Electronic magnifying glasses vs electronic magnifiers

When people come to me asking about electronic magnifying glasses they usually mean one of two things:

  1. A battery operated magnifying glass with light; or
  2. An electronic magnifier.

While both these products are used to help people with low vision to read, there are big differences between the two categories. So I’d like to explain how they compare.

Battery operated magnifying glasses

Battery operated magnifying glass with set of 3 lensesThese look and feel like ordinary magnifying glasses. They magnify an image by using a concave piece of glass or perspex which distorts light to make the viewed object look bigger.

Battery operated ones are one step better than regular magnifying glasses, however, because they have a light source built into them. This means that as you hold the magnifying glass over your reading material the magnifier itself shines a bright light on what you’re looking at. This makes the effect of the magnification much clearer.

The built in light reduces or eliminates the need for extra lamps or lighting in the room when you’re reading. This is very handy as you don’t have to keep moving around to find a good light source.

For example, lets say you picked up a packet of food in your pantry and want to read its label. If you didn’t have a magnifying glass with light in it you would have to carry that packet of food over to a brighter area of your kitchen such as near a window or lamp.

Battery operated magnifying glasses are fairly economical. They range between about $5 and $100 depending on the quality, size, material, brand, strength etc.

The effective strength of these magnifying glasses ranges between 1.5x and about 20x. This is suitable for people with mild vision loss. They won’t be strong enough for people with moderate to severe vision loss, such as those with advanced macular degeneration or glaucoma.

If this suits your needs then you can find my recommended models of lighted magnifying glasses on this page.


Electronic magnifier

Humanware handheld electronic magnifier on stand reading small print in newspaperElectronic magnifiers are a lot more powerful than battery operated magnifying glasses. They don’t just use glass to distort light – they use a combination of video and software to enhance the image to a much greater extent. This allows the magnification to be much higher – up to 80x on some models. Therefore this is what would be required by someone with moderate vision loss or a more severe vision impairment.

These magnifiers also have other special features, such as being able to increase the contrast, change the colors, and magnify distance viewing. Some models can even read aloud printed material.

Many people assume because these use electronics they must be confusing – like using a computer or mobile tablet – but that’s not the case. This equipment is designed for elderly people with low vision to use, so they are quite straight forward with just a few buttons on them that are big and tactile.

Electronic magnifiers are also known as digital magnifiers, video magnifiers or low vision cctvs.

They come in different sizes – from handheld versions to big 24″ screens that sit on a desk or table.

One of the biggest differences is the price. These range from a couple of hundred dollars for the cheapest electronic magnifier to a few thousand for the best electronic magnifier with speech. While the price is much higher than the magnifying glasses, there isn’t really a fair comparison, because the 2 categories are for different groups of people. The former is for mild vision loss and the latter is for moderate vision loss. People with moderate vision loss are usually very happy that they spent the money to buy an electronic magnifier because it gives them back some of their independence by allowing them to read again.

If this is what you’re after then you can find my recommended models of electronic magnifiers on this page.




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