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Microscopes Give You A Closer Look At Cannabis Plants

Many kinds of microscopes and magnifying lenses are available to help you get a closer look at your cannabis plants. From pest prevention to harvest timing, these devices will help you throughout the entire grow cycle, and might even save your crop from infestation or attack.

Every grower should obtain a magnifying lens or microscope for their toolbox. These simple and useful devices can really help in every stage of a plant’s life, and even after. Lenses and microscopes might also assist those who aren’t growers, but would like to check the quality of a sample before buying the whole batch.

Deciding when to initiate harvest is one of the cannabis grower’s most pivotal decisions. Regardless of whether you are a seasoned hand or a newbie, a microscope will allow any grower to ascertain the ideal harvest window to achieve maximum yield and peak cannabinoid concentration. How is this done? By observing the minute trichomes on your cannabis plant’s flowers. By evaluating the trichome structure, transparency, and hue, you will know exactly when to make the chop.

A microscope, or at least a good magnifying lens, is also useful to inspect freshly harvested, dried, or cured cannabis flowers for mould or parasite residues. An electron microscope could even spot crystals of chemicals such as pesticides, but that’s not a tool for the average grower or consumer. Let’s stay optical and learn how to evaluate trichomes and recognise pests.

A CLOSER LOOK AT CANNABIS FLOWERS ENSURES A BETTER HARVEST

Every grower knows: the more trichomes, the better. That’s because these tiny “hairs” don’t just contain the terpenes that defend the plant from animals, pathogens, or harsh environmental conditions, but also the cannabinoids that humans have come to know and love. The largest trichomes will be visible to the naked eye, while most will appear as a white or grey fuzz on the flowers of ripening cannabis plants. All of them are involved in the synthesis of cannabinoids and terpenes.

The cannabis plant features bulbous trichomes, which look like small pointed structures; capitate sessile trichomes, bigger and flattened; and capitate-stalked trichomes, the largest type of trichomes, which develop during the flowering stage. A microscope allows a clear look at the colours and transparency of the glandular trichomes’ resinous heads, mainly depending on the maturity of the plant. In most cases, the flowers are harvested when the heads start turning amber and opaque.

EARLY SPOTTING PESTS AND PARASITES

The clever grower knows it’s better to take a closer look at the plants well before trichomes start to develop. That’s because eliminating an infestation, whether it’s mould, spider mites, or any other kind of micro-invader, is much easier when the population has not had enough time to breed and expand its infestation on your plants. Pests often go unnoticed until too late because at early stages of an infestation, there are few visible signs on the plant. However, with a proper magnifying device, it’s possible, for example, to flush out spider mite egg clusters before they turn into adults and start chewing your leaves. In other words, a magnifying tool can save your crop.

PICKING THE RIGHT ONE

The process of using a microscope or magnifying lens to judge your plants is a mostly straightforward venture; point the device at a leaf or bud and focus to view trichomes, or to spot any form of life that’s not your plant. The higher the magnification of the lens, the closer it must be to the specimen. A built-in light is useful to better illuminate the area even during daytime, and also for viewing plants during the dark hours in an indoor grow without having the lights alter the perception of trichome colour (a quick flash won’t change your plants’ sex, don’t worry).

With a magnifying device, resolution is just as important as magnification. If your trichomes cannot be clearly viewed because your lens mixes up all the small details, the image quality will be poor regardless of the magnification. The resolution is determined by the light frequency and the lens quality. The shorter the wavelength illuminating the specimen, the greater the resolution. Light also affects contrast; the more intense the light, the more contrast you get, up to the point where everything gets “solarised”.

Learning how to use a magnifying device doesn’t take much time, while picking the right one can be tricky, since the market is flooded with poor-quality lenses of every kind. Here is an overview of the different types of magnifiers to help you narrow down the search for your ideal tool.

HANDHELD MAGNIFYING GLASS AND JEWELER’S LOUPES

The simplest microscope is a single lens, preferably with a decent magnification factor. Single lenses have a low magnification factor and a high optical aberration, which can produce distorted and blurred views, particularly around its borders. On a positive note, handheld magnifiers have a convenient wide viewing angle, and they are useful for a quick fly over your plants in search of “big” parasites, their residues, or small mould patches. A magnifying glass can’t help in viewing microscopic bugs, but it allows for a general view of the colour and transparency of trichomes—which is much better than relying on the flowering time indicated on your package of seeds.

Old-school jeweler’s loupes are the smallest pocket microscopes. Their lens (or lenses) is contained in a cylinder or cone, or it folds into a protective housing. Jeweler’s loupes are used in a number of industries, with some differentiation: simple lenses, compound lenses, or prismatic multiple lenses with higher magnification and less optical aberration. These tiny devices are very convenient for the grower, and some models come with an integrated LED light that’s especially useful in indoor operations. Jeweler’s loupes can also be placed on the camera lens of a smartphone to take pictures.

HEADBAND MAGNIFIERS

These are convenient hands-free magnification devices that add precision and speed to several tasks in different industries. They provide binocular 3D vision with a magnification usually limited to 3.5X. They might increase work efficiency on certain jobs in the grow room, but they can’t be the only magnification device at hand.

HANDHELD DIGITAL MICROSCOPES

Pocket microscopes are relatively cheap and very popular among trichome-inspectors. They are able to produce beautiful images and they provide magnification up to 100X. Most of them have a built-in LED light for clearer viewing, and some models can be used with a smartphone. The problem with these high-magnification devices is that both the microscope and the sample must be perfectly still. This gets frustrating when trying to inspect a flower or a leaf on a branch. Many pocket microscopes come with a base and a movable arm that is supposed to hold the device, but rarely does in cheaper models.

USB pocket microscopes are cheap and convenient, but they must be connected to a laptop or desktop computer. High-quality, portable, digital, stereo, cordless, and wireless microscopes connected to a computer and a big screen are also available for the professional, or for the trichome-porn fanatic. On the other hand, many people already have a smartphone and use it as a portable magnifying tool. Some newer phones can produce high-quality pictures by themselves, while others need additional lenses to get a better view.

COMPOUND STEREO MICROSCOPE

The classic, modern microscope has a series of lenses with magnification usually ranging from 10X to 100X. This device is ideal for viewing details of trichomes and other parts of the plant, together with occasional microscopic parasites. Of course, the specimen must be detached from the branch and prepared for viewing under the objective. The stereo tabletop microscope is not something for every grower, but it’s a must for both professionals and biology enthusiasts who want to ensure their grow is clear from pests, and that trichomes are just right before harvest. When researching cannabis, a decent microscope is also useful to analyse plant structures and trichome density on different parts of the anatomy. A “fluorescence microscope” is a version of the optical microscope that allows for enhanced details and contrast.

ELECTRON MICROSCOPES

Optical microscopes are limited in resolution by the frequency of the light waves. Electron microscopes use electromagnetic beams with a shorter wavelength than visible light, which allows a higher resolution and magnifying factor. Needless to say, these kinds of microscopes are pretty complex and expensive, and are probably not something the average grower wants to deal with or invest in. Nevertheless, they are a great instrument to study nature and the secrets hidden in your weed.

Whatever device you wish to use, any cannabis grow will be enhanced with the use of magnifying tools. An entire world awaits under the lens of your microscope.

A microscope or magnifying lens can expand your knowledge of cannabis anatomy, protect it from pests, and help you decide the right time to harvest.

How to Look at Trichomes with a Magnifier

by Sirius Fourside

Learn how to look at cannabis trichomes under magnification

Table of Contents

As you can see, we’ve purchased many magnifiers/microscopes over the years…

This tutorial shares which magnifiers are good for looking at trichomes!

Trichomes Tell You When to Harvest

It’s so rewarding to harvest your own weed. Not only does it mark the end of a grow and a lot of work, but you’ll soon be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

That being said, any cannabis grower who has made it through the flowering stage knows that waiting for the right time to harvest can be a major test of a grower’s patience, and it can be hard to know when is the best time. This is where learning to use a microscope or magnifier to examine trichomes comes in.

3 Most Popular Ways to Determine When to Harvest Cannabis:

  • Timing: This is done by just waiting and harvesting when the breeder-specified flowering time is up. Please, don’t do this!
  • Pistil Method: When at least 60% of the pistils have darkened and curled in, the harvest window is open. The pistil method has a huge advantage in that it requires no tools! And it’s MUCH better than using the breeder specified timing. However, it can still be inaccurate, and inaccuracy in harvesting means lower yields/potency.
  • Trichome method: Trichomes are the “glitter” on buds. When most of the trichomes appear cloudy-white under a microscope, the harvest window is open. While this method isn’t perfect, in my opinion, it’s the best thing we have right now by far. The downside to this increased accuracy(and yields/potency) is that you need more than just your eyeballs to observe trichomes because they’re so tiny!

Today, we’re going to focus on the best tools to use for the trichome method. You’ll learn what to expect from each type of tool (with pictures) so you can get better potency and yields in your next cannabis grow. Let’s get to it!

Trichome Method – Quick Overview

By looking closely at the sparkly trichomes on buds, you can determine when to harvest your plants for the highest potency. Here’s a quick guide, or read the full trichome harvest tutorial.

Buds are not ready to harvest (low potency) – Clear trichome heads look like glass

Highest Levels of THC (strong psychoactive effects) – Milky trichome heads look like white plastic

Most Narcotic (stronger body/stone effect, some people feel sleepy) – Amber trichomes look yellow

Handheld Magnifiers (Not Great)

Handheld magnifiers let you see buds closer, but they don’t get close enough to easily judge the color of trichomes.

None of the handheld magnifiers we tested got in close enough to see trichomes

Notes: Handheld magnifiers are the easiest to use and have the widest viewing angle, but they don’t zoom in close. Some magnifiers have a smaller lens built-in with a higher zoom, but these small lenses are inconvenient and hard to see through.

Best example: If you simply must have one, this magnifier has changeable heads so you can get more magnification without sacrificing much lens size. But honestly, I recommend you choose any other tool on this list. For example, a jeweler’s loupe is usually both cheaper and better at viewing trichomes.

Jeweler’s Loupes

Jeweler’s loupes are designed to look closely at fine stones and jewelry and make it much easier to see trichomes. They’re cheap and convenient, but trichomes may still be too small to see for some people.

Example of looking at a bud through a Wesley’s 40X Jewelers Loupe

When I pressed the bud close

Notes: Jeweler’s loupes are cheap and deceptively effective. You can use them to get a pretty good look at the state of your trichomes, and you can also put them up to the camera lens of a smartphone and take pictures like the ones above. The zoom feature on cameras make trichomes easier to see clearly. Loupes are also very easy to use and made from tough materials, so if you buy one, you’ll probably have it for years and years.

Best example: You can’t go wrong with a loupe. Almost any loupe you get from a local hydro store or online will suffice. We did try several and this is the one we liked best and used in the pictures above: Wesley’s Jeweler’s Loupe

Smartphones

Example pictures:

Click images for larger versions

Notes: Smartphones are a great choice since many people already have one. Another cool thing about smartphones is that the picture quality tends to get better as newer phones are released, so some newer phones can produce high-quality pictures without needing anything extra!

Tips for clear pictures with a smartphone camera (or any camera):

  • Use lots of bright natural light for the best trichome pictures. Low light produces blurry pictures and makes it harder to see the true trichome color.
  • Keep the phone as still as humanly possible when taking shots. Leaning or bracing your phone against something can help keep it steady.
  • Try taking pictures from different angles to see which works best.
  • Try moving the phone both closer and further to take pictures. Weirdly, sometimes you get better pictures by moving the phone camera a little further away.
  • Try zooming in and out with the camera software. Each camera is a little different as far as focusing and different levels of zoom can work best for different phones
  • The more pictures you take, the greater the chance you’ll get a really good shot. So don’t be shy. Keep clicking!
  • Some growers take pictures through a magnifier for even closer pictures (more info next)

Best example: Many people already have a smartphone that will take pretty good pictures. The best phones for magnifying trichomes have optical zoom (as opposed to digital zoom), which means they can take bigger pictures without losing resolution. The pictures above were taken with a Samsung S8+ (a 3-year-old phone now), and it still did a good job even though it only has digital zoom. Great smartphone options include most iPhones (all models after iPhone 7 have optical zoom), and Samsung Galaxy phones (Galaxy 9 and later have optical zoom). Pixel phones also take excellent close-up pictures.

Small Pocket/Phone Microscopes

Example pictures:

Click images for larger versions

Notes: These types of tiny pocket-microscopes are relatively cheap and can be used alone or with a smartphone. If you have a smartphone, make sure to get one with a phone attachment like the ones in the picture above. This makes for better pictures and it also makes it way easier to focus on the piece of plant you want. Pro-tip: these are great for video if you don’t have a USB camera available.

Best example: First and foremost, if you get a microscope meant to clip on to your phone, make sure you get one that fits. If the clip isn’t the right size for your phone, the camera won’t be able to focus on your beautiful trichomes. Nebula and I both use this pocket microscope since it fits our Galaxy phones. Clip-on microscope

Clip-on microscopes are nice, but make sure to find one that fits your particular phone!

Big Pocket Microscopes

Example pictures:

Click images for larger versions

Notes: The larger class of pocket microscopes can produce some really impressive pictures. The only problem is that they can be frustrating to use, especially when you’re trying to inspect something like a live branch on a cannabis plant. If you can afford to cut off a small piece of plant matter or if you’re trying to inspect an already harvested bud, this tool becomes a lot handier.

Best example: No matter how many of these we buy, our old Carson is still the best of our larger pocket microscopes. Have patience with learning how to use one if you decide to take the dive! Carson Pocket Microscope

Endoscopes

Example pictures:

Notes: Endoscopes aren’t meant for inspecting cannabis, but we tried a few anyway. They’re fun and easy to use, but they’re not that great for figuring out if it’s time to harvest your plants. There are much better alternatives for the price unless you’re also aching to see what’s in your ear or on your teeth. Endoscopes require a connection to a smartphone or laptop.

Best example: There isn’t a ‘best’ since it won’t help you harvest, but this one definitely works as an endoscope…especially if you want to be reminded to wash your hands often. USB Endoscope

USB Microscopes

Example pictures:

Click images for larger versions

Notes: USB microscopes were cutting-edge when they first came out, but they were also a burden because they had to be connected to a laptop or computer. These days, many newer Android smartphones have OTG, which means that they can be connected to USB devices just like a computer. The combination of a smartphone with a USB microscope is tough to compete with since images come in so clearly without a steep learning curve. Make sure your phone can support OTG before getting a USB microscope. This means no iPhone/iPad users just yet…

Best example: If a USB microscope works with your phone, it’ll probably do a decent job. That being said, I have yet to try a better USB microscope than this one. I wish the focus feature was easier to use with one hand, but it’s worth it for the pictures/video it produces. Pluggable USB Microscope

This is the USB microscope we liked the best

Stereo Microscopes

Example pictures:

Click images for larger versions (second images is a 1.3MB animated .gif)

Notes: Using a stereo microscope to view trichomes is going overboard. Although they’re a blast to use and cool in a very nerdy way, there’s almost no chance that one of these will ever pay for itself in terms of making your harvest better.

Best example: We have an AMScope-306R and it definitely takes some cool shots. So much money and work, though!

Our Picks

Best Overall Magnifier/Loupe/Microscope:

  • For Android smartphones that support OTG: Plugable USB Microscope
  • For Apple users or those without smartphones: Jeweler’s Loupe
    • Some phones don’t support OTG, so USB microscopes won’t work for this group. Surprisingly, a jeweler’s loupe is the next best thing in our book!

Best Value Magnifier/Loupe/Microscope:

  • Jeweler’s Loupe: They’re cheap, easy to use, durable and they magnify enough to help determine harvest time. A jeweler’s loupe and a phone together are better than either one is on its own. It’s really hard to beat this much value and dependability!

Best for each category:

We tested quite a few microscopes, loupes, magnifiers, etc., but there’s a good chance we missed some good stuff! If we didn’t cover a tool that you use to look at trichomes, make sure to drop us a line and let us know. We’ll take a look and add any good suggestions to this page!

Do you want to maximize your cannabis yields and potency? Read our guide to learn how to use magnifiers/microscopes and pick the perfect harvest time!