It takes a little practice to learn how to use a hand lens magnifier. Usually when folks come in the store and want to look at magnifiers, they begin looking at them by holding the instrument out at arm’s length. Actually you get the best view of the subject by holding the lens as close to your eye as possible and bringing the object up in front of the lens until it is in focus (see picture). This might be a little bit difficult to get used to if you have not done it this way before, but with a little practice, you will find that you get absolutely the best view of the subject.
A word about “focal distance.” This is the distance at which you must hold the subject in front of the lens for it to be in focus. Notice in the photo here that the flower is about an inch from the front of the hand lens. This is a 10x hand lens. It magnifies 10 times, and one inch is the focal distance. The higher the magnification, the shorter the focal distance and the smaller the “field of view” or the area of the subject that you will be able to view. So, with a 20x hand lens (very difficult to use!), the focal distance is only 0.5 inch. Keep this in mind when purchasing a lens. For most nature study purposes such as tree identification, wildflower study, and examination of insects and rocks, 10x is an excellent magnification.
A few of our favorite hand lenses for beginners, especially for wildflower identification, basic botany, and geology are: