Good Stereo Microscope?

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SanFran77
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Good Stereo Microscope?

#1 Post by SanFran77 » Thu Nov 30, 2023 7:19 pm

Hi,

I am looking to buy a good stereo microscope with a third port for photography of plants and insects. The idea is to get my kids into this and close the loop from ... going on hikes (2020) to ... observing nature deliberately during hikes (2021) to ... bringing magnifiers and handheld "microscopes" on hikes and bringing samples home for online research (2022) to ... now (2023/24/25)bringing samples home and being able to observe them under the stereo microscope, learn step-by-step how to work with light and camera, research the samples and start documenting findings and share with others.

Budget is secondary to quality. I am not sure what to buy, other than that I have seen the Zeiss Stemi 2000c in action and liked it very much, especially the sturdiness and zooming abilities (although sometimes I'd want a bit more, but I am not sure if that has drawbacks - eg. the 508, but heck that's expensive). What do I need to be on the lookout for when buying a stereo microscope? (Also, another beginner question: If I wanted WYSIWYG between the eye-pieces and the camera, is that a realistic ask that they're somewhat similar to each other?)

Thank you!

PeteM
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Re: Good Stereo Microscope?

#2 Post by PeteM » Thu Nov 30, 2023 9:59 pm

Feel free to send a PM if you'd like a guide to the pros and cons of various microscopes - it mostly covers compound scopes but has several pages of stereoscope content.

The least expensive new stereo microscope I've found usable is an AmScope (and many other brands) Chinese scope with upper and lower illumination, a rotating 1x & 3x objective, a 10x eyepiece (10x & 30x) -- my recommendation for a kid there than the 20x and 40x version). It used to be around $140 and is now around $185. It won't be a trinocular, but it's easy to buy a third eyepiece and use an old cell phone camera in a holder. It only takes seconds to swap the camera-attached eyepiece in and start taking photos or movies.

I haven't been happy with cheap (say, under $400-500) Chinese zoom scopes. The mechanisms are complex and trying to do it cheaply means things like plastic zoom gears and guides that don't last, problems with parfocality throughout the zoom, and so on. High-cost ones are now quite good.

Used scopes, best checked out in person or easily returnable, can offer much higher quality for your money - a wider range of magnifications, wider field of view, better resolution, additional working distance, and more robust construction. There are dozens of decent choices, including various models from American Optical, Bausch & Lomb, Meiji, Nikon, Olympus, Wild/Leica, Zeiss and many others.

You want to check a new import scope right out of the box - some arrived misaligned or otherwise defective. It's even more important to check a used stereo microscope. Many have lived a hard life and have prisms or mirrors out of place, residue from fumes coating the optics, and so on.

Most of the name brands have had trinocular versions if you really need that for simultaneous viewing and display, as perhaps taking to a class or a YouTube group. If it's just taking photos or making movies now and then, you'll save significant time and money -- once you find one - with a binocular head and an eyepiece-mounted camera. I'd suggest a phone camera or an HDMI one with suitable relay lens instead of a USB eyepiece camera if you want better-quality photos.

This is dated, but is still a good starting point: https://engraverscafe.com/threads/stere ... void.3451/

SanFran77
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Re: Good Stereo Microscope?

#3 Post by SanFran77 » Thu Nov 30, 2023 10:17 pm

All of this makes a lot of sense, and I had already ventured away from Chinese products. My time horizon for using such a microscope is 10+ years and as quality really matters in this field, I want something that is quality, hence the reference to the Zeiss stereo scopes. The HDMI vs USB is appreciated, too - I was not sure if USB-C is sufficient, but will take that into account. If I go with a used one, what are reputable shops that I can trust?

Topcode
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Re: Good Stereo Microscope?

#4 Post by Topcode » Thu Nov 30, 2023 11:29 pm

I'm not sure how it compares to other microscopes in its price range exactly(to be honest, I'm not ever sure what the typical price range is), but my choice of stereoscope is a Nikon SMZ-U. It's eyepieces are nice, 24mm fn 10x, but it's also got 2 photo ports, one for each view, which is nice because you could get stereo video and images, if you have two cameras, and a tube lens for the side port. I only have one camera (for that microscope) though, an E3ISPM08300KPD, which is a 4k USB 3.0 1/1.2" camera, on the center photo port, with a .67x reducer. I have the 2x and 1x objectives, both plan ED, .18 and .09 NA respectively, there are also 1.5x, .75x, and .5x objectives available for it. Zoom ratio of 10x, .75x to 7.5x. I have the diascopic stand, which lets you use transmitted or reflected light. I am personally very happy with it, but it did need to be serviced after I had gotten it, its a rather old model, about 30 years, which is older than me, so compared to modern scopes its probably a bit lacking, but it has worked really well for me, and for the lab it was in before I acquired it.

On this thread here on the forums I posted two images taken with it, cropped down from full size.

Scarodactyl
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Re: Good Stereo Microscope?

#5 Post by Scarodactyl » Fri Dec 01, 2023 1:22 am

Wysiwyg is difficult on a stereo because the true 3d view will always look better than the single 2d image the camera gets.
The smz-u is an excellent stereo and often a crazy value.

einman
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Re: Good Stereo Microscope?

#6 Post by einman » Fri Dec 01, 2023 5:46 pm

I second that! The SMZ-U is an awesome scope.

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Re: Good Stereo Microscope?

#7 Post by Scarodactyl » Fri Dec 01, 2023 7:05 pm

I actually have an SMZ-u surplus to my needs, shoot me a message if you're interested.

SanFran77
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Re: Good Stereo Microscope?

#8 Post by SanFran77 » Fri Dec 01, 2023 7:11 pm

Scarodactyl wrote:
Fri Dec 01, 2023 7:05 pm
I actually have an SMZ-u surplus to my needs, shoot me a message if you're interested.
Thank you for offering. I don't have the experience to judge if a microscope is well-maintained, I will need to buy this from a reputable shop.

Alexander
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Re: Good Stereo Microscope?

#9 Post by Alexander » Fri Dec 01, 2023 10:57 pm

For someone who considers a Zeiss 508 expensive a Nikon SMZ-U is not exactly a bargain.

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Re: Good Stereo Microscope?

#10 Post by PeteM » Fri Dec 01, 2023 11:01 pm

FWIW, in my experience, Stephen (Scarodactyl) IS the equivalent of a reputable shop - plus being more willing to share accurate information and typically with lower overheads and fairer prices.

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Re: Good Stereo Microscope?

#11 Post by Scarodactyl » Sat Dec 02, 2023 12:20 am

Alexander wrote:
Fri Dec 01, 2023 10:57 pm
For someone who considers a Zeiss 508 expensive a Nikon SMZ-U is not exactly a bargain.
An smz-u on the used market is typically cheaper than a 508 and probably more capable (though much less compact, the 508 is superb within its niche).
SanFran77 wrote:
Fri Dec 01, 2023 7:11 pm
Thank you for offering. I don't have the experience to judge if a microscope is well-maintained, I will need to buy this from a reputable shop.
Understood. There is nothing wrong with that (especially since I am just a forums rando), but you will pay two to three times as much if you get it from a company like Microscope Central or SPW or whoever. I got a great deal on it at a university surplus sale but my main business has been growing and kept me too busy to even list it for sale.

Alexander
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Re: Good Stereo Microscope?

#12 Post by Alexander » Sat Dec 02, 2023 7:59 pm

You are right. A used SMZ-U is less than a brand new Zeiss 508. They are much different animals anyway.

Scarodactyl
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Re: Good Stereo Microscope?

#13 Post by Scarodactyl » Sat Dec 02, 2023 10:33 pm

Less than a used trinocular or even binocular 508 typically goes for, if you can even find one. Heck, probably less than trinocular 2000s usually go for.

Seriously, a used trinocular 508 sold for 2400 on ebay a couple weeks ago. An smz-u can be had for half that.

SanFran77
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Re: Good Stereo Microscope?

#14 Post by SanFran77 » Mon Dec 04, 2023 4:27 pm

Scarodactyl wrote:
Sat Dec 02, 2023 12:20 am
SanFran77 wrote:
Fri Dec 01, 2023 7:11 pm
Thank you for offering. I don't have the experience to judge if a microscope is well-maintained, I will need to buy this from a reputable shop.
Understood. There is nothing wrong with that (especially since I am just a forums rando), but you will pay two to three times as much if you get it from a company like Microscope Central or SPW or whoever. I got a great deal on it at a university surplus sale but my main business has been growing and kept me too busy to even list it for sale.
Still, apologies, I might have come across too strong. I simply wanted to point out to that the buying process of used microscopes is just very confusing for a beginner, especially if it is happening online. When beginners because of this confusion and frankly distrust gravitate to Amazon's best and brightest, they might (will?) come out much worse than with a used microscope of better origin, just because they don't know if the used one is overhauled/maintained well.

To make this point: Is this one here a good representation of a microscope that I can buy used? Is the price fair? My assessment Returns are accepted, description is detailed, shop has many very positive reviews. Visuals look good. Not sure about the price. What do you think? https://www.ebay.com/itm/166393726123

zondar
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Re: Good Stereo Microscope?

#15 Post by zondar » Mon Dec 04, 2023 5:59 pm

On forums such as this, it's common to extol the (frequently genuine) benefits of buying used, but there are some benefits to buying new too.

I have a Zeiss 508, bought new along with their Apo 0.63x auxiliary lens, stand and LED illumination. The optical quality is magnificent! Zero regrets.

Anyway, I'll just point out that Zeiss sells their 305 model in a complete package with the rather nice "EDU" stand that includes both transmissive and reflective LED illumination, at the relative bargain price of $1500 U.S. Personally, I'd go for that before gambling on an eBay purchase.

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Re: Good Stereo Microscope?

#16 Post by zzffnn » Mon Dec 04, 2023 6:16 pm

PeteM wrote:
Fri Dec 01, 2023 11:01 pm
FWIW, in my experience, Stephen (Scarodactyl) IS the equivalent of a reputable shop - plus being more willing to share accurate information and typically with lower overheads and fairer prices.
I agree with Pete wholeheartedly and would recommend beginners to buy from Stephen. Even though I did not buy my Wild M450 macroscope from Stephen, Stephen helped me a lot in my DIY modifications of the Wild M450 into essentially a M420/M400 and saved me quite some money (easily $600) and time.

If you contact Stephen and ask to see his eBay and forum feedback profile, I am sure you would see great reputation.

I have sold and bought tons of microscopes and camera lenses from eBay and forums and have 100% eBay feedback (if you like, you can search “zzffnn eBay” to confirm my 100% positive feedback rate over 466 transactions, which include 64 sales, many of which were over $300 USD).

But I don’t think I am as great a seller for beginner microscopists as Stephen when it comes to knowledge, patience and kindness. I generally avoid selling to online beginners to be honest, because to help them wholeheartedly would take lots of my time in explaining work; I don’t have that much free time (I would rather spend time with my family and friends, nature and microscopes, rather than online with strangers; for cheaper scopes I would rather gift them away locally instead of selling them online).

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Re: Good Stereo Microscope?

#17 Post by Scarodactyl » Mon Dec 04, 2023 7:12 pm

SanFran77 wrote:
Mon Dec 04, 2023 4:27 pm
Still, apologies, I might have come across too strong.
I am not at all offended, it's a fair concern.
SanFran77 wrote:
Mon Dec 04, 2023 4:27 pm
To make this point: Is this one here a good representation of a microscope that I can buy used? Is the price fair? My assessment Returns are accepted, description is detailed, shop has many very positive reviews. Visuals look good. Not sure about the price. What do you think? https://www.ebay.com/itm/166393726123
This would be a safe buy. The price is higher than the lowest you could get on eBay with some waiting but it looks clean and complete. eBay buyer protections are quite strong so if it is not as described you have plenty of recourse. It would also be a ton more capable than a Zeiss 305, though much bulkier and less portable.

SanFran77
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Re: Good Stereo Microscope?

#18 Post by SanFran77 » Mon Dec 04, 2023 8:14 pm

SanFran77 wrote:
Mon Dec 04, 2023 4:27 pm
To make this point: Is this one here a good representation of a microscope that I can buy used? Is the price fair? My assessment Returns are accepted, description is detailed, shop has many very positive reviews. Visuals look good. Not sure about the price. What do you think? https://www.ebay.com/itm/166393726123
This would be a safe buy. The price is higher than the lowest you could get on eBay with some waiting but it looks clean and complete. eBay buyer protections are quite strong so if it is not as described you have plenty of recourse. It would also be a ton more capable than a Zeiss 305, though much bulkier and less portable.
[/quote]

I appreciate your feedback, thank you. Now, if you took a Zeiss 508 (forget about the budget), the zoom range is what, 8:1? So with 10x eye-pieces, the magnification is comparable between the two microscopes? (And as a side-question to everyone: If I wanted that magnification to work for my camera on the third port, I assume the camera lens needs the 10x magnification, right?)

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Re: Good Stereo Microscope?

#19 Post by Scarodactyl » Mon Dec 04, 2023 8:53 pm

Yes, the 508's 8:1 is going to feel very similar to the 10:1 on the smz-u. The 508 is rated apochromatic but not planar. The 0.075 numerical aperture of the 508 is lower than the ~0.1 of the smz-u ed plan 1x so it will resolve less and be less bright, though color correction may be better on the 508 unless you get a planapo 1x for the smz-u (though the ed plan is quite good too). The 508 has good widefield 10x/23 eyepieces while the smz-u defaults to slightly wider 10x/24 and can be used with 10x/26.5mm ultrawide eyepieces if desired (but who knows, maybe the 508 can cover wider field numbers as well if pushed with different eyepieces).
The smz-u is modular so you can add other more esoteric stuff if you want to but you probably won't.

Setting up the camera is a different matter. 10x eyepieces have one other unmentioned component: the widefield lens in your eye which strongly demagnifies the 10x image they project, making the final magnification much lower. An smz-u can fill an aps-c camera sensor directly with no intervening lenses (much easier to accomplish with a mirrorless camera). I don't know about the stemi, I have never used one.

More broadly the 508 is a 'routine' stereo head meant for working under while the smz-u is a 'research' stereo meant for scientific work, so they have different priorities. For your usage either would be pleasingly overkill I think.

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Re: Good Stereo Microscope?

#20 Post by SanFran77 » Mon Dec 04, 2023 10:01 pm

Scarodactyl wrote:
Mon Dec 04, 2023 8:53 pm
For your usage either would be pleasingly overkill I think.
Thank you for the thorough and easy to understand comparison and your impression of both, I appreciate that. I am well aware of the "pleasing overkill" that you point to. I take scientific and exploratory work even on a hobby or "family education" level seriously, and especially with optics involved, my thinking is to either not venture into this field, or do it with a proper tool. That's also btw, why I am not looking at compound microscopes: Especially for the younger family members, I need to "enhance" what their eyes can experience without losing the context. So, if you find a dead bee, then you should look at a dead bee with capable magnification (preferably zoom) vs. some rather abstract detail that has no reference to the original anymore.

Thanks again, much appreciated! I am leaning more heavily to the used Nikon SMZ-U Trinocular now. I am just not reaching that performance and flexibility for that price tag, and given a few years, I might really want that flexibility.

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Re: Good Stereo Microscope?

#21 Post by Scarodactyl » Mon Dec 04, 2023 11:27 pm

Yeah, it's a lot of scope for the money. You can also keep an eye out for Olympus SZH-10s which have similar specs, maybe not quite as good with the default df plan 1x objective but with the bonus of sometimes having a dual-objective revolver to extend the magnification range.

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Re: Good Stereo Microscope?

#22 Post by BramHuntingNematodes » Tue Dec 05, 2023 12:06 am

I like the b&l sz7 but you might want to stay away if you aren't a hands in kind of person as almost all of them need a little work.

An sz4 is cheaper and they made a million of them. Sometimes can be had for very little. They're not the most superb imaging available but they are madly convenient. They don't have the third eye option as the sz7 does, though.
1942 Bausch and Lomb Series T Dynoptic, Custom Illumination

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Re: Good Stereo Microscope?

#23 Post by Scarodactyl » Tue Dec 05, 2023 12:25 am

Yeah, a good SZ7 is a remarkable scope, especially with the 15x uwf eyepieces. Just a bit annoying to get a good copy, though quite inexpensive.

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Re: Good Stereo Microscope?

#24 Post by Alexander » Tue Dec 05, 2023 8:00 am

Scarodactyl wrote:
Mon Dec 04, 2023 8:53 pm

Setting up the camera is a different matter. 10x eyepieces have one other unmentioned component: the widefield lens in your eye which strongly demagnifies the 10x image they project, making the final magnification much lower. An smz-u can fill an aps-c camera sensor directly with no intervening lenses (much easier to accomplish with a mirrorless camera). I don't know about the stemi, I have never used one.

More broadly the 508 is a 'routine' stereo head meant for working under while the smz-u is a 'research' stereo meant for scientific work, so they have different priorities. For your usage either would be pleasingly overkill I think.
Some more words about it:

The Nikon will work fine with APS-C cameras as stated. The Zeiss Stemi's camera port is for C-mount microscope cameras. The Stemi 305 has a fixed build in 0.5 lens, on the Stemi 508 the lens is interchangeable to match the cameras sensor size.

The higher NA of the Nikon comes with a price tag on it. Depth of field is significantly reduced. This is why the Nikon has a diaphragm build in to reduce NA.

The Zeiss Stemi's are Greenough type the Nikon is a Galileo type scope. The later allows higher zoom ranges, higher magnification and all the esoteric add-ons available.
A Greenogh systems has a higher free working distance and a much better 3D-presentation.

Working distance:
Stemi 305: 105 mm
Stemi 508: 92 mm
SMZ-U with 1.0 lens: 77.5 mm

This may be further reduced my illumination equipment mounted on the front lens. As one can see, free working distance correlates to magnification and zoom range. It is always a trade-off. A lack of working distance can be annoying while using the scope for larger objects.

Working under the scope vs. research nails it on the point. They are much different animals.

Personally I would not consider the Stemi 508. Both the Stemi 305 and the SMZ-U do extremely well considering color correction. The advantage of apochromatic correction is quite esoteric. It is hard to justify the extra cost.

SanFran77
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Re: Good Stereo Microscope?

#25 Post by SanFran77 » Tue Dec 05, 2023 2:37 pm

SanFran77 wrote:
Mon Dec 04, 2023 10:01 pm
Scarodactyl wrote:
Mon Dec 04, 2023 8:53 pm
For your usage either would be pleasingly overkill I think.
Thanks again, much appreciated! I am leaning more heavily to the used Nikon SMZ-U Trinocular now.
The seller reduced the price tag to $1,500 after I wrote him. He spooked me a bit with that he pointed out a need for "a little maintenance, regularly". To those who know these scopes, what does that typically entail? I hope that is an expected aspect of Nikon SMZ-U generally.

SanFran77
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Re: Good Stereo Microscope?

#26 Post by SanFran77 » Tue Dec 05, 2023 3:05 pm

Alexander wrote:
Tue Dec 05, 2023 8:00 am
Scarodactyl wrote:
Mon Dec 04, 2023 8:53 pm

Setting up the camera is a different matter. 10x eyepieces have one other unmentioned component: the widefield lens in your eye which strongly demagnifies the 10x image they project, making the final magnification much lower. An smz-u can fill an aps-c camera sensor directly with no intervening lenses (much easier to accomplish with a mirrorless camera). I don't know about the stemi, I have never used one.

More broadly the 508 is a 'routine' stereo head meant for working under while the smz-u is a 'research' stereo meant for scientific work, so they have different priorities. For your usage either would be pleasingly overkill I think.
Working under the scope vs. research nails it on the point. They are much different animals.

Personally I would not consider the Stemi 508. Both the Stemi 305 and the SMZ-U do extremely well considering color correction. The advantage of apochromatic correction is quite esoteric. It is hard to justify the extra cost.
I am still trying to fully grasp the point of "working under the scope" vs. "research". How will this play out in day-to-day operation at my level? Thank you both (and all) for the time you are taking, it is invaluable to me.

SanFran77
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Re: Good Stereo Microscope?

#27 Post by SanFran77 » Fri Dec 08, 2023 10:13 pm

It's here, it's here, it's here! And it is marvelous! Unfortunately, during transport, the stage glass seems to have chipped or so, and the stage mirror is lose. Not yet sure what to do about that, I have contacted the seller. The SMZ-U is otherwise in brilliant working condition and I will post photos of it at one point...

Here are some initial photos so that you can see how the eBay seller packages and the results: https://imgur.com/a/D1gL66h

Topcode
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Re: Good Stereo Microscope?

#28 Post by Topcode » Sat Dec 09, 2023 12:18 am

SanFran77 wrote:
Fri Dec 08, 2023 10:13 pm
It's here, it's here, it's here! And it is marvelous! Unfortunately, during transport, the stage glass seems to have chipped or so, and the stage mirror is lose. Not yet sure what to do about that, I have contacted the seller. The SMZ-U is otherwise in brilliant working condition and I will post photos of it at one point...

Here are some initial photos so that you can see how the eBay seller packages and the results: https://imgur.com/a/D1gL66h
Funnily enough, my glass there is also chipped rather similarly. It must be a rather common issue with the SMZ-U

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Re: Good Stereo Microscope?

#29 Post by Scarodactyl » Sat Dec 09, 2023 12:19 am

Congratulations! I think you will enjoy it a lot. Stage plate replacements aren't too hard to find, even on amazon sometimes iirc. The mirror should also be fairly easy to fix.

SanFran77
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Re: Good Stereo Microscope?

#30 Post by SanFran77 » Sat Dec 09, 2023 9:33 am

Thank you, it's now 1:28 AM and my wife and I have spent the entire evening on this marvel. It's so much fun! I will need to find a way to get a digital camera setup working so that I can include my younger kids via the iMac display now. Let's see how that can be accomplished. Again, thank you for all your help, really happy with my purchase.

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