How expensive is amateur microscopy?

The operating costs include electricity costs, slides and cover glasses, cleaning solutions and chemicals for sample preparation and slide making. Of course you also need time, but this is an expense that one is willing to pay! The amount of money that you have to spend depends much on the demands that you have on the equipment. The operating costs are very low.

  • Cost of microscope: This is probably the biggest single investment. Like so often, there is no upper limit. One of the advantages is, that a relatively inexpensive microscope (US$ 200-300) can already get you started. The costs, however, rise very quickly if you want to include a phototupe (trinocular head) or if you want to have a microscope which is more modular or one which has better optics (apochromatic objectives). I would probably recommend that you start off with a reasonably low cost microscope, and then buy a better one once you know better what your expectations and areas of interests are. The good news is, that even low cost introductory microscopes will allow you to see as much as the more expensive research microscopes. The image quality and resolution depends on the optics used and if you fit the same objective/eyepiece combinations on different microscopes, then the image quality will be the same. The cost difference comes largely from increased modularity. You won’t see twice as much with a microscope which costs twice as much.
  • Cost of camera: This one can be as high as the rest of the microscope. There are also low cost solutions, such as mobile phone adapters which can be fit directly on an eyepiece.
  • Accessories: This includes slides, cover glasses, tweezers, pipettes etc. The cost is negligible. You order a batch once and are then covered for the next couple of years.
  • Mounting medium: This can be slightly more costly, but once you have a bottle of mounting medium, it will remain useful for several years. The amounts used are very small. If you do not want to make your own permanent slides, then you do not need one.
  • Room: You want to have a solid table in a quiet place and a safe, dust-free place to store your equipment.
  • Permanent slides: They can be ordered from educational supplies companies. Depending on the specimens included, their price can range from cheap to expensive. In any case worth to invest in a slide box so that you have something to look at without the need of preparing the slides yourself.

The operating costs of a microscope are extremely low, unless you engage in specialized techniques, which require specific chemicals or a home laboratory.