The successful investigation of photosensitive and dynamic biological events, such as those in a proliferating tissue or a dividing cell, requires non-intervening high-speed imaging techniques. Electrically tunable lenses (ETLs) are liquid lenses possessing shape-changing capabilities that enable rapid axial shifts of the focal plane, in turn achieving acquisition speeds within the millisecond regime. These human-eye-inspired liquid lenses can enable fast focusing and have been applied in a variety of cell biology studies. Here, we review the history, opportunities and challenges underpinning the use of cost-effective high-speed ETLs. Although other, more expensive solutions for three-dimensional imaging in the millisecond regime are available, ETLs continue to be a powerful, yet inexpensive, contender for live-cell microscopy.