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If you’re hankering to get into bugs or botany, the kit you require is cheap and easy to use. Richard Jones tests the best hand lenses on the market.
After a notebook and pencil, the most important piece of equipment for a field naturalist is a hand lens. If you see a bird in the distance, you can at least try to sneak up on it for a better look, but when you’ve got a small, mystery beetle in the palm of your hand, you can only focus your eye so close. There is nothing more frustrating than being unable to tell if your beetle is the smooth or hairy-legged variety – but with just a simple lens, everything becomes clear.
When choosing a hand lens, don’t be tempted by too high a magnification. Unless you want to count the antennal segments of an ant, x8 or x10 is fine. For ease of use (and mind), choose something robust and keep it on a cord around your neck or attached through a buttonhole.
To use a hand lens, hold the magnifier right up to your eye, then move your specimen towards it – perhaps to just a few centimetres away – until the creature appears in focus. Do make sure that you use your lens whenever you are out in the field, and not just when you come across something new.
Naturalists become very attached to their lenses, and if one goes missing, it’s like losing an old friend. Indeed, so accustomed do you grow to a particular model that it can be quite tricky to use somebody else’s – there are so many different designs, all with various magnifications, optical qualities and focal lengths. But one thing is certain – whether you are looking at insects, spiders, flowers, leaves, lichens, sticks or stones, a hand lens will take you into a whole new world of close-up, and reveal a startling and bizarre beauty not visible to even the keenest of naked eyes.