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Magnifiers for the Partially Sighted (Low Vision Aids)

LVA - Low Vision aids, powerful reading magnifiers

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Contents

Introduction
Tips About Magnification
Advice on Lighting
Macular Degeneration
Readers Under £20.00
Binocular Magnifiers
Choosing Magnification
More Reading
Related Articles

Introduction

This article is about lenses, there is another article about video magnifiers, click here.

By partially sighted (or visually impaired) I mean that the user has difficulty reading ordinary text, as opposed to watchmakers, engineers, jewellers, gemmologists etc who work with items that are too small for any normal-sighted person.

These magnifiers are also suitable for anyone who doesn't like to use their reading spectacles or who cannot read clearly even with their reading spectacles. Fascinating Fact (according to my optician): most people who wear vari-focal lenses (also known as progressive lenses) can't use them for reading.

When choosing a lens magnifier, as a guide to magnification (for reading text): 1.2X to 2X is what you should be choosing as 'just a bit of help' when reading. If your eye sight is very bad, go for 3X to 4X. But once you get to about 5X you will only able to see one or two words at a time, even with the best lens made for the partially sighted. HOWEVER, there are many partially sighted people who need greater magnification, and the solution is to use a video magnifier. You can then make the text as large as you like, until one word fits the entire screen. The sizes of the screen vary; there are handheld models (from the size of a large matchbox to the size of a large tablet-computer) and there are desk models (the largest has a 22 inch monitor, i.e. you could zoom in until one word fills the entire screen).

Tips About Magnification

With a lens there is a rule. If you want to see a wide area, the lens will be large, you will hold it a few inches away from the object, and the magnification will be low. If you want high magnification, the reading area will be small (covering maybe two or three words at a time, maybe two or three letters at a time), you will have to hold the lens close to the object and the lens size will be small. This is not a choice, this is how lenses work. For a full explanation see my article about magnification. If you want a large reading area and high magnification, go for a video magnifier.

Secondly, don't get obsessed about magnification, using a low magnification of high quality is easier than a higher magnification of poor quality. Click here to see an example of a 3X magnifier (this one is a Schweizer 3X70). Keep that window open on your computer. Now click here to see an example of a cheap 5X magnifier (this one is a Russian 5X). Now compare the two. Don't just look at the magnification, look at the distortion (the 5X is quite wavy around the edges), look at the contrast (the 3X is blacker and sharper), imagine moving the magnifier along a line of text (the 5X will make you feel seasick).

Advice on Lighting

Lighting is all-important, you must have bright daylight, or good diffuse overhead lighting, or an adjustable light that you can point at the object - then simply choose any good quality reading magnifier.

If you are using an adjustable light, spend a few minutes working out how to position the light.

This applies both to small magnifiers (a small magnifier must be held very close to the object) and large magnifiers (a large magnifier must be held further away).

Click on each photograph to enlarge:

In these pictures you see a small magnifier (held close to the item). You must shine the light onto the page and hold the magnifier away from the direct light, as shown in the top picture. The actual light fitting doesn't have to be underneath the magnifier (it will get in the way) but you must angle it so that the light is pointing under the magnifier.

Do not position the light as shown in the bottom picture, with the light shining directly onto the top of the magnifier, all you will see is reflections.

The same applies to this large magnifier, though you can, if there is room, position the light underneath the magnifier.

Macular Degeneration

We get many enquiries about whether these are suitable for those with macular degeneration. It depends. If the ‘blank spots’ are on the edge of your field of vision, the brain will ‘stitch together’ the fragments of vision, the TV picture will make sense, a magnifier might make all the difference. However, if there’s a large ‘blank spot’ in centre of the field of vision (i.e. looking straight ahead) then no magnifier will help. There’s no harm in trying these, if they are unsuitable simply return them within 14 days. My only tip is: if your optician has already told you that no magnifier will help, then perhaps give this one a miss.

We have dozens of cheap magnifiers, they start at £1.80, click here (6 categories) - but if you ask me if these 'cheapies' are suitable for he partially sighted I'd say 'no'.

When people say to me, "I've tried lots of magnifiers and I just can't find one that works for me", there are two possible reasons. Either no magnifier will help (if you have macular degeneration, please ask your optician for advice before buying a magnifier) - or it's because these customers simply refuse to pay a sensible amount of money for a decent magnifier.

Readers Under £20.00

These are my top three recommendations for low-cost magnifiers that might be suitable for the partially-sighted:

Without a light, Russian 5X50, it's incredibly powerful for a relatively large lens, it really is 50mm diameter, it really is 5X magnification, but the image is quite wobbly around the edges. Or with a light, 80X80mm with 4 L.E.D. lights, square lens, four LED lights, and the lens is on a hinge so that it can be tilted; it's certainly not the best and it's not lightweight, but between the lens (which is quite OK, it gives a reasonably crisp image) and the lights (which are good) it's a good low-cost option.

For a really large lens that will show most of the page, either the large hand magnifier, lightweight without a light (extraordinarily lightweight), or the 2X130, largest hand magnifier with light with a light. If your criteria is that you want something as lightweight as possible (for prolonged reading) then go for one without a light (scroll up to see how best to use a light).

For a magnifier that rests on the page and is quite powerful, the standard rest-on-page dome magnifier with light. Ingenious design, you press the top of the magnifier lightly to activate the light. This one is really good value, I've now seen it on sale in the high street for exactly twice my price.

What you get for this price is a very sharp (clear) and bright (high-contrast) image, and the image is bright and sharp to the very edge of the lens, and the lenses are carefully designed to give the maximum magnification for the size. The photos with each item (when you click on the links) include an example of the image you see through the lens. These photos have not been enhanced, the magnification and clarity you see in the photos really is what you see through the lens.

I have four recommendations in this category:

Absolutely the largest and brightest (for seeing the largest area without having to move the magnifier) is the Schweizer 3X70 on a stand, it might seem expensive but the usual retail price is £149.00, our price is £97.50.

They say the Eschenbach Powerlux is the most powerful you can get for the size of the lens, - though the lens isn't that large. If you really are struggling to read (and perhaps you've tried several 'cheaper' magnifiers) then this one should work for you.

For the best combination of amazing quality and good price, my favourite is the Schweizer series of hand magnifiers with lights, their clever design enables them to be held in the hand or to rest on the page. For instance, the Schweizer 3X70, if you click here you can see an example of some print viewed through the lens. This is a real photograph, the view through the lens has not been enhanced, the magnification and clarity in the picture is exactly what you will see in real life.

 These are small, obviously - small enough to fit comfortably in a small pocket. On the one hand, I would say these aren't good enough for anyone with a severe eye problem. On the other hand, if you want something 'for emergency' for reading the label on a tin in a supermarket, checking the small print on a form in the bank, or if you find yourself faced with a menu in a restaurant and no way of reading it - then go for it.

My choice would be the folding magnifier, round, in soft case (because it's small and flat and feels comfortable in the pocket, with its soft case).

Mains-powered

If you are going to leave a magnifier plugged in and have no need to move it or carry it around, and providing you have room, then these are quite a good choice - though they are not specifically designed for the partially sighted.

In this category I have three recommendations

The mainsmag-ob, magnifier with built in table lamp is quite large (the size of a large table lamp) but the lens is large enough to see most of a page at a time.

There is a smaller version, mainsmag mains powered magnifier. If you're only reading newspaper columns (rather than books) and don't mind having to angle the lens carefully, and are working to a budget, then this one is certainly worth a try.

Binocular Magnifiers

The TV spectacles are half way between a magnifier and binoculars, they focus at a few feet away, for watching TV. On the assumption that your eyesight will be quite bad and you will already be wearing glasses, these clip to your glasses.

I use one of these at a photographic society when they have competitions, showing prints. Each print is displayed at the front of the hall and inspected by a judge who peers at each one very closely. For us in the audience it's wellnigh impossible to see them, they are just too far away. I do sell binoculars, and a small high quality 3X or 5X binocular would work, but there's no way I'm going to sit there holding a binocular. These binocular magnifiers aren't too large , they're the perfect magnification, and the quality is so good that I can see every detail in the photograph.

VIDEO MAGNIFIERS

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Choosing Magnification

When choosing a lens magnifier, as a guide to magnification (for reading text): 1.2X to 2X is what you should be choosing as 'just a bit of help' when reading. If your eye sight is very bad, go for 3X to 4X. But once you get to about 5X you really are only able to see one or two words at a time, even with the best lens made for the partially sighted. HOWEVER, there are many partially sighted people who need greater magnification, and the solution is to use a screen (monitor) and video camera. You can then make the text as large as you like, until one word fits the entire screen.

More Reading

There is another article, all about video magnifiers, click here to see it.

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