accessory that is often overlooked when purchasing a microscope is a suitable place to sit while using the microscope.    I purchased an inexpensive stool that puts my eyes at the right position.    The chair I usually use in my "lab" is too low for the microscope.  

One of the obvious things that I did with the new toy in the lab was to look at earlier SMT efforts.    That was useful, although a little embarrassing.    I found a few errors that I fixed.   One friend (KK7B) offered a word of wisdom:   "Always use the same tool to build a circuit that you use to inspect it."   

Other microscopes may do as well as this one.   There are numerous digital photography
schemes as well.    Any of them will probably suffice.   The key is to just find a solution.    My error was in not solving the problem 20 years ago.