There are many types of microscopes available for both the professional and the hobbyist and each one has variations in the way they work and therefore what they are used for.
Like all light microscopes, the stereo microscopes utilizes photons or light to illuminate the specimen, however it has other distinct differences.
The main defining feature of a stereo microscope is that it has two independent optical paths, which provides both depth perception and three-dimensional views.
Today stereo microscope are used in a variety of industries and for activities including watch repair, circuit repair as well as many other things that require both low magnification and 3D visualization.
Quick Picks: Best Stereo Microscopes Compared[table id=2 responsive=scroll /]
*All links above will take you to the latest prices on Amazon.com, or you can read our in-depth stereo microscope reviews below.
#1 AmScope Binocular Stereo Microscope
- Magnification: 60x
- Light: 80 Bulb LED Ring
- Size: 1.45″ x 1.37″ x 0.59″
This binocular microscope has been popular for a number of years now. It comes equipped with all the essential features for a intuitive and well-optimized experience.
For instance, you are getting a binocular viewing head with interchangeable pairs of 10x and 20x widefield eyepieces as well as a 1x objective which provides low magnification and longer focal length – perfect for inspecting large-scale specimens.
To make things even easier it also comes equipped with an adjustable gooseneck LED light to give you the ability to focus light exactly where required.
In our opinion, this is one the best stereo microscope models currently available and has an incredibly reasonable price tag considering the array of features.
#2 Celestron 44202 Advanced
- Magnification: 60x-75x
- Light: Top & Bottom LED
- Size: 1.25″ x 3.25″ x 0.75″
Another contender that is well worth mentioning is the 44202 model, which is a relatively advanced microscope by Celestron.
Besides a brand with a big reputation is always an advantage when investing in such a sophisticated tool.
However, the main reason this microscope made it on our list is due to its 20x power and 40x power and 360° rotatable binocular head, which makes it far more adaptable than it’s rivals.
Another major factor people often overlook when choosing a microscope is how delicate lenses are, that’s why this one having fully coated glass optics is such a big deal.
It’s crucial your lenses are scratch and dust resistant as this type of damage can render a microscope practically useless, thus the lenses being coated is a major safeguard to the longevity of your microscope.
#3 AmScope Stereo Zoom Microscope
- Magnification: 3.5x-45x
- Light: 64 Bulb LED Ring
- Size: 5.1″ x 8.4″ x 3.2″
The SM-1BSX-64S Professional Binocular Stereo Zoom Microscope by AM scope comes with a robust pillar stand enabling you to work with large objects.
This is fantastic for those of you who work with variable electronic or mechanical gadgets.
Your subject will be illuminated by a 64 bulb LED light ring that is also detachable. You have the ability to precisely control the intensity of the light and switch to a cool light mode for subjects which are light or temperature sensitive.
Additionally the stage plate can be reversed which allows you to switch between a white or black background. This can help provide contrast and a better perspective on certain samples.
The stage clips are large, easy to manoeuvre and don’t bend easily so you don’t have to worry about being as rough with them as you do on cheaper microscope models.
What Is A Stereo Microscope?
To most people a stereomicroscopes is just like any other, and they probably wouldn’t be able to distinguish one from any other kind of light microscope, yet there are some key differences in the way they function and what they are used for.
A dissecting microscope, also referred to as a stereo microscope is distinct from other types of microscopes for three main reasons:
- It utilizes incident light illumination (light reflected off the surface of the specimen is observed) as opposed to light passing straight through the sample (transmitted light illumination).
- It’s used for low magnification only.
- It provides three-dimensional visualization.
Compound vs Stereo Microscope? What is the Difference?
The major difference between compound and stereo microscopes is the optical path. Compound microscopes utilize transmitted light illumination (light is passed through the sample).
Compound microscopes provide a single optical path, meaning the same image can be viewed through the eyepiece using either the left or right eye. Unlike stereo microscopes, compound scopes are used to observe objects under a very high magnification – which can range from 40x to 1000x or more.
On the other hand, stereo microscopes, also referred to as dissecting or zoom stereo microscopes are used to observe objects at a lower magnification. Stereo microscopes also rely on incident light illumination (light is reflected off the surface of the object).
They also have two independent light paths and eyepieces meaning different axis of an object can be analyzed at the same time. This key difference provides it with two very useful features – depth perception and 3D visualization.
As mentioned, stereo microscopes are typically lower power than compound models, with magnification ranging from 0.6x to 4.5x.
These differences also make them both useful for two very different kinds of observation. For instance, compound microscopes are typically used to view specimens such as bacteria and plant cells, while stereo microscopes are typically used to analyze larger objects such as electronic components, coins and jewelry.
How Do Stereo Microscopes Work?
A stereoscopic microscope works by utilizing two unique optical paths as opposed to just one, this is achieved with the use of two objective lens and two eyepieces that provide varying views of the sample at different angles.
The lighting is reflected from a source or incident (top lighting), resulting in light being reflected off the surface of the specimen as opposed to being passed through the sample, providing great visualization of the sample surface.
As they only provide a low magnification yet yield a 3D image it makes them great for certain activities.
For example they are commonly used for dissecting, hence the name dissecting microscope. They are also used to work with other intricate structures that do not require significant magnification, for instance watch making and repair, jewelry and microsurgery.
A very common misconception is that it is a binocular compound microscope, but it is not.
History Of The Stereo Microscope
In 1645 the very first primitive stereo microscope was designed by a monk called Antonius Maria de Rheita, and the principle of stereoscopic vision was first defined in 1832 by English physicist Charles Wheatstone.
In 1853 the first binocular microscope was unveiled by John Leonhard Riddel, this was able to provide the first three-dimensional image, yet it was reversed (pseudoscopic).
In 1890 Horatio S. Greenough presented the first design principle which is still used to this day and used to create most optical equipment.
In 1957 the stereomicroscope was modernized by the American Optical Company who introduced the first shared main objective.
What Should You Look For in a Stereo Microscope?
There is a lot of choice and exactly which one you select is usually determined by your requirements and budget. However there are some key features you should familiarize yourself with so you understand exactly what’s on offer, some of these include:
Zoom Magnification – Microscopes with fixed magnification are the most basic type and as a result are the least expensive.
Fixed basically describes microscopes that don’t have the capacity to zoom in on specimens, instead you will simply have to adjust the magnification lens (objective lens). These microscopes are still very useful, yet for a little more you can easily secure one with the ability to conveniently zoom in on specimens.
Optimal Illumination – Lighting does not only need to be bright enough, but be adjustable so that any small raised surfaces on the subject does not cast shadows onto itself.
Having an adjustable light intensity also helps as the heat and light can effect certain specimens, especially live ones. This is especially important because your observations with a stereo microscope relies on incident light illumination as described above.
Greenough Principle – Microscopes based on the original Greenough principle are thought to be the best available. These microscopes have all of the most desired features including the ability to zoom, as well as high magnification and superb stereo imaging. A great example of this is the Zeiss Stemi Stereo Microscopes as seen here on Amazon.
These are typically preferred by professionals carrying out frequent and demanding activities, such as dissecting biological specimens. Still, compared to many microscopes, these are relatively inexpensive and simple to use.
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.