It’s understandable for someone who is looking to buy a microscope to become quite overwhelmed by the choices and we know this can be quite off-putting.
There are so many factors to take into consideration which may depend on what you are planning to use the microscope for as well as your age and profession or study.
That’s why we have put together this guide so that you can get an overview on what’s available in the market and a look into the type of microscope which fits your needs before you make a purchase.
You don’t have to worry about having any particular background knowledge or have to work in a professional capacity to buy a microscope as they’re so often used by people at home and professionals alike and it’s certainly a great way to encourage and maintain a kid’s interest in the sciences; which is so important in today’s STEM-focused job market.
If you already have your microscope, whether you are a beginner hobbyist or parent of a child and you are not sure exactly what you are doing, head on over to our guides on how to use a microscope and the parts of a microscope to really get acquainted with your new bit of kit.
Low Power vs High Power Microscopes
For the uninitiated, there are two types of microscope: the low power and high power.
- Low Power
Low power microscopes are essentially used to look at larger objects such as rocks, coins, insects, stamps, rocks, soil, fabric weaves, and the like. They are also called “Dissecting” or “Stereo” microscopes. Stereo microscopes have dual eye-pieces and have the capability of magnifying specimen 10x to 50x. In effect, the user can view the object in three-dimensions.
- High Power
High power microscopes on the other hand are used to look at things that are way too small for the naked eye to see. Examples include blood cells, bacteria and tissue. Also called compound microscopes, high power microscopes are able to magnify objects up to 1000x.
Although both are useful for the applications they were designed for, high power microscopes are more popular not only to professionals, but to hobbyists and children as well. This can be attributed to the fact that “invisible” things can be observed, thus presenting a more exciting experience for the user.
The Importance of the Light Source
What most beginners forget is the source of light in every microscope. A good light source means that one is able to view specimens in a very detailed manner, with clearer and better image quality.
Microscopes available in the market today typically have a built-in light source, although a common entry level microscope might use a mirror in order to outsource light from the environment. Those with illumination fresh out of the box may have halogen bulbs, fluorescent, tungsten, or LED. Tungsten systems are more affordable than the fluorescent bulb, but the latter heats up less and is significantly brighter.
The majority of modern light microscopes contain halogen lighting, since it produces a strong, white light and usually comes with a rheostat to allow the light levels to be altered with ease.
Fluorescent microscopes are typically found in highly specialised scopes that are used for molecular and biological research. Thee help the researchers observe fluorsecent tags such as fluorophores commonly used in research.
- LED – Portable Microscopes
Light Emitting Diode systems on the other hand provide multiple advantages and are by far the latest technology in microscope illumination. While, LED microscopes eat less power and heat up less. A LED microscope can also be cordless, since these microscopes can be powered with batteries.
Digital microscopes can be either be stereo or compound. What puts the digital variety up on the pedestal is their ability to capture both still and video images. The captured images can be displayed in an external monitor after observation. In some schools, digital microscopes with built-in LCD screens are becoming a favorite among students and teachers. The reason for which lies in the fact that images are automatically seen onscreen, which makes sharing information easier and faster, providing an interactive, learning experience.
Recommended Low Power Microscopes
My First Lab Ultimate Microscope – Although technically not a “stereo” microscope, this option is capable of 40x, 100x and 400x magnification power. It features cool LED illumination and a rechargeable power pack. It also comes packed with a 15 pc Accessory Kit, and can be easily used on XP, vista and windows 10 operating systems!
OMAX 20X- 40X-80X Dual LED Stereo Binocular Microscope – This one comes with a built-in LED light source. This OMAX scope provides 20X, 40X, 80X magnification and can be used with different eyepieces to adjust the magnification. This microscope is also a dual power, cordless and can be powered with 3 AA batteries, which means that it can be used in the outdoor fields. In addition, the USB digital imaging system captures still microscope images and live video on computer.
National Optical 420 – The 420 has 10X eyepieces so you can view specimens at 10X-40X magnification. This is an industrial grade zoom microscope with a halogen top and fluorescent bottom illumination. Other auxiliary lenses are available to view objects at 120X.
- Stereo zoom microscope for inspection and dissection creates three-dimensional images within a continuous magnification range of 10x to 40x
- 1x to 4x zoom objective provides low magnification and longer focal length for inspecting large-scale specimens
AmScope Zoom Microscope – Both top and bottom lights in this microscope are LED powered with zoom options at 3.5x-90x. Using other eyepieces and auxiliary eye lenses will adjust this model’s magnification. It also comes equipped with a stereo zoom microscope with double-arm boom stand.
- WH10x20mm eyepieces, 30mm, one pair
- 0.5x Barlow lens
- 2.0x Barlow lens
- 0.7x-4.5x zoom objective
- Four-zone LED ring light (LED-144A)
AmScope Digital Professional Trinocular, StereoZoom Microscope – This is a professional grade microscope equipped with a sturdy pillar stand, digital zoom and interchangeable pairs of 10x and 20x super-widefield high-eyepoint eyepieces. The USB 2.0 allows the output to capture or display still or video images on a computer or projector. This model is a common sight in universities and other industrial settings.
- 0.7x-4.5x zoom objective
- 0.5x Barlow lens
- 2.0x Barlow lens
- 144-bulb LED ring light with power supply (LED-144S)
- 10MP digital camera (MU1000)
- 0.5x reduction lens
- USB 2.0 cable
- Software CD
- Eye guards, one pair
- Stage clips, one pair
- Dust cover
Recommended High Power Microscopes
F1 – The F1 is the perfect microscope for elementary school students. It has powered by LED and can be used cordless. The F1 is encased in a metal frame and is available at 40x, 100x, and 400x. It measures about 12 inches tall.
MDS1 – This microscope is slightly bigger at 13 inches, and includes a 10x and 16x eyepiece. Its light source is also LED and is capable of running using batteries. Magnification options are at 40X, 64X, 100X, 160X, 400X and 640X.
Amscope 40X- 2500X LED Lab Compound Microscope – The objectives in this advanced microscope is able to magnify specimen at 2500x. This model is commonly used in middle school and by high school students for its ease of use albeit being high-powered. This AmScope is available at 40x, 100x, 400x, 1000x and 2500x magnifications.
- LED illumination
- Color filter, blue
- Immersion oil, one bottle
- Dust cover
AmScope SE400-Z Professional Binocular Microscope – This binocular microscope is a best seller, and this AmScope model has a built-in mechanical stage. Previous versions of this model have one piece. It comes with magnification up to 1000x and LED illumination.
- 1x objective
- (2) Eye guards
- LED light
- Dust cover
- Power cord
Radical Professional Research Asbestos Polarizing PLM Microscope – This microscope is perfect for research as it has fine focusing and coaxial coarse, LED lamp with dimmer, and has four powers. It is built with Infinity Corrected Optics that is able to provide binocular vision. A third tube is also available for the user to place a camera on. This is ideal for Geology, Petrology, Mineralogy and Phramachueticals.
- Rotatable Polarizer & Analyzer with Bertrand Lens
- Quarter Wave and Full Wave compensator
- Objectives: Strain FREE P4x, P10x, P40x Spring Loaded. Dispersion 10x
- Koehler Illumination: 20W halogen
- Eyepieces: WF 10x, 10x with Cross & 10x with Micrometer
Which Microscope Should You Choose?
Given the numerous options one could go for, your decision depends on where and how you intend to use it, essentially. However, although a low power microscope serves its purpose, what would be a more enjoyable experience is for a first-time buyer to purchase a high power microscope. This would also ensure you could enjoy your microscope far into the future as you continue your learning journey.
Having established the fact that the resolution and magnification power is much better in compound microscopes, this is a good enough reason to opt for one over a stereo-microscope. Even children can benefit greatly from such endeavour, since it provides them with a learning experience on a whole new level, which is bound to leave them with a lasting mark and passion for science. More to the point, compound microscopes are usually the instrument preferred by most schools.
The above mentioned models are recommendations for first-time buyers. It should be noted that there are still a hundred or more models of stereo and compound microscopes that one can choose from. The real choice is all yours to make.