The Loupe, by Megan Friedel
The loupe is a thing of simple, beautiful functionality. Want to see what the street sign says in that photo of the 1964 Alaska earthquake in Anchorage? Use a loupe. Need to see the detail in a 35mm color slide? Use a loupe. Can’t decipher whether the cramped hand-writing in that tiny diary says 1961 or 1981? Use a loupe.
A loupe is a small, magnifying hand lens. It’s a bit handier (excuse the pun) than your standard magnifying glass, as loupes tend to come in a slightly higher degree of magnification than a magnifying glass. Photographers who still work with film like loupes for their portability, price (they can be quite cheap), and ease of use for reviewing slides on a light table. Archivists use them for the same thing — as well as all the other creative uses I mentioned earlier. Higher-quality loupes are used in dentistry, watchmaking, jewelery-making, geology, tattooing — any profession that requires fine precision of detail at a micro level. And I bet you too probably had a loupe in your junk drawer when you were little, maybe with a tiny box attached to it in which you could put leaves, pine needles, or pieces of dirt to marvel over the the bug’s eye view.
My stand-by loupe isn’t anything fancy. It’s completely made of plastic, with a simple, round lens that magnifies at 10x. I prefer a round loupe to the rectangular or the square, as they are more adaptable for diverse materials. I keep one on my desk at work and another on my desk at home. The one at work gets put to use regularly when I’m processing slide collections, so I can pick out details like where and when the image was taken or who is in it — or just ogle at the dense, rich beauty of Kodachrome magnified just an inch or two away from my eye. The thrill of magnifying something doesn’t wane, whether you’re 4 or 34.