Compound microscopes are probably what come to mind when you are thinking of a traditional microscope. They are your standard laboratory equipment used for magnifying tiny objects for close inspection and analysis in many different fields of study.
In comparison to stereo microscopes, a good compound microscope is a powerful tool that can achieve much higher magnifications due to its dual lens design.
They’re perfect for looking at samples that are far too small to be seen by the naked eye such as the cells of biological matter, their inner structures as well as the non-biological microstructures of metals, rocks and textiles.
However, much smaller specimens like small proteins and viruses would require the far more powerful electron microscope to see. These microscopes are generally not accessible to the public though due to the need for specialized training to operate them, their expense and size.
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#1 Omax Lab Compound Microscope
The Omax brand is lesser known than some of the bigger names out there, but they offer value for money with good optical quality.
This unit was awarded 2018 Best Compound Microscope and has maintained a good reputation which is reflected in the reviews. If you’re on the lookout for a budget model, this is a great choice.
The Omax M82ES-SC100-LP100 is a package comprising a LED compound binocular microscope with 100 blank glass slides and cover slips, a lens cleaning paper booklet, green color filter and adapter. The microscope has a magnification power of 40x – 2000x and 4 objective lenses (4x, 10x, 40x, and 100x oil immersion), as well as two eyepieces, a WF10x and a WF20x for a more in-depth view of your specimens.
This Omax microscope comes equipped with a good quality mechanical stage, which in our view is an essential component of a good quality microscope. Positioning a glass slide by hand can be both time consuming and messy, but with handy controls in the form of knobs, positioning the slide and homing in on a specific part of the slide becomes straightforward.
The LED illumination is also highly desirable for the modern microscope user, unlike older halogen lighting; LED is much brighter and doesn’t discolor the sample. This is even more appropriate for live samples, especially since LED is cool to the touch and doesn’t generate as much heat as halogen bulbs, which can easily dry out live samples and even kill them.
This is ideal for analyzing, for example, semen motility, or looking at live samples and carrying out a cell count. Analysing blood samples is also easier, for example, a peripheral blood smear, although bear in mind that it is only suitable for brightfield microscopy as its condenser can’t go beyond the 1.25NA Abbe Condenser on the model.
Overall, this model is user-friendly, easy to setup and so is perfect as a gift for students of any age who have a keen interest in science. The bottom line is that this Omax microscope provides a similar standard to those seen in high schools and colleges, yet you could certainly use it in more clinical environments such as microbiology laboratories and veterinary surgeries.
#2 AmScope M150C Microscope
Many people just want an easy to use microscope equipped with the latest features. A great option for those looking for such a microscope is the AmScope microscope, which has a fantastic reputation among novices and professionals alike.
There’s really no need for an over-complicated light microscope for students in an elementary school, junior high school, or high school lab setting who are just learning the ropes.
In fact, an advanced microscope may actually do more harm than good for those just learning the basics of microscopy, where words such as darkfield and phase contrast may cause confusion. Additionally, animal breeders of all varieties may not need an advanced model as a simple light microscope will allow them to analyze fecal smears and carry out semen inspection and the likes of a brightfield compound microscope will probably be wasted as their extra features add no advantage.
This AmScope microscope is ideal for people wanting to do basic light microscopy and can also work well as a veterinary microscope, homeschool microscope, or basic breeder’s microscope.
The condenser is a fixed type, meaning you are unable to alter it or transfer it to a darkfield condenser or phase contrast condenser at a later date. Therefore, this microscope is suitable only as a brightfield microscope – meaning you will see a bright background surrounding your specimen and your specimen illuminated by the light traveling through it. This is ideal for common microscope applications such as cheek cell smears, looking at plants cells and onion cells.
The mechanical stage features two control knobs that allow you to glass slide containing your specimen in both the X and Y directions, providing both precision and control when analyzing your specimen. This is very helpful for teachers and hobbyist who are interested in learning and educating people. Be aware that the images don’t show the mechanical stage.
The AmScope objective lens is achromatic meaning there’s no need to be concerned about color distortion. It provides true color images without any disturbances. The one that we bought was perfectly clean (a few complaints I’ve seen online mention dirty microscopes, this is something I’ve yet to witness). The eyepieces for the B100-MS slot in and out of place without any locking meaning you can use pressurized air to clean down the ocular tube, eyepiece, objective lens and use a simple cleaning cloth – very easy to do.
The quality of the optics is very good for this price range. The lenses themselves are non-plan meaning the objectives are slightly curved so there is a little area that is out of focus in the field of vision. This won’t be picked up by the average student or hobbyist, only the experienced microscope user who has handled many different models. The only reason it was noticed is due to my experience using many microscopes over the years.
The lighting in this microscope is a tungsten bulb, which provides a good amount of illumination, although no dimmer is fitted, so if you planned on being able to modulate the light, this scope isn’t ideal. However, an easy solution to this is to utilize a USB camera instead of an eyepiece to view on the screen and digitally control. Another common concern with a tungsten light source is that it can get quite hot, so caution must be exercised!
In terms of magnification, the B100B-MS has a magnification power ranging from 40x- 2000x. As a result, it comes accompanied with 4x, 10x, 40x, and 100x objectives, and both 10x and 20x eyepiece sets. This means it can provide 40x, 80x, 100x, 200x, 400x, 800x, 1000x, and 2000x power.
This is true since magnification power is a result of eyepiece magnification x objective magnification, therefore, objectoves x10 and then x 20. Although, its worth remembering that 1000x is referred to as “empty magnification” since no additional resolution is resulting via the microscope’s lenses.
Compound Microscope Definition
What makes a compound microscope distinct from other types of microscope is the use of two or more lenses (ocular and eyepiece), a typical magnification ranging from 40X to 1000X, the use of one objective at once and typically the use of transmitted light illumination.
Compound Microscope Diagram
How Does a Compound Microscope Work?
The main defining factor of a compound microscope put simply is that it has at least two convex lenses within its design. One lens is called the ocular lens that is within the eyepiece of the microscope whilst the other lens – called the objective lens, is placed much closer to the specimen.
This lens configuration can grant a magnification of up to 2000x, with most models allowing you to switch between three lenses at different magnifications e.g. e.g 4x, 10x, 40x and 60x until you can focus on the desired location of your sample.
Compound microscopes also have a component called the condenser lens and iris diaphragm, which are essential for regulating how light is directed at the specimen.
In addition, compound microscopes utilize transmitted light illumination (light is passed through the sample). This means that large specimens need to be sliced into smaller components in order for them to be analyzed more effectively.
Check out our guide for a more detailed tutorial on the parts of a microscope. There are some variations, but this will give you a good understanding of the major principles behind most light microscopes.
Choosing a Compound Microscope
When buying a compound microscope you will need to consider whether you want a monocular, binocular or trinocular microscope. In simple terms, this just means a microscope with either one, two or three eyepieces.
How do you know how many eyepieces you will need? There are a few deciding factors:
- Magnification – Monocular microscopes work well up to 1000x magnification. However, if you want to achieve greater magnification you will want to opt for a binocular microscope.
- Ease of use – Many people prefer to use a binocular scope simply because they are more comfortable to use.
- Utility – The majority of monocular options do not feature a mechanical stage that is essential for more complicated investigations. Whereas the majority of binocular scopes do include a stage, therefore this is something worth noting.
Microscope Construction Quality
Having a microscope, which will last, is important because they can be expensive pieces of kit. If you’ve spent a lot of money on this instrument, it is important that it lasts as long as possible and works perfectly.
The durability of a microscope can be affected in numerous ways; such as if the microscope is being used a lot, moved around frequently and the materials that it is made of.
A great way to ensure you are securing a microscope that will last is to buy from a reputable brand with a solid reputation. Much like buying other engineered products, buying from a brand you can trust is always advisable.
This will ensure an ergonomic design that is comfortable, and perhaps most importantly a microscope with amazing optics that will provide a great user experience.
Microscope Optical Quality
There isn’t any point spending your money on a compound microscope if it isn’t as effective as you need it to be. It would be a real waste of money if you bought a microscope that didn’t have the quality you needed to perform a task.
Therefore, make sure you take some time to determine exactly what optics are being offered.
Objective lens – The quality of the lens is fundamental to a microscope, in particular, the quality of the objective lens is paramount.
Second, to this, you will want to consider the quality of the eyepieces. The gold standard for a top-notch objective lens is an achromatic lens – or a color correcting lens. These lenses correct bending light, since different colors have a different refraction, causing the image to curve under the lens.
Eyepieces – For the eyepiece, ensure you opt for a Widefield (WF) or Super Wide Field (SWF) eyepieces. This will ensure easy viewing – the wider the lens the better for viewing is the common rule.
It can be somewhat overwhelming to see all the choices available on the market and you’ll, of course, want to know if you are getting a good value product for your money.
Our top picks above should give you a good overview so that you can make an informed decision on your purchase.
Compound Microscope Uses
Due to their high powered magnification compound microscopes are used in a variety of industries including the medical and scientific industries. Here is an overview of just some of their most common applications:
- Biologists – By having such a powerful magnification medical staff, biomedical science students and science researchers are able to examine specimens or objects at a superior resolution and examine intricate details, which could be missed if a microscope with less magnification was used.
- Forensics – Looking for the faintest of clues to help solve a crime or conclude an investigation often requires the help of a microscope. This includes things like hair, skin and blood analysis.
- Students & Research Scientists – Being able to teach the next generation of medical professionals and allied health professionals often includes the use of microscopy. This enables students to appreciate and gain a deeper understanding behind the theoretical knowledge they’ve been taught.
What is the Difference Between a Compound and a Stereo Microscope?
These are probably the two most common types of microscope and are often referred to as high powered and low powered, respectively.
A compound microscope is typically used for analysing specimens that require a greater magnification, while stereo microscopes are usually used to examine larger samples that require less magnification including insects, bugs and rocks.
- Compound Microscope – Usually a compound microscope has many objective lenses that go from a magnification of 4x-100x. Therefore, if you was to use a 10x eyepiece combined with a 100x objective you could achieve a magnification of 1000x.
- Stereo Microscope – Magnification of stereo-microscopes typically go from 6.5x to 45x, and are termed stereo as they utilize at least two eyepieces, which provide a three-dimensional image of the sample and a greater depth perception.
About the Author
I started MicroscopeSpot to help other people learn everything there is to know about the world of microscopes. From how to use them, to how to maintain and choose one for your intended purpose.
As a parent and scientist (haematology) myself I know the value of honest and practical information. All of the information provided on MicroscopeSpot are genuine, honest opinions that aim to provide guidance to the student, hobbyist and professional.