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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 May 2010 Issue  Volume 11  Number 2

Product Reviews

Lighting Up Your World: A Closer Look at Illuminated Magnifiers, Part 2

If traditional eyeglasses or contact lenses do not provide enough visual correction for a person to read printed material, he or she or a family member or friend will often purchase a magnifier. However, there is a good bit to consider when selecting a magnifier, and without a proper clinical, low-vision eye examination and guidance, few actually get the magnifier best suited to their needs.

In this two-part series, AccessWorld reports on the findings from a study of illuminated magnifiers conducted by AFB TECH. The study incorporates laboratory research and data collected from experts in the field of low vision. This project is being undertaken to provide relevant information to the increasing number of people with vision loss who are looking to acquire an illuminated magnifier. This information will enable consumers to become much better informed about these devices, and with the assistance of their professional eye care team, select the magnifier best suited to their vision needs.

The first article in this series discussed the importance of a clinical low-vision evaluation and provided background information about characteristics of illuminated magnifiers, including the types of illuminated magnifiers, magnification levels, illumination levels, types of light bulbs, light color, battery life, size of the lens, and weight of the magnifier.

In this second article, we compare the stand and handheld magnifiers from two competing brands of illuminated magnifiers, Mattingly Advantage and LS&S. These two brands were chosen at random, but they are good examples of the many differences that exist among illuminated magnifiers.

The Advantage and LS&S magnifiers are nearly identical to one another in size, shape, and appearance, but the illumination and battery power offered by the two brands differs greatly. This is something that may be difficult for a consumer to realize when comparing magnifiers in a store, when shopping online, or even when in a clinician's office, but it can have an impact on the magnifier's effectiveness. This article will use these two brands to illustrate the point of how magnifiers may look the same, but vary a good deal in actual performance.

Measuring Illuminated Magnifiers

When presented with many choices, it can be difficult to decide which illuminated magnifier is best for you. There is little information available to consumers regarding the differences among magnifiers, such as which magnifier provides the highest level of illumination, which magnifier has the longest battery life, and which provides the largest viewing area.

One purpose of this article is to provide consumers with the information they need to more fully participate in discussions with their eye-care team as to which magnifier best suits their needs. With that goal in mind, we compared hand-held and stand magnifiers currently available for sale by using the following criteria:

  • The amount of light given off by the magnifier (illumination)
  • The color of the light
  • Battery life
  • Magnifier weight and size of the lens

Handheld vs. Stand Magnifiers

Handheld magnifiers are generally lighter and more compact than stand magnifiers as they are meant to be held away from the reading surface. Handheld magnifiers offer greater convenience and portability, but often at a cost to illumination and battery life.

The Advantage handheld illuminated magnifiers

Caption: The Advantage handheld illuminated magnifiers

By comparison, stand magnifiers are meant to be placed directly on the reading surface, and as a result are often heavier and less easy to move. Stand magnifiers usually feature an enclosure around the lens and a light source that many handheld magnifiers do not, which has the effect of making the magnified area much brighter.

The LS&S stand illuminated magnifiers

Caption: The LS&S stand illuminated magnifiers

In addition, they usually use larger batteries, and although larger batteries lead to a heavier and bulkier device, they also extend the battery life of the magnifier. Stand and handheld magnifiers both have their advantages, and it is important for you and your eye care team to consider which of the two types better suits your needs.

LS&S and Advantage Handheld Illuminated Magnifiers

In this article, we examined a sampling of the Mattingly Advantage and LS&S lines of handheld illuminated magnifiers, which included the 5x, 7x, 10x, 12x, and 14x models from both manufacturers, as well as the 3x illuminated magnifier from Advantage. Our measurements and comments for each of these magnifiers can be found below.

Handheld Magnifiers: Illumination

The light provided by illuminated magnifiers can increase the contrast and brightness of the magnified area, making it easier to see. However, while all of these magnifiers can brighten the reading area, the actual amount of useful light provided, or the illumination, can vary wildly from magnifier to magnifier.

The amount of illumination offered by a magnifier is dependent on a number of factors, including the type and strength of the light bulb and the distance between the magnifier and the reading area. When measuring the illumination of these magnifiers, we first determined how far the magnifier needs to be placed from the reading area to be in focus. We then measured the amount of light that passes through the magnifier from that distance. We used a state-of-the-art light meter to measure the illumination in candelas per meter squared (cd/m2), the most widely accepted unit for illumination. In our measurements, we found that the amount of illumination provided by these magnifiers can range from 50 to 5,000 cd/m2.

Across its entire line of magnifiers, Advantage offers noticeably higher illumination over LS&S. The Advantage magnifiers range from 7 to 79 percent brighter than their LS&S counterparts. Both brands have LED light bulbs, but the Advantage magnifiers use a brighter and more powerful LED bulb than LS&S. Unfortunately, this added brightness comes at the cost of a reduced battery life for the Advantage brand.

For both Advantage and LS&S magnifiers, objective measurements showed the 10x magnifier offered the best illumination, with a particularly sharp drop-off in illumination for the lower-level magnifiers. Each magnifier needs to be placed a certain distance away from the reading surface to be in focus, and because of this, the actual illumination offered by different magnifier strengths can vary greatly. For both the LS&S and Advantage magnifiers, the 10x magnifier offered over five times greater illumination than the 5x model.

Handheld Magnifiers: Light Color

Most handheld magnifiers use a bluish-colored LED bulb that provides a very bright light, but can have the effect of giving the viewable surface a slightly blue tint. Of the magnifiers evaluated for this article, the only handheld magnifiers that do not use bluish-colored LED bulbs are the Advantage 5x and 7x, and the LS&S 7x. Those magnifiers use a white-colored LED bulb that generally does not offer the same level of illumination as the bluish version, but that better retain the color of the surface it is used on. You should consult your eye-care team to determine which light color is best for you.

Handheld Magnifiers: Battery Life

Both the Advantage and LS&S magnifiers use three AAA batteries, which are loaded through the battery compartment on the front of the device. Both magnifiers also use LED light bulbs, which can run for hundreds of hours on a regular set of batteries. However, it is very important to understand that as the batteries lose power, the LED bulb becomes weaker and shines less brightly.

The Advantage magnifiers, because of their more powerful light bulbs, go through batteries more quickly than the LS&S magnifiers. After being used for 24 hours, the LS&S magnifiers were at about 75 percent battery strength, whereas the Advantage magnifiers were closer to 65 percent. For best results, we suggest you change the batteries of your magnifier as soon as you notice a drop in illumination, which can occur after just a few hours of use.

Handheld Magnifiers: Weight and Lens Size

The Advantage and LS&S handheld magnifiers are identical to one another in size and shape. At every magnification level, the lens size and magnifier weight are the same.

For both brands, the less powerful magnifiers have the largest lenses and are the heaviest. The 5x magnifier has a lens size of 2.1 inches and a weight of 4 ounces, whereas the 14x magnifier has a lens size of 1.1 inches and a weight of 3.0 ounces. The difference in weight among the magnifiers is fairly small, with only 1 ounce separating the heaviest and lightest magnifiers. However, the difference in lens size is noticeable. If you intend to use your magnifier for extended reading, keep in mind a 1-inch lens may be too small to fit more than a few letters at a time in the magnified field.

LS&S and Advantage Illuminated Stand Magnifiers

We also examined the 3x, 4x, 5x, 6x, 7x, 8x, 10x, 12x, and 14x stand magnifiers from LS&S and Advantage. Our measurements and comments for each of these stand magnifiers can be found below.

Stand Magnifiers: Illumination

Stand magnifiers generally offer more illumination than handheld magnifiers, because of their design and their placement directly against the reading surface. This certainly proved to be the case with these magnifiers. Without exception, the stand magnifiers provided more illumination than the handhelds at every magnification level.

Among the stand magnifiers, again, we found the Advantage line provides significantly more illumination over LS&S. The Advantage stand magnifiers are 10 to 200 percent brighter than the LS&S stand magnifiers. Like the handheld magnifiers, Advantage uses a brighter light bulb that provides more illumination, but at the cost of a shorter battery life than LS&S.

For both the Advantage and LS&S stand magnifiers, the 8x magnifier offered the most illumination, with a noticeable drop-off for both the lower- and higher-level magnifiers. The 8x magnifiers had over three times greater illumination than the 3x models, and twice as much as the 14x.

Stand Magnifiers: Light Color

Unlike the handheld magnifiers, nearly all of which use bluish lights, the light color of the stand magnifiers is divided by brand. All of the LS&S stand magnifiers use bluish LED lights, while all of the Advantage magnifiers use a white LED light. People with low vision respond differently to different color lights, and you should consult with your eye-care team to determine which color light is best for you.

Stand Magnifiers: Battery Life

Both the Advantage and LS&S magnifiers use three AA batteries, which are loaded through the battery compartment on the front of the device. The Advantage magnifiers, because of their more powerful light bulbs, go through batteries more quickly than the LS&S magnifiers. After being used for 24 hours, the LS&S stand magnifiers were at about 82 percent battery strength, whereas the Advantage magnifiers were closer to 77 percent. For all illuminated magnifiers, we strongly suggest changing the batteries as soon as you notice a drop in illumination.

Stand Magnifiers: Weight and Lens Size

Like the handheld magnifiers, the Advantage and LS&S stand magnifiers are identical to one another in size and shape. For both brands, the less powerful magnifiers offer the largest lenses and are the heaviest magnifiers. The 4x magnifier has a lens size of 2.6 inches and a weight of 8.4 ounces, compared with the 14x magnifier, which has a lens size of 1.1 inches and a weight of 6 ounces

Weight is a bigger issue with stand magnifiers, as the stand magnifiers weigh about twice as much as handhelds. Even though stand magnifiers are meant to rest on a surface, the added weight is noticeable when moving the magnifier around the page. The difference in lens size is also very noticeable, as the 1.1 inch lens for the 12x and 14x magnifiers makes them difficult to use for extended reading.

The Bottom Line

Once the best magnification level and magnifier type (handheld or stand) are determined for your situation, you may want to ask your eye-care team questions about illumination, battery life, light color, weight of the magnifier, and size of the magnified field, in addition to those concerning price, warranty information, and return policy.

The Advantage magnifiers offer more illumination, but they also go through batteries faster than the LS&S brand. Also, nearly all of the LS&S magnifiers use bluish LED lights, whereas Advantage magnifiers use a mix of white and bluish lights. If you keep these issues in mind when shopping for magnifiers, you should be able to find a magnifier that fits your needs comfortably.

Results

Manufacturer     Type     Magnification
        Level
    Lens Size
    (inches)
    Weight
    (ounces)
    Illumination
        (cd/m2)
    Battery Strength
    (after 24 hours of
        use, %)
    Light Bulb
        Type
    Light Color
LS&S Handheld         5x         2.1         4.0         249         72         LED         Bluish
LS&S Handheld         7x         1.8         3.7         1,020         73         LED         White
LS&S Handheld         10x         1.3         3.1         2,100         73         LED         Bluish
LS&S Handheld         12x         1.1         3.0         1,900         75         LED         Bluish
LS&S Handheld         14x         1.1         3.0         1,680         75         LED         Bluish
Advantage Handheld         3x         2 by 3         5.1         59.5         65         LED         Bluish
Advantage Handheld         5x         2.1         4.0         445         66         LED         White
Advantage Handheld         7x         1.8         3.7         1,330         66         LED         White
Advantage Handheld         10x         1.3         3.1         2,600         65         LED         Bluish
Advantage Handheld         12x         1.1         3.0         2,270         66         LED         Bluish
Advantage Handheld         14x         1.1         3.0         1,798         66         LED         Bluish
LS&S Stand         3x         3 by 4         13.9         1,002         82         LED         Bluish
LS&S Stand         4x         2.6         8.4         1,660         82         LED         Bluish
LS&S Stand         5x         2.2         7.4         1,130         82         LED         Bluish
LS&S Stand         6x         2.0         7.4         1,340         82         LED         Bluish
LS&S Stand         7x         1.8         6.9         1,980         82         LED         Bluish
LS&S Stand         8x         1.4         5.8         3,310         82         LED         Bluish
LS&S Stand         10x         1.3         5.8         1,580         82         LED         Bluish
LS&S Stand         12x         1.1         6.1         1,060         81         LED         Bluish
LS&S Stand         14x         1.1         6.0         990         81         LED         Bluish
Advantage Stand         3x         3 by 4         13.9         1,465         77         LED         White
Advantage Stand         4x         2.6         8.4         1,850         78         LED         White
Advantage Stand         5x         2.2         7.4         2,270         78         LED         White
Advantage Stand         6x         2.0         7.5         2,400         79         LED         White
Advantage Stand         7x         1.8         6.9         2,700         78         LED         White
Advantage Stand         8x         1.4         5.8         4,900         78         LED         White
Advantage Stand         10x         1.3         5.8         4,840         76         LED         White
Advantage Stand         12x         1.1         6.1         2,440         77         LED         White
Advantage Stand         14x         1.1         6.0         2,450         76         LED         White

Object reference not set to an instance of an object.

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Copyright © 2010 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved. AccessWorld is a trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.

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