Before buying a microscope there are a few basic features you should look at. This simple buyer guide explains how to choose your first microscope. We’ve also listed our Top 3 Microscopes for kids, students, enthusiasts and advanced users.
Should I Choose a Low Power or High Power Microscope?
This is perhaps the most important question when buying a microscope. Basically there are two types of microscopes: high power and low power.
High power microscopes, also known as compound microscopes, have magnifications of up to 1000x. You would use a high power microscope for looking at very tiny things like bacteria, blood cells, life in pond water, cells and insect legs.
High power microscopes are significantly more popular. They are also recommended for children, hobbyists and general use as one can see the truly “invisible” things with them. There are many more activities that one can do with a high power microscope and high power observations are arguably more exciting. High power microscopes are usually the types used in schools and universities. The most common magnification of these microscopes is 400x which is enough for use in nearly any application.
Low power microscopes, also called “Stereo” or “Dissecting” microscopes, are used to look at larger things like a bee, a fly, fabric weaves, coins, rocks, stamps, soil or electrical components. Low power microscopes normally magnify at 10x to 50x and have two eye-pieces. This allows a “stereo” or 3 dimensional image that will have depth.
What is the Best Light Source?
Having a good light source is important as it will allow you to see specimens more clearly, notice more detail and enjoy a higher quality image.
Some entry level microscopes use a mirror for illumination. These will require you to use the microscope where there is enough light around (either indoors or outdoors). Most microscopes these days have a built-in light source. Common types are tungsten, fluorescent, halogen bulb and LED. Fluorescent bulb systems are more expensive than tungsten systems but they are also brighter and heat up less.
LED (Light Emitting Diode) is the latest technology and has many advantages. It consumes very little power yet provides a cool bright light like a Fluorescent. LED microscopes can also be used with batteries. This makes the LED microscope a cordless device that can be taken and used anywhere. A very convenient feature!
What is a Digital Microscope?
Digital microscopes may be compound or stereo microscopes that enable you to capture still images, as well as video images. These images can be displayed on your computer monitor, TV or any other external screen. Some digital microscopes come with a built-in LCD screen. These allow you to see your images instantly on the screen as well as share them with others. A microscope with an LCD screen is a great choice for the classroom or for sharing the educational experience with others.
What is the Best Microscope for a Child?
If you are shopping for a child, DO NOT purchase a plastic toy microscope. They will do nothing but frustrate you and/or your child. Unfortunately most children “microscopes” sold in retail shops today are no more than useless toys.
A good quality entry level microscope will sell for anywhere between $100 to $300. There are some excellent models on the market and you’ll be surprised how sharp and clear their images will actually be. These are microscopes both you and your child can easily use, learn and enjoy together.
As mentioned before, high power microscopes are usually more interesting for kids due to the greater number of activities they can do with them. Also note that young children struggle to focus down binocular eyepieces (stereo microscopes). This is because their eyes are not far enough apart yet to use both eyepieces. For young children, ages 6 to 12, we recommend getting either a high power mono microscope such as the Celestron 40-600x.
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