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Lumin Turns Your iPhone into an Illuminated Magnifier

My eyes aren’t terrible, at least if I’m wearing the corrective lenses that fix my massive myopia. But there are plenty of times when I need to read something that’s too small to make out in the current lighting conditions — a serial number on the back of a device, a restaurant menu in dim lighting, the details on some piece under the car dashboard. I’ve become fond of my Petzl Tikka 2 head lamp for throwing bright light on whatever I’m working on, but I can’t go out in public with LEDs glaring from my forehead, and even then, it doesn’t help with things that are too small to see well.

The deceptively simple solution for such situations is Mahboud Zabetian’s $1.99 iOS app Lumin. It performs two basic tasks: magnification and illumination, but when you combine them on an iPhone, you end up with a device that can help anyone whose eyes aren’t what they used to be.

Lumin uses your iOS device’s camera to display a magnified image of whatever you point it at. Most of the time you’ll want to use the higher-resolution rear-facing camera, but you can switch to the front-facing camera (to make sure you don’t have lettuce in your teeth). Lumin’s magnification goes beyond what the Camera app allows, perhaps because Lumin’s goal is just to let you read something, rather than stressing about whether or not it would be a good photo. And if you want to magnify even further, the normal pinch-to-zoom feature of the iPhone works fine.

If you’re using an iPhone 4 or 4S, a tap on an onscreen button turns the flash into a little LED flashlight, illuminating whatever you’re looking at. There’s nothing new here — Apple is rejecting flashlight apps because there are too many in the App Store already — but being able to shine a constant light on small print in a dark area is way easier than using the flash normally, when it’s on only for the instant the picture is being taken.

In most situations, you’ll use Lumin in real time as a live magnifying glass. But when you want to transcribe a serial number or look at something carefully, a tap on Lumin’s lock button freezes the image. You can even pinch to zoom further, if the magnification level of the frozen image isn’t sufficient. The image sticks around until you tap the lock button again, unless you instead use the share button to save it to the Camera Roll, share it via email, or post it to Twitter. And when you’re saving a picture to the Camera Roll, Lumin gives you the option of saving the magnified image, the original unmagnified photo, or both.

The only problem I had with Lumin is that because of the extreme magnification level in the camera, holding the iPhone steady long enough for Lumin to focus sometimes proved tricky. You won’t want to use it for reading a bunch of stock prices from the newspaper, for instance, unless you could make a little stand that would hold it steady at the right distance from the page. Having to tap the on-screen lock button was also difficult in some situations; it would be great if Lumin could freeze the image when the volume up button was pressed, as the Camera app can do in iOS 5.

You’d be hard pressed to find a normal illuminated magnifying glass for less than $5 (most I found were in the $20-and-up range), much less one that can take photos and is always in your pocket or purse. So if you find yourself wishing small things weren’t so hard to see, give Lumin a try.


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Comments about Lumin Turns Your iPhone into an Illuminated Magnifier
(Comments are closed.)

Joseph Goldberger  2012-01-04 13:34
PERFECT. I can’t read menus or the bills in dark restaurant light. Always have to give it to someone at the same table or the waiter to read it to me.
Phil Miller  2012-01-04 13:38
I have been using this and it is indeed just wonderful. I presume that correcting for the movement could be done just the way that many high end cameras (or their lenses) will remove shake.
Matt Neuburg  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-01-04 18:48
I can't believe I didn't *think* of this app myself! Great idea. I'm heading over to the iTunes Store right now...
I've done the same basic thing with just the camera app for a while. I will pinch in on what I want and just snap a picture. Sometimes I have to take two, but that's fine. I've used this to get serial numbers and part numbers off routers, computers, and other small objects. When I'm done, I simply delete the photo (this last is why I don't use PhotoStream, photos are forever).
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-01-05 06:12
Yes, I did the same thing in the past, but I found Lumin's combination of greater magnification and always-on flash more useful than the plain Camera app.
I've used this to find my glasses when I've mislaid them or the cats knocked them off what I set them on.

Yes, i'm that blind.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-01-05 14:10
Since I've been fighting with a failing furnace system all week, I've been using Lumin regularly to read details on zone controller valves, blower motors, and other bits and pieces of the system. Really useful.
Neil Barstow  2012-01-10 03:30
Adam, It sounds great, I wonder, though, if it does more than the free i-beam Magnifying Glass (lite) - a New York Times App of the Week (10/21/2009) which also has a stabiliser (maybe that's in the paid version) from ?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-01-10 05:59
From what I can tell, Magnifying Glass Lite is massively cluttered with controls and ads, so while I'm sure it does the same basic task, I suspect it would be more frustrating to use than Lumin.