New here! Questions about the Big Four

Everything relating to microscopy hardware: Objectives, eyepieces, lamps and more.
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Geode
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New here! Questions about the Big Four

#1 Post by Geode » Tue Aug 11, 2020 5:35 pm

Hey everyone!

I'm new to the forum and am very excited about purchasing my first microscope!
I've been doing research for a couple of months now and have learned a lot, but still have many questions. The main one is... Which scope do I actually get?!

I'm located in South Florida (Fort Lauderdale) and have been in contact with a few dealers in the area.. they've been somewhat difficult to get a hold of, since there aren't any stores that sell scopes here.
I managed to get a demo at a local scope service shop, and they only have the Zeiss Primostar for me to see. It was great, but its limited customization left me weary of making the purchase.

I'll be using my scope for educational, research, and leisure (imaging for online). I'm currently enrolled in a soil biology course and will need a scope with the attached minimum requirements.
I'm personally looking to go above and beyond these (within my budget) so that I can have enough flexibility to last me a few years in experimentation. My max budget is around $3,000. Although, I'll gladly spend way less if I can.
I've been inspired by several online pages (like Journey to the Microcosmos/Jam's Germs), and want to get similar quality footage to both study and post online.
My samples will mainly be diluted soil and aerobically composted samples, which I'll need to do bacterial counts on (At 400x). Also, I'll be observing all the critters in the soil food web (fungi, actinobaterial, protozoa, nematodes (need to be able to ID "mouth" the type [bacterial feeder, fungi, predatory], microarthropods, etc.)

I haven't been able to demo any other scopes, although I may be demoing the Labomed Lx400 and Leica DM750 soon.
My main/optional needs are as follows:

- Possibly swap out the 100x for an oil-less objective over 40x- All plan objectives (or higher)
- Phase contrast objectives(at least for the 40x) 
- Iris diaphragm and condenser focus knob are necessary (for full-Kohler illumination - for my course)
- Trinocular or integrated camera. High frame rate filming at a good resolution, capable of realtime HDMI connection to a screen (my laptop also has a mini-HDMI port if needed)
- Possibility for future upgrades (turret condenser, imaging upgrades, polarization, etc.)
- Both eyepieces need to be adjustable for diopter adjustment (poor eyesight in my right eye - can't use glasses though).

A main concern of mine is the imaging. Initially, before having to invest in a camera, I wanted to use my phone with a Swift adapter. That option needs an eyepiece and it seems most of the big four aren't designed the have that added to the trinocular/phototube (and I want to be able to simultaneously use the binoculars for direct observation). Almost every review I see online (and the forum) about dedicated microscope cameras is not promising, although all the sales reps tell me they're great. Am I missing something here??

Also, I know DIC is a major conversation and I've gone over several posts (such as this one: viewtopic.php?f=4&t=8368&p=72960&hilit= ... c50#p72960) that talk about scopes in a similar range to what I'm considering.
I keep seeing the recommendations to get a used scope but feel that I don't know enough to make a good judgment on them.

I know, this is a lot to take in... you can just imagine how my brain feels after these months of research!
I am not set on any of these brands/models, so any advice/alternatives are much appreciated! Thanks!!!
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BramHuntingNematodes
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Re: New here! Questions about the Big Four

#2 Post by BramHuntingNematodes » Tue Aug 11, 2020 5:48 pm

I think new DIC is too much of a stretch for that budget but phase is useful for looking at nematode heads.

If you want to do some afocal imaging with your cellphone I have had some luck just sticking an eyepiece into the trinocular port and hoping for the best. You could give it a try and if it works ok shop around for a used eyepiece for maybe $30-40. That's definitely a cheap option. Photography seems to be an area where a lot of practical experimentation is the only route to good results and every scope has got its little quirks.

I bet somebody'll drop by with some links to a guide for buying a new scope. Seeing as how you'll be using this for a class rather than as a hobby to work on when it suits you that's likely a good route.
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Geode
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Re: New here! Questions about the Big Four

#3 Post by Geode » Tue Aug 11, 2020 5:56 pm

BramHuntingNematodes wrote:
Tue Aug 11, 2020 5:48 pm
I think new DIC is too much of a stretch for that budget but phase is useful for looking at nematode heads.

If you want to do some afocal imaging with your cellphone I have had some luck just sticking an eyepiece into the trinocular port and hoping for the best. You could give it a try and if it works ok shop around for a used eyepiece for maybe $30-40. That's definitely a cheap option. Photography seems to be an area where a lot of practical experimentation is the only route to good results and every scope has got its little quirks.

I bet somebody'll drop by with some links to a guide for buying a new scope. Seeing as how you'll be using this for a class rather than as a hobby to work on when it suits you that's likely a good route.
Thanks! Yes, DIC with that budget is definitely not happening haha! But wondering if there are any scopes with the potential for that upgrade too.

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Re: New here! Questions about the Big Four

#4 Post by PeteM » Wed Aug 12, 2020 1:12 am

I'd urge you to consider doing a bit more homework and considering a used "big four" microscope in good condition. For $3000 you're likely to get a new Chinese scope of decent quality, but not easily or affordably expandable to better objectives and likely not DIC at all. It sounds like you hope to go deeply into this hobby and that new scope will be a dead end, worth about 1/3rd of what you paid new when it comes time to sell.

Around $1000 should get you a fine Olympus BH2, Nikon Labophot, Leitz, or Zeiss Standard scope with phase contrast. $2000 could get you into something like an Olympus BX40 or Leica DMLS/DMLB, or maybe a Nikon Eclipse. $3000 begins to get you in DIC territory.

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Re: New here! Questions about the Big Four

#5 Post by Geode » Wed Aug 12, 2020 6:48 pm

PeteM wrote:
Wed Aug 12, 2020 1:12 am
I'd urge you to consider doing a bit more homework and considering a used "big four" microscope in good condition. For $3000 you're likely to get a new Chinese scope of decent quality, but not easily or affordably expandable to better objectives and likely not DIC at all. It sounds like you hope to go deeply into this hobby and that new scope will be a dead end, worth about 1/3rd of what you paid new when it comes time to sell.

Around $1000 should get you a fine Olympus BH2, Nikon Labophot, Leitz, or Zeiss Standard scope with phase contrast. $2000 could get you into something like an Olympus BX40 or Leica DMLS/DMLB, or maybe a Nikon Eclipse. $3000 begins to get you in DIC territory.
Hey Peter, thanks for the advice.
I'm totally open to getting used, it makes a lot of sense, but ebay is intimidating; and with hardly any actual experience, it's been daunting.
I'm currently speaking to someone from MicroscopesAndMore.com, they said they have a BA301E that is used (for trade shows, and has been in storage for a while). If I am able to demo that specific one and feel comfortable with the quality, I think that will help.

I will look into the models you mentioned too. Again, there are so many lines and models, with no clarity on the brand websites about their "age". Is the the Olympus BH2 a newer or older model than the BX40, say. I assume new models are relatively "better" (considering overall microscope technology is 50-100 years old)?
I may be totally off the mark here, excuse my ignorance. I'm still learning.

Thanks again!

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Re: New here! Questions about the Big Four

#6 Post by PeteM » Wed Aug 12, 2020 8:17 pm

The BH2 is an older model than the BX series but still excellent. The newer BX series makes it easier to add lots of accessories, but costs more even used and doesn't offer much of a gain in image quality.

Send me a PM once you have enough posts and I can email you a PDF guide to various brands and models of microscopes.

The BA310 is OK. With Plan Achro objectives and a trinocular head you might find one on Ebay for under $500 (maybe a bit more if phase) and from a dealer for $1000 or so.

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Re: New here! Questions about the Big Four

#7 Post by Sir » Thu Aug 13, 2020 12:51 pm

While we got this topic going, I'd also like to know why the big four are widely considered better than Motic with regards to buying new microscopes? I frequently see others mention that buying from the big four would be better, but haven't seen anyone provide any visual comparisons. From my (admittedly anecdotal) observations, the videos I frequently see on YouTube taken with a Motic BA310 have exceedingly better quality than a lot of videos I see from big four scopes in a similar price range. Motic also sells a BA410E with PlanApo objectives, and the images that come from these appear to be very good.

It seems like Motic also makes it very easy to find their prices and configure their microscopes when compared to the big four, which for some reason is always a lot of work to find. As someone who is new to this hobby I'm still using an AmScope, but when I do learn enough to warrant an upgrade Motic seems like a far more appealing choice. I'd go as far as saying they might just be on par with the big four. Forgive my ignorance on the topic, but am I missing something here?

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Re: New here! Questions about the Big Four

#8 Post by Geode » Thu Aug 13, 2020 1:00 pm

Sir wrote:
Thu Aug 13, 2020 12:51 pm
While we got this topic going, I'd also like to know why the big four are widely considered better than Motic with regards to buying new microscopes? I frequently see others mention that buying from the big four would be better, but haven't seen anyone provide any visual comparisons. From my (admittedly anecdotal) observations, the videos I frequently see on YouTube taken with a Motic BA310 have exceedingly better quality than a lot of videos I see from big four scopes in a similar price range. Motic also sells a BA410E with PlanApo objectives, and the images that come from these appear to be very good.

It seems like Motic also makes it very easy to find their prices and configure their microscopes when compared to the big four, which for some reason is always a lot of work to find. As someone who is new to this hobby I'm still using an AmScope, but when I do learn enough to warrant an upgrade Motic seems like a far more appealing choice. I'd go as far as saying they might just be on par with the big four. Forgive my ignorance on the topic, but am I missing something here?
My thoughts exactly :?
With little hands-on experience, I'm taking people's work on the Big Four at this time.

Would anyone else like to weigh in?

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Re: New here! Questions about the Big Four

#9 Post by BramHuntingNematodes » Thu Aug 13, 2020 1:34 pm

It was my understanding that the big four don't offer microscopes in the Motic price range-- if they do I wouldn't be surprised if you got a little more bang for your buck with the Motic. YOu wouldn't be paying the premium for a prestigious or famous brand.
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Re: New here! Questions about the Big Four

#10 Post by 75RR » Thu Aug 13, 2020 1:54 pm

When forum members recommend buying one of the 'big four' + microscopes they are inevitably talking used.

The reason they recommend them is that, depending of course on its condition and setup, one can purchase a microscope for a fraction of what they originally cost, and they cost thousands in their day.

In a nutshell ... a lot more bang for your buck!
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Re: New here! Questions about the Big Four

#11 Post by Hobbyst46 » Thu Aug 13, 2020 2:17 pm

And not necessarily only the "big 4". There are 2nd hand quality microscopes from other brands too.
The "big 4" mostly target at institutes and businesses, rather than the individual and hobbyist market, so one has to specifically request a quotation.
Those highly expensive "big 4" microscopes found their way (after 20-60+ years of service in laboratories/clinics) into the 2nd hand market, so, if the mechanics and optics are in good shape, they are as good as new (well, almost).
People rely on previous experience, and apparently, there is not enough user information and reviews about Motic.
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Re: New here! Questions about the Big Four

#12 Post by PeteM » Thu Aug 13, 2020 3:36 pm

Sir wrote:
Thu Aug 13, 2020 12:51 pm
While we got this topic going, I'd also like to know why the big four are widely considered better than Motic with regards to buying new microscopes? . . .
It really depends on your situation:

If you're buying a new scope, price for price Motic could be an excellent option. They make a range of microscopes from low priced to a bit better (e.g. the Motic 310) to mid range (say, the Motirc 400 series with Plan Fluor objectives). A Motic might well be a better choice - new - than one of the new "Big Four." Indeed, at the lower end of the name brand range the scopes will also likely be made in China or another lower wage cost country. The new "Big Four" scopes under $2000 or so probably aren't that great a deal compared to Motic or the many other Chinese-built and variously named scopes that compete with it.

if you want the most scope for your money
, then a used (but excellent condition) professional scopes from Leitz, Lecia, Nikon, Olympus, Reichert, Zeiss (and also many other brands) can be your best value. Easily twice the scope for the money. Compared to a sub-$2000 new microscope they may have a much better mechanical build. For example, very fine and precise fine focus for focus stacking, greater rigidity, and quality that might last a century or more with proper care and maintenance. But they will also require a big more knowledge in buying to make sure they are complete and in good condition. Many scopes will have had a weakness - now known - which needs to be checked. For example, some excellent Nikon microscopes used a plastic gear which was prone to abuse and needs to be checked. The repair is fairly cheap and easy, but not for someone unaccustomed to a bit of DIY work. At almost every price point, from a stereo microscope for a kid to a serious hobbyist microscope capable of pro-level work and excellent photos, a used scope can be the best option IF you do your homework and take a bit of care in the purchase.

If you plan to ever use advanced methods, such as high magnification darkfield (needs a special condenser), the best objectives (plan fluor, plan apo, water dipping, BV/DF, long working distance, etc.), or special techniques (polarization, phase contrast, DIC, Hoffman Modulation contrast, fluorescence, etc.) then one of the newer Chinese scopes (for example, Motic, AccuSocpe, high end AmScope etc.) will have a limited range. Most will offer a phase contrast option but not much more. On the other hand a "system" microscope will have all those optons available used - sometimes at a very steep discount to new prices even if they were available. Sometimes available but not so cheap (e.g. DIC). In addition the used pro scopes will have features like bright lamps, removable nosepieces, magnification changers, polarization stages and setups, multiple condenser types and so on that make it easier to tinker with various options yourself. Finally, if of fairly recent vintage (say 1970's and beyond) it may have better optics - wider fields of view, more even illumination, and superior objectives. A mid-range Chinese scope can be excellent through simple polarization, low power darkfield, and phase contrast with somewhat typical plan achro and maybe plan fluor objectives. It's likely to prove a dead end beyond that.

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Re: New here! Questions about the Big Four

#13 Post by 75RR » Thu Aug 13, 2020 3:44 pm

People rely on previous experience, and apparently, there is not enough user information and reviews about Motic.
One actually gets quite a few hits on Motic on a forum search

Here is one on the BA400 which gives a positive review, only problem is the cost!

viewtopic.php?f=5&t=9952&p=84741&hilit#p84741
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Re: New here! Questions about the Big Four

#14 Post by Geode » Thu Aug 13, 2020 5:04 pm

Thank you everyone for the replies and discussion.
Every enlightening!

I'm definitely leaning towards used, it just makes a lot of sense.
One thing I forgot to add is portability, I do plan to travel with my scope, so getting a massive "systems" scopes is a bit superfluous for my current needs.
I'm looking for a more standard upright compound scope, with good durability for transportation.

With this in mind, where does one look for used scopes? Is it mainly eBay?

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Re: New here! Questions about the Big Four

#15 Post by PeteM » Thu Aug 13, 2020 5:37 pm

Geode wrote:
Thu Aug 13, 2020 5:04 pm
. .. One thing I forgot to add is portability, I do plan to travel with my scope, so getting a massive "systems" scopes is a bit superfluous for my current needs.
I'm looking for a more standard upright compound scope, with good durability for transportation.

With this in mind, where does one look for used scopes? Is it mainly eBay?

The desire for both portability and the ability to take great photos is a bit of a contradiction. Sort of like wanting a compact car that's easy to park and a pickup truck for heavier lifting. Good news is that you budget could easily support great used scopes for both applications.

There have been several forum discussions of field microscopes. You might also be well served by a reasonably compact microscope in a good travel case. Something like an older Olympus CH with long barrel objectives or a Zeiss Standard could be happily carried in a car and used wherever you found a table. If retrofitted with LED, they wouldn't even need power. Under $500 should get you something very good. MIght want to stay in the same brand family so objectives could swap to a larger stand? Though several here have multiple scopes and brands.

The heavier systems scopes with OEM photo arrangements (ex 35mm camera, now DSLR, cell phone, USB etc. camera) will do a better job with pictures and videos. $1000 get get you something pretty spectacular, with the option of future upgrades to polarization, reflected light, high power darkfield condensers, etc.

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Re: New here! Questions about the Big Four

#16 Post by Geode » Thu Aug 13, 2020 6:01 pm

PeteM wrote:
Thu Aug 13, 2020 5:37 pm
Geode wrote:
Thu Aug 13, 2020 5:04 pm
. .. One thing I forgot to add is portability, I do plan to travel with my scope, so getting a massive "systems" scopes is a bit superfluous for my current needs.
I'm looking for a more standard upright compound scope, with good durability for transportation.

With this in mind, where does one look for used scopes? Is it mainly eBay?

The desire for both portability and the ability to take great photos is a bit of a contradiction. Sort of like wanting a compact car that's easy to park and a pickup truck for heavier lifting. Good news is that you budget could easily support great used scopes for both applications.

There have been several forum discussions of field microscopes. You might also be well served by a reasonably compact microscope in a good travel case. Something like an older Olympus CH with long barrel objectives or a Zeiss Standard could be happily carried in a car and used wherever you found a table. If retrofitted with LED, they wouldn't even need power. Under $500 should get you something very good. MIght want to stay in the same brand family so objectives could swap to a larger stand? Though several here have multiple scopes and brands.

The heavier systems scopes with OEM photo arrangements (ex 35mm camera, now DSLR, cell phone, USB etc. camera) will do a better job with pictures and videos. $1000 get get you something pretty spectacular, with the option of future upgrades to polarization, reflected light, high power darkfield condensers, etc.
Thanks, Pete.

The concerns about portability and photography are warranted. I would probably not be photographing while on the move. Although figuring out a way to mount the phone to the phototube for easier on-the-move shots/filming isn't out of the question. I found someone on a facebook group who said he could 3D print me an adapter in addition to any supplemental optics.
At this point my research has taken me down so many rabbit holes, I'm growing weary of the constant reading with no access to any of the scopes to try in South Florida. So I'm not so concerned about the photography aspect of it at the moment.

Again, so many folks have told me that a $3,000 budget is very generous, but everything I see on ebay is at that price and way beyond (and most are 30-40+ year old scopes - not even "modern" per say).
So, I'll keep looking.. I'm now considering going with a used LW scientific or Labomed perhaps. Those seem to be cheaper on ebay. The search continues!

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Re: New here! Questions about the Big Four

#17 Post by PeteM » Thu Aug 13, 2020 6:16 pm

I wouldn't spend more than a couple hundred for the typical used LW Scientific or Labomed (having had both); maybe $300 with free shipping if it had a trinocular head. They're not bad - but a bit of patience could get you something that's built better, with better optics.

Is phase contrast important or desirable for soil biology?
Last edited by PeteM on Thu Aug 13, 2020 6:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: New here! Questions about the Big Four

#18 Post by BramHuntingNematodes » Thu Aug 13, 2020 6:17 pm

Maybe uh look harder this took me like 30 seconds to find
https://www.ebay.com/itm/NIKON-ECLIPSE- ... 0064!US!-1
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Re: New here! Questions about the Big Four

#19 Post by PeteM » Thu Aug 13, 2020 6:20 pm

BramHuntingNematodes wrote:
Thu Aug 13, 2020 6:17 pm
Maybe uh look harder this took me like 30 seconds to find
https://www.ebay.com/itm/NIKON-ECLIPSE- ... 0064!US!-1
The Eclipse is a nice scope. Only drawbacks with that one are that it's massive (not so portable) and missing a trinocular head and a couple additional objectives. It does have phase contrast. Be even nicer for photography if it was an E600 with the 100 watt lamp and a trinocular head.

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Re: New here! Questions about the Big Four

#20 Post by BramHuntingNematodes » Thu Aug 13, 2020 6:23 pm

PeteM wrote:
Thu Aug 13, 2020 6:20 pm
BramHuntingNematodes wrote:
Thu Aug 13, 2020 6:17 pm
Maybe uh look harder this took me like 30 seconds to find
https://www.ebay.com/itm/NIKON-ECLIPSE- ... 0064!US!-1
The Eclipse is a nice scope. Only drawbacks with that one are that it's massive and missing a trinocular head and a couple additional objectives. It does have phase contrast.
Well sure, but with the extra $1,300 or so I suspect he could find some parts specific to his need and still buy like a little scope for on the road. Also maybe he could find an even better deal if he took more than 30 seconds.
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Re: New here! Questions about the Big Four

#21 Post by BramHuntingNematodes » Thu Aug 13, 2020 6:25 pm

Maybe it's just me but if I had $3,000 to spend on a microscope I would be taking weeks to luxuriate over that decision
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Re: New here! Questions about the Big Four

#22 Post by Geode » Thu Aug 13, 2020 6:36 pm

PeteM wrote:
Thu Aug 13, 2020 6:16 pm
I wouldn't spend more than a couple hundred for the typical used LW Scientific or Labomed (having had both); maybe $300 with free shipping if it had a trinocular head. They're not bad - but a bit of patience could get you something that's built better, with better optics.

Is phase contrast important or desirable for soil biology?
My professor says phase contrast isn't ideal for our application (at least for the method she is describing, where we do Kohler illumination and then close down the iris at the end to bring up the contrast and be able to count all the bacteria at 400x - what she is calling "shadowing").
I am looking to add phase contrast for my own experimentation and flexibility as my needs expand over the next several years.

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Re: New here! Questions about the Big Four

#23 Post by Geode » Thu Aug 13, 2020 6:38 pm

BramHuntingNematodes wrote:
Thu Aug 13, 2020 6:17 pm
Maybe uh look harder this took me like 30 seconds to find
https://www.ebay.com/itm/NIKON-ECLIPSE- ... 0064!US!-1
Thanks, I had filtered for trinocular scopes.. so that one didn't show up.
I'm still searching, so there's a lot to filter through :)

Also, I've been researching for a good 2 months. Had to do a lot of reading and understanding the optics of it all, since I don't know any knowledgable folks in real life.
I did just find this forum a couple weeks ago! haha

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Re: New here! Questions about the Big Four

#24 Post by BramHuntingNematodes » Thu Aug 13, 2020 6:46 pm

Imma give everybody that asks this same advice until this guy runs out of scopes go ahead and right now purchase this incredibly adorable Beck Kassel CBS scope:
https://www.ebay.com/itm/Beck-Kassel-CB ... SwR9BfHzHm

And start using that and very quickly I think you will figure out what things are important in a microscope to buy later.

You can even take it on the road with you or use it as your staining microscope later.
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Re: New here! Questions about the Big Four

#25 Post by BramHuntingNematodes » Thu Aug 13, 2020 6:49 pm

Oh yeah two other things:

phase objectives can be used as brightfield objectives usually just fine.

careful with those filters there are lots of good listings that are just: "microscope, I assume it works." and pictures + a good return policy
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Re: New here! Questions about the Big Four

#26 Post by 75RR » Thu Aug 13, 2020 6:52 pm

Here is an interesting one: https://www.ebay.com/itm/Carl-Zeiss-Mic ... Swx4hc8sAl

Got some nice bits on it!
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Re: New here! Questions about the Big Four

#27 Post by Scarodactyl » Thu Aug 13, 2020 7:12 pm

Any scope is portable if you are sufficiently swole--the question is more one of degree. For instance I just bought this beautiful portable gem microscope--it fits in its own hefty briefcase and I can easily take it as a carry on on flights, and sacrifices nothing in function.
Image
But it would mostly have to stay in my room during trade shows, so it's not really fully portable. If I wanted to take it out on the showroom floor I'd need to work out more, and even then nobody would appreciate me putting it on their nice glass cases. That's good enough for my usecase but wouldn't be for many.
Edit:whoops lots of posts in the mean time.

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Re: New here! Questions about the Big Four

#28 Post by PeteM » Thu Aug 13, 2020 7:39 pm

Geode wrote:
Thu Aug 13, 2020 6:36 pm
. . .

My professor says phase contrast isn't ideal for our application (at least for the method she is describing, where we do Kohler illumination and then close down the iris at the end to bring up the contrast and be able to count all the bacteria at 400x - what she is calling "shadowing").
I am looking to add phase contrast for my own experimentation and flexibility as my needs expand over the next several years.
Bacteria are tiny and hard to see even at 400x. About all you get is the rough outline (rod shaped, etc.) - which may be enough? Darkfield illumination and 100x can both help get a somewhat better ID (DIC, too, but $$$). Which suggests you want a scope with fairly bright illumination.

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Re: New here! Questions about the Big Four

#29 Post by viktor j nilsson » Thu Aug 13, 2020 7:57 pm

75RR wrote:
Thu Aug 13, 2020 6:52 pm
Here is an interesting one: https://www.ebay.com/itm/Carl-Zeiss-Mic ... Swx4hc8sAl

Got some nice bits on it!
Nice find!

Zuul
Posts: 212
Joined: Fri May 01, 2020 9:01 pm
Location: California

Re: New here! Questions about the Big Four

#30 Post by Zuul » Thu Aug 13, 2020 11:27 pm

Geode wrote:
Thu Aug 13, 2020 6:38 pm
Thanks, I had filtered for trinocular scopes.. so that one didn't show up.
I'm still searching, so there's a lot to filter through :)
Many microscopes on ebay that have a trinocular head are not listed that way, so be careful with your search and filtering. Remember that frequently the best deals are to be had when the description is lacking or flat out wrong.

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