Good Hope, Heartlands, and Solihull Eye Clinics

Poor vision: magnification

Jayne Kempster, David Kinshuck, Bruce Fisher

Principles of Magnifiers

magnification and reading


More words can be seen at one time with weak magnification. But if your sight is poor and you need stronger magnification, reading will be much slower.

Tthe larger the size of the magnifier, the lower the magnification, and the quicker it is to read. More words can be seen at one time.

The higher the magnification, the smaller the lens, and also the field of view ismuch smaller, making it much slower and more difficlut to read. Very few worsds can be seen at one time.


Field of view with high and low power magnifying glasses

using a magnifying glass


magnifying galass field of vision

With most magnifiers the field of view can be made wider ...seeing more letters for instance... by holding the object or book closer. This can make your arms or neck ache.



Holding things close to read can be awkward and tiring, especially if a magnifying glass is needed, but more words come into view.

using a magnifying glass

magnifying galass field of vision



It is often more comfortable holding the magnifying glass further away, even if fewer words are seen.


Good lighting

an anglepoise light helps reading

An anglepoise light is often essential for reading

Reading with a good light helps. The light needs a reflector so the light shines on the book, not into your eyes. A strong light on the ceiling is not particularly helpful. A light with a reflector, angled on to the book is much more helpful.

The light needs to be positioned so there is no glare, reflection, or shadows. If the magnifier is not internally illuminated, a reading light is usually better than a central light hanging down from the ceiling. This is like reading with daylight behind you, but not very bright like sunlight.

Some of the magnifiers described here have built in illumination. This can make them larger and more cumbersome, but the extra light can make reading much easier.



Magnifiers, often called magnifying glasses, fall into several categories. They can be either

  1. Spectacle mounted
  2. Held in the hand
  3. Hung around the neck so hands are free.

They can have a light inside or on the outside; some are provided with a stand to keep the magnifier still to help produce a large still image. RNIB pagesRNIB resource centre


Use the good eye

With magnification it is hard to use both eyes together because your nose gets in the way. So with more magnification, put the lens in front of your best eye. If you use the right eye only for instance, hold the the object directly in front of your right eye. When you use both eyes hold the object in front of your nose.


Is it tiring?

Holding a book or sewing 5-6" (15cm) away from the eyes becomes extremely tiring. If you use a "ribbon sling" your hands care supported and it can be more comfortable. This is a piece of ribbon or scarfthat is tied in a loop.

reading avoiding tired arms

Tie the ribbon, and thread each hand through the loops. This takes the weight off your arms and and keeps the right  working distance. You need to experiment to find the correct length of ribbon.


Hobbies & Interests

different hobbies need different magnificationphotocopy to enlarge piano music


Different tasks require different degrees of magnification, and also different types of magnifier. It is therefore important that your optometrist knows what you need to do and what your hobbies are.

If you have an unusual hobby, show your optometrist how you like to work. Your optometrist must know the 'working distance': this is the distance from the eyes to the book, newspaper, painting, piano music, or sewing held in your hands etc.

Stand Magnifiers

If magnification more than 2 x is required, then hand held magnifiers are usually more useful. Stand magnifiers that are have a light inside (like a map reader with a light inside) should be used with standard reading glasses. Sometimes it is helpful to move the book rather than the magnifier.

reading with fixed distance magnifier

A small stand magnifier suitable for reading a telephone directory or bill. This one has a 'high magnification', but remember only a few words will be visible at one time. These usually give the best results when held near your reading spectacles, and resting it on whatever you are reading.

reading with a stand magnifier glass

A stand magnifier suitable for reading a letter. This one has a 'low magnification', so many words are visible at one time, but the letters may not be large enough for everyone to read.


How to use a  magnifier

small stand magnifier

An small fixed distance magnifier that is easy to carry around. Good lighting is needed.


There are a many way of using a hand held magnifier, whether illuminated or not. There are no particular rules, but lighting is critical, even with an internal light.

As mentioned, if you have one good eye, even if one eye was dominant when you were younger, it is important that you hold things in front of your better eye. This may mean changing habits of a lifetime, which can be very frustrating.






electric magnifier

An illuminated fixed magnifier, with batteries or a transformer that will plug in. These are very popular.

electric magnifier close up

A close up picture











electric magnifier

An illuminated fixed magnifier, with batteries or a transformer that will plug in. These are very popular.


electric magnifier close up

close up







a small desk magnifying glasss

An illuminated fixed magnifier, with batteries or a transformer that will plug in. These are very popular.


small stand magnifier

close up













Large supported magnifier .....floor or wall mounted

large stand illuminated magnifier, floor mounted


An illuminated magnifying glass on a stand resting on the floor.

These are expensive but very useful for sewing, hobbies or reading for many people. The sewing is held about 5" (12cm) behind.

using a large stand magnifier with its own light


These are very easy to use.








Spectacle aids

spectacle magnifiers

There are many different types of spectacle aid. They have to be fitted by a specialist Low Vision optometrist or expert. Some use one eye, some use both eyes.

Some newer devices use a type of television camera and are electronic and very expensive. If you are aged 85 years, you may not be able to get used to such a device. If you are younger they can be extremely effective.



These can be helpful for distance sight, perhaps seeing a lecturer.


a monocular magnifierusing a monocular magnifier

Monocular telescopes may help in and out of the house. Use with the good eye.


Good lighting is essential

Ergo office products

An anglepoise type light is very effective


This is discussed in detail. When reading, the light should come from behind. A very bright room light may not be is better to have a light shining from behind, like an angelpoise light.

These can be very expensive. It would be best to borrow one from a friend and try it out before buying, or ask you low vision specialist to show you them.

For walking round the house, good lighting helps, but should not be too bright.

Electronic Aids

As with everything electronic, there are new versions each month, and they are getting cheaper. You really need expert advice from a low vision expert, and there are departments in most eye clinics and and many optometrists can help.


Computerised screen readers

Again, there are new versions each month, and they are getting cheaper.

Suppliers of magnifiers