5 Rules of buying a microscope


Rule 1: Be weary about “department store” microscopes

Enthusiasts who want to pick up the hobby frequently encounter their first microscopes in department stores and toy shops. If you are serious about microscopy as a hobby, then I have to disadvise you from purchasing these devices. Microscopes are precision technical instruments and the low cost of toy microscopes simply does not allow them to keep up with the demands of the more serious enthusiast. The resolution of the optics is lower. Stability can also be an isue. It’s better to invest a bit more. You have to contact a retailer which is specialized for microscopes and who sells microscopes to hospitals, schools or research organizations.

Rule 2: Consider carefully if you want a stereo microscope or a compound microscope

Consider your areas of applications. Do you want to observe large or opaque specimens (stereo microscope) or are you more interested in observing small, transparent objects (compound microscope). If you want to do microscopy work with young children, then I would recommend stereo microscopes. See the other post for more info: Which Microscope for Children?. Compound microscopes allow you to observe much smaller specimens, but require you to engage in sample preparation (unless you purchase ready-made specimens).

Rule 3: The magnification is one of the least important criteria

Resolution, stability, extensibility, light intensity etc. also play a significant role. Get the big picture and look at the whole device. Do not get bogged down simply on magnification. Getting a high magnification is the easiest thing to achieve. Simply add a stronger eyepiece, or take a picture and enlarge it on the monitor. Magnification without resolution is meaningless. And a shaky plastic microscope will produce such an unsteady picture that you won’t be able to see much anyway.

Rule 4: Go for standards

Make sure that the microscope has exchangeable objective lenses manufactured according to the “160mm” standard. In this case you have a wide selection of different objectives available from different manufacturers. Infinity corrected optics are an alternative, but there is no universal standard. Some microscopes are not modular in design (“closed system”) and it is not possible to exchange parts later on. When choosing the microscope make sure that you also consider possible future interests and uses.

Rule 5: Consider your current interests

Microscopy does not have to be an entirely new hobby, it can also be a valuable extension of one of your existing pastimes. You may want to evaluate your current hobbies to see which type of microscope fits best.

  • Choose a stereo microscope if you are collecting stamps, minerals, rocks, coins, trading cards, smaller antiquities, insects or other objects that are small enough to be placed directly on the stage. Also choose a stereo microscope if younger children should have access to the device.
  • Choose a compound microscope of you are keeping a home aquarium, if you want to make specimen preparation (microtoming, staining, etc.) as part of your hobby.

13 thoughts on “5 Rules of buying a microscope”

  1. Better is relative. It is the cost/benefit ratio. But if you want to have a good quality band, then you must go for the “Big Four”: Olympus, Nikon, Zeiss, Leica. You will pay significantly more, but the service and scope quality is also great. You need to contact these companies directly, as they do not sell over retailers.

  2. There are many low cost USB microscopes around. Check Amazon. A compound microscope will not be suitable for you (thick specimen). The USB microscopes are essentially magnifying lenses with built in camera and lighting.

  3. 1000x ia enough. everything above is empty magnification as the Resolution is not high enough in light microscopes.

  4. will I be able to do wet mount, KOH to look for bacteria, fungi with compound microscope? Is 1000x enough or should I go for 2500x. is halogen good enough, what quality condenser do I need? Any other advice including brands to particular type would be appreciated. Thank you,

  5. In water, crystals are dissolved and not visible…. You need a microscope and can place the crystals between 2 polarizing filters. Both stereo microscopes and compound microscopes work.

  6. I’m looking for a microscope to view crystals in water? What and where should I buy? Thank you

  7. i want to study characters of some viruses and cells.
    so which microscope will be good for me

    Viruses can only be seen with electron microscopes (expensive, much education needed, complex sample preparation). Cells can be seen with compound microscopes. What are your intentions? Do you have specific requirements or are you interested in microsccopy as a hobby? Cells can be seen with pretty much any compound microscope.

  8. i want to study characters of some viruses and cells.
    so which microscope will be good for me

  9. I would also say it’s best to take some time and shop around. There are a lot of name brand microscopes that will provide excellent service, but the are also horribly expensive and difficult to keep maintained. Spend some time on boards like this and then be prepared to spend at least $500.00. I got incredibly lucky, Ken-A-Vision T-1903 for $75.00 off of Ebay. Does everything that this student needs and more.

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