If you find it difficult to read letters, newspapers, books, recipes, or labels easily, consider using a magnifier to enlarge the print. Before purchasing a magnifier consider the magnification and size of the lens, generally a larger magnifier will have lower magnification and a high powered magnifier will have a small lens. Higher magnification magnifiers tend to show you less of what you are looking at, perhaps only a word or few letters at a time.1,2 Several types of magnifier are available:
Handheld magnifiers may be round, square or rectangular and some have a battery operated light. If you have reduced grip or shaky hands then handheld magnifiers may not be appropriate as they need to be held steady. If possible try the magnifier before purchase.
When using a magnifier if you hold a magnifier too close or too far away from the book/item the writing will look blurred. To find the correct distance hold the magnifier near to the page and then move it away until the print becomes focused and clear. To limit light reflecting on the lens, and to maximise the magnified area, place your eye closer to the lens whilst still keeping the magnifier the appropriate distance from the page.1
Magnifiers for use directly over a subject
These have a small stand and maintain a fixed distance from the book/object. The stands may make them ideal if you have reduced grip or shaky hands.
Magnifiers with a cord that can be worn round the neck and Magnifiers which attach to spectacles or a headband
These will free your hands to hold a book, do crafts or other tasks. Some spectacle mounted lenses are designed so they can flip away from the eyes when not in use.
Keeping all magnifiers clean and protected from scratches is important in maximising and maintaining clarity.
Video magnifiers consist of a camera which magnifies an image onto a display screen which may be part of the video magnifier or an attached television or computer screen. There are several different types of video magnifier as listed below. Most models have controls for the adjustment of contrast and magnification to suit the user although the different types vary considerably in their magnification range.3,4 The magnified image may be black and white or colour depending on the model. Most models can display white text on a black background (preferred by many users) as well as the usual black text on a white background.5
Video magnifiers can be an expensive investment. If you have not used them before we recommend you try similar models first before purchase. You can obtain further advice from the RNIB and may wish to visit one of their regional centres to try this equipment.
Pocket handheld video magnifiers
These provide a magnified image on an integrated screen. Most offer a choice of contrast modes and may also enable image capture so you can view the magnified image without having to keep the magnifier on the original image. Some models have the option of attachment to a monitor or television screen.
The magnification range for these magnifiers tends to be limited (roughly 2-10x) relative to desktop video magnifiers. The RNIB state that as a rough guide if you require text sizes of over 1.8 cm high (72 point) it is unlikely that a pocket or portable video magnifier will display enough characters on its screen for you to read and a TV or PC connecting magnifier
or desktop magnifier
may be more suitable.3
Portable video magnifiers
These are portable, but NOT pocket sized, CCTV camera systems supplied with a screen providing users with a magnified image. The screen and camera may be separate units connected by a cable. The camera may be similar in shape to a computer mouse, is placed on the original image and can be moved across the paper or object while the magnified image appears on the screen. The size of screen is significant as with higher magnification the amount of text that displays on a screen will reduce yet a larger screen size will reduce portability. The magnification range for these cameras tends to be limited relative to desktop video magnifiers. The above RNIB rough guide to text size when considering the suitability of pocket video magnifiers also applies to these pocket magnifiers.
Video magnifiers requiring connection to TV or PC
These video magnifiers provide users with a magnified image when connected to a television or PC screen. They usually consist of a handheld camera, similar in shape to a computer mouse, that rests on the original image and can be moved across the paper or object, or may resemble a desktop lamp the head of which contains the camera and can be angled to sit above the document. The video magnifier systems that link to a PC may allow the magnified image to be shared with computer content. This feature may be referred to as "screen sharing" or "split-screen" capability. The magnification range for these cameras depends on the size of television / PC screen that the image is displayed on.
Desktop video magnifiers
These are self contained systems with the camera and screen combined in one unit, they are desktop mounted and not designed to be portable. Printed material is placed on a reading table, on most models the table can be moved left and right, and backwards and forwards. The camera may be mounted at the side or below the monitor above the reading table or on a multi-adjustable arm. The magnification range offered varies considerably between models but is usually considerably greater (4-50x) than that provided by the systems which connect to a TV.3,4
If you will be reading for significant time periods a desktop video magnifier may be the most suitable as they can display several words on the monitor at the same time. They may also be suitable for writing as there is room for writing under the camera.4
For help choosing the right magnification device consult a low vision service. Contact your local social services department or the RNIB Helpline 0303 123 9999 email firstname.lastname@example.org, or use their find an organisation database to locate a voluntary group near you.
For more information visit the RNIB's magnifier page or the Partially sighted society www.partsight.org.uk
Advice last checked: 09 October 2014 Next check due: 09 October 2017
All advice is either supported by references (cited in the text) or is based upon peer reviewed professional opinion. Our advice is impartial and not influenced by sponsors or product suppliers listed on the site.
Conflict of interest statement
Evidence type: 2