Compound Microscope Buying Guide
Buying a microscope can be a complicated and intimidating experience. It’s daunting to browse microscopes and be bombarded with specifications and technical terms. And that doesn’t take into account that microscope prices can range from less than one hundred dollars to thousands of dollars.
Thankfully, we’re here to help! And by the time you finish this guide, you’ll have a much better understanding of what sort of microscope will fit your needs. Because ultimately, the key to buying a microscope—or any product for that matter—is finding the right product with the right features at the right price.
Please note that this article will discuss buying a compound microscope and not a stereo microscope. If you’re unsure which microscope you need to purchase, don’t worry! Just read on!
Compound vs Stereoscopes
The first thing you should ask yourself when thinking of purchasing a microscope is, "What do I want to see with my microscope?”
Are you interested in looking at larger, 3-dimension al objects like leaves, insects, coins, flower petals? Or are you interested in inspecting electronic parts for defects? Then you’re most likely in the market for a stereoscope.
However, if you are interested in viewing prepared slides of things like pond life, pollen, skin cells, mold, or bacteria, then you’ll want to purchase a compound microscope. If you believe a compound microscope is what fits your needs, keep reading to find out what to look for when purchasing one.
Student Microscopes vs Laboratory Microscopes
The next and probably hardest question you’ll want to ask is, “how much do I want to spend on as microscope?”
An easy way to decide on your budget is to ask yourself how you’ll be using this microscope. Are you looking to use this microscope in the classroom or as an educational aid? Or are you working in a clinic or lab and need to view blood samples daily? Read the following two categories and see which one is closer to your needs. This will give you a good idea of what price range to look in.
Student Microscope: As the name implies, these microscopes are generally used for educational purposes, mostly in a K-12 setting. However, you can also think of these as hobby-grade microscopes. Student microscopes are an inexpensive line of microscopes and generally range from somewhere between 50-400 dollars.
If you’re looking for a low-cost way to get into the world of microscopy, a student microscope is simply the most cost-effective solution. While they will not provide you with the same level of performance and features as laboratory microscopes, a quality student scope will fit almost all teaching or hobby-related needs. If this microscope will only be used once or twice a day for short periods of time or is going to be used in an educational setting, then a student microscope is probably the right choice for you.
Laboratory Microscopes: While laboratory microscopes are of course most commonly used in labs, you can also think of them as professional-grade microscopes. These microscopes offer upgraded performance and features but carry a much higher cost. Laboratory microscopes tend to range from around 500 to multiple thousands of dollars depending on the features and quality of components.
If you’re going to be using a microscope every day in a professional setting—be it looking at patients’ blood samples or studying bacteria—then a laboratory-grade microscope is going to suit your needs. These microscopes are built to withstand daily use and offer better performance, features, and comfort. A student or hobbyist may not need to spend the extra money for better optics and build quality, but if this microscope is going to be an essential part of your profession, you won’t regret spending the extra money on a laboratory-grade microscope.
Features to Know
We hope you now have an idea of where your budget lies and what sort of microscope you need. Now we will discuss some important specifications to keep in mind when searching for a microscope. Once you learn these differences, you’ll be ready to make an educated purchase and choose the right microscope for your needs and budget!
Heads, the top of the microscope where the eyepieces are located, on compound microscopes come in three different styles: Monocular, Binocular, and Trinocular. This may look like an intimidating string of terms but they just refer to the number of eyepieces the microscope has. A monocular microscope has one eyepiece; a binocular microscopes has two eyepieces; and a trinocular microscope, as you can guess, has three.
Monocular is the least expensive of the three options and tends to be found on student microscopes. Since they only use one eyepiece, monocular microscopes provide you with a more limited field of view compared to a binocular setup. They also carry a bit of a learning curve as learning to look through one eyepiece is a bit of an acquired skill. However, if you’re starting out as a beginner scientist or student, a quality monocular microscope is probably all you will need, as it will still provide you with a solid view of your specimen and let your perform any sort of basic analysis you need to accomplish.
You shouldn’t confuse a teaching head microscope, like our student pro teaching head, with a bionocular microscope. While this microscope has two eyepieces, one quick look at the teaching microscope (see above) shows that one person can’t use both of these eyepieces at the same time. Instead, the student pro teaching head, is simply two monocular microscopes combined into one. It’s designed for both a student and teacher to look at the same object—hence the term teaching head!
Binocular heads tend to be found on laboratory-grade microscopes. They are much more comfortable to use for extended periods of time because they allow you to use both of your eyes equally and therefore cause less eye strain. If you’re using this microscope for extended durations of time every single day, it is worth spending the extra money to purchase a binocular microscope.
The final microscope arrangement is a trinocular arrangement. The third port on the microscope, generally located on the top of the head, is most commonly used for a microscope camera. Without a trinocular port, you must stick the microscope camera in one of your other eyepieces limiting your number of usable ports. If a microscope camera is essential to your operation, then it’s worth investing the extra money in a trinocular setup.
Magnification is an important aspect of a compound microscope. We can determine a compound microscope’s magnification power by looking at two factors: the magnification level of the eyepieces and the magnification level of the objective.
Most of our microscopes come with either a 10X or 16X eyepiece (the part of the microscope you look through) and come equipped with a 4x, 10x, 40x, and a 100x objective on more expensive models. If we were to take to a 10x eyepiece and view it with a 4x objective, we would reach a magnification level of 40x—that is to say that we’d be viewing the specimen 40x larger than its normal size. When buying a microscope, you’ll want to ensure your microscope reaches the magnification levels required for your field or profession.
Objectives are the lenses that magnify the image for you. When purchasing a microscope, you’ll want to consider how many objectives the microscope has; the more objectives you have, the more you can see.
We recommend purchasing a scope that has 4x, 10x, and 40x objectives at the minimum. These three objectives are the standard setup and allow you to use a compound microscope for most applications.
You can also go one step further and purchase a scope with a 100x oil immersion objective if you want an even more detailed view of your specimen.
If purchasing a 100x objective, you should have a fine adjustment control on the microscope. Some scopes only have a coarse adjustment knob and that usually works decently for lower powers. But for high power viewing, you will need fine tuning ability for satisfactory results. While a 100x objective lens and other accessories can be added to your scope at a later date, you cannot add a fine focus knob. So, you might want to spend the additional dollars to purchase this feature up front.
The quality of the optics are perhaps the single most important part of a microscope. After all, the optics are what actually give us the results we want. Therefore, finding a set of optics that will suit your needs is very important and will have a big impact on how much you’ll end up spending. Below are some suggestions on which type of lens will fit your budget.
Achromatic Lenses: Achromatic lenses are the least expensive option and are found on most microscopes under $700 or $800. When lenses are labeled as "achromatic," it means that they have been color corrected so that they will show true specimen color. If a lens were not achromatic, you wouldn’t be able to view all the colors on a specimen.
An achromatic lens is guaranteed to have at least 60% of the lens surface focused and free of aberrations or flaws. This means around 60% of what the lens can actually see will be usable. If you are a hobbyist or student, then this working area will probably be sufficient for you. It’s only when you step into more serious uses do the next two objective types really benefit you.
Semi-Plan Objectives: Semi-plan objectives offer a step up in performance and provide over 80% of a focused and aberration-free over the lens surface.
Plan Objectives: Lenses that are 100% focused and without aberrations are called plan objectives. Scopes with plan objectives are usually used in the laboratory or medical fields as these type of lenses are very expensive.
The stage is the part of the microscope a specimen is placed on. Your basic options on a compound microscope come down to two different choices: a mechanical and non-mechanical stage. On a standard compound microscope stage, you must clip the specimen to the stage and manually make any adjustment of the slide with your hand.
A mechanical stage allows for much easier and more precise adjustments of the slide. Rather than having to move the slide around with your hand to bring it into focus, a mechanical stage allows you to simply turn the knobs on the stage to adjust the position of the specimen. While this is not a necessary feature, it is convenient to have especially if you plan on viewing specimens at high magnification where a slight nudge of the finger could move your specimen right out of the field of view.
If you’re going to be using a 100x objective or higher with your microscope, we highly recommend purchasing a mechanical stage. While a mechanical stage is not included with our lower-priced microscopes, you can purchase a mechanical stage as an optional add-on for many of our microscopes.
Almost all modern compound microscopes include some form of illumination. This allows you to see your specimen in much more vivid detail. We highly advise against purchasing a compound microscope that lacks illumination.
LED or fluorescent illumination is now the standard on even the cheapest compound microscopes, and we strongly recommend you purchase a microscope that has one of these two forms of illumination. All compound microscopes on our website come equipped with either LED or fluorescent illumination, so you can rest easy purchasing from us!
Diaphragm:Compound Microscopes come with a built-in diaphragm that allows you to control the amount of light which hits the specimen. Some scopes have disk diaphragms which operate as a wheel of different sized apertures that you rotate to adjust the light. Much superior to the disk diaphragm is the iris diaphragm which allows for an infinite number of lighting configurations.
Most scopes also come with a condenser that controls how the light actually hits the specimen. If you plan on viewing at high powers, you should look for a moveable condenser which allows you adjust the light most effectively.
After reading this guide, we hope you now have an idea of what sort of microscope you want to purchase. Below we will list a few compound microscopes we recommend.
If this guide didn’t answer a question you have, please contact us by phone, chat, or email. We’ll be happy to help answer your question! Thanks for reading and we hope you enjoy the world of microscopy.
Compound Microscope for Beginners and Young Students:
The Levenhuk 2L Plus is an excellent microscope for beginners. It comes with an experiment kit to get you using your microscope right away. We also sell additional slide kits and a mechanical stage add-on if you want to upgrade your microscope and get more use out of it.
Compound Microscope for High School Students, College Students, and Hobbyists:
Levenhuk 320 Plus
The Levenhuk 320 Plus is an excellently valued microscope. It comes equipped a 4x, 10x, 40x, and 100x Objectives as well as a mechanical stage built in. It’s a great value for the money and will last students and teachers for years to come.
Best Value for Laboratories:
An excellent choice for any lab, the LW Scientific Revelation III offers a binocular head, mechanical stage, and excellent build quality for an affordable price. This microscope is available to purchase with either Achromatic or PLAN objectives, as well as a binocular and trinocular arrangement.
Available in both semi-plan and plan objective, the LW Scientific i4 Microscope is a fully featured microscope that will last for years to come! It offers a great range of features and strong durability at a great value!