Compound microscopes are 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 scopes are generally not accessible to the public though due to the need for specialized training to operate them, their expense and size.
What Makes a Compound Microscope?
As you probably know there are a number of different types of microscope for a variety of reasons 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 is within the eyepiece of the microscope whilst the other lens, 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 until you can focus on the desired location of your sample.
What Should I Look For In 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.
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.
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.
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 below should give you a good overview so that you can make an informed decision on your purchase.
Our Top Picks
Omax 40X-2000X Lab LED Binocular Compound Microscope
Magnification: 40x – 2000x
Light: Adjustable LED
Viewing Head: Binocular
Adjustability: 45 degrees inclined/360 degrees swivel
The Omax brand is lesser known than some of the bigger names out there, but they offer value for money with fairly decent optical quality. This unit in particular overall have good user reviews, so if you’re on the lookout for a budget model, it will certainly suffice.
The CS-MD82ES10 is a LED compound microscope equipped with a camera, enabling you to look at the specimens in detail and keep a record of them on file. Similar to other microscopes within this price range, this Omax model is accompanied with a magnification power of 40x – 2000x and 4 objective lenses (4x, 10x, 40x, and 100x oil immersion), as well as two eyepieces (10x standard and 20x for a more in-depth view of your specimens).
The bottom line is that this Omax microscope provides a similar standard to those seen in high schools and colleges, yet, optical microscopes don’t really exceed these magnification powers, so you could certainly use it in more clinical environments, for instance, microbiology laboratories have been known to use them as well as veterinary surgeries.
The Omax digital 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 times 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 don’t generate as much heat as halogen bulbs, which can easily dry out live samples and even kill them. This is ideal for analyzing 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.
The Omax digital microscope is also fitted with a camera, which does put it above many other models in the same price range and is ultimately the reason it has been added to our list. A lot of other brands of microscopes offer only modular cameras, meaning you must attain the correct resolution camera, then work out how to mount it onto your microscope (if it does at all). You then also have a camera on your eyepiece, obstructing the use of the eyepiece – it’s either the camera or the eyepiece. The Omax is a truly digital microscope and is equipped with a USB port on the exterior of the head, so you simply need to plug it in and connect it to your MAC or PC. 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.
AmScope M150C Microscope
Magnification: 40x – 1000x
Light: Adjustable LED
Viewing Head: Trinocular
Adjustability: 45 degrees inclined/360 degrees swivel
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 overcomplicated light microscope for students since those in an elementary school, junior high school, or high school lab setting 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.
Why Choose A Compound Microscope?
A compound microscope is generally used in medicine and science to achieve and maximize the results. This microscope is specialist because it allows a higher magnification than other types of microscope. By having such a powerful magnification, specialists can examine specimens or objects at a superior quality and examine intricate details, which could be missed if a microscope with less magnification was used. These small details can be vitally important, so making sure you have the microscope capable of reaching these details is essential in many cases.
Buying a compound microscope is usually important to those who need a higher quality of magnification. Biologists, Forensic Scientists, Medicine – these are the types of occupation who will need a compound microscope. Due to compound microscopes being so effective, they tend to be more expensive so isn’t ultimately recommended for beginners.
Compound vs Stereo Microscope
These are probably the two most common types of microscope and are 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 including insects, bugs and rocks.
- Compound – 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 – Magnification of stereo-microscopes 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.