stereo microscope

Low power "Stereo"

Microscope Buyers' Guide  

Choosing a microscope

When shopping for a microscope, there are some important things to be aware of before you buy.  This short article will help you to be an informed consumer and provide you with reputable sources for some of the most popular models on the market today.

Click on any image to magnify

compound microscope

High Power "Compound"

sand image
Beach sand

  There are basically two types of microscopes, high power and low power.  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.  The low power microscopes are used to look at larger things like a bee, a fly, fabric weaves, coins, stamps and sand grains.  On the left, sand, placed on black paper is best seen with a low power microscope.  Head lice (right) are small but visible and yet are best seen with a high power microscope.  

head lice
Head Lice -Yuk !

High Power Microscopes are Most Popular

  • For children, hobbyists and general use, high power microscopes are most popular as one can see the truly "invisible" things like blood cells, amoebas and bacteria

  • 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.  Real microscopes, with metal frames and glass optics are what you want but are rarely found in stores.  When shopping for children, look for a company that provides slides and support material with the microscope so your child will have some direction in using and enjoying the instrument.

  • High power microscopes go up to 1000X and have a light under the specimen.  The light on a high power microscope must pass through the specimen for you to see an image.  You would not look at a coin with a high power microscope as you would only see a black circle on a white background.   For most high power applications, a maximum magnification of 400X is sufficient.

  • Purchase a model with a built in light source.  Models with mirrors are rarely sold today.

  • There are no manufacturers of microscopes in the US today.  The best "economy" models are made in China.  Some very good product is now coming from China but be careful as there are also some poorly built instruments.  We have looked at many brands and can highly recommend the National Optical brand name.  They are based in San Antonio, Texas. Richter Optica is a newer brand that is manufactured in China but QA'd in the USA and provides quality optics at a value price. Microscope World, a dealer, carries these products and provides excellent customer service and technical support. This company also carries the Swift Optical microscopes, which are popular in many schools across the US.
Recommended high power models.
(click on pictures for larger view)
F1 Kids Microscope
 

For ages 7-12  Model F1 (about $99)
The F1 is the most popular model used in elementary schools today.  With an all metal frame and glass optics, the F1 provides crisp clear images at three powers (40X, 100X and 400X).  It is compact in size (about 12" tall) with an LED illuminator. The microscope can be used as a corded microscope or as cordless microscope by using batteries.  Shop for this model here.

 
Kids Microscope
  For ages 7-12  Model MW2-H1 (about $129)
The MW2-H1 is used most often in elementary schools.  The frame is metal and glass optics provide clear images at 40X, 100X and 400X magnifications. This microscope is compact in size (about 12" tall) and has your choice of a tungsten or LED illuminator. The LED option is a cordless microscope and includes recharger and rechargeable batteries. The cordless microscope can be run off the recharger. Shop for this model here.
 
Student Microscope
  For ages 10 - Adult   Model HS-1M (about $190)
Unlike the F1 above, the HS-1M is a full sized instrument and measures 14" tall.  It is popular with home school teachers for middle school or high school.  The HS-1M has an all metal frame, glass optics and a bright LED light which is cool and will not harm specimens. (Hot lights can kill specimens such as small specimens that may be swimming around on your microscope slide.)  It has three powers of 40X, 100X and 400X and provides a bit sharper image than the F1.  This microscope has a 5-year warranty provided by Richter Optica. Optional accessories include a hard plastic case and mechanical stage. Shop for this model here.
 
Middle school microscope
  For ages 10 - Adult   Model MW3-H5 (about $310)
The MW3-H5 is a step above the microscope shown above. The objectives are slightly more advanced.. The MW3-H5 is popular in middle school and high school biology classes.  Many adults use this model as well (animal breeders, etc.)  This microscope has an all metal frame, glass optics and a bright LED light which is cool and will not harm specimens. (Hot lights can kill specimens such as protozoans that may be swimming around on your microscope slide.)  It has three powers of 40X, 100X and 400X and provides a bit sharper image than the MW2-H1.  Optional accessories include a hard plastic case and mechanical stage. Shop for this model here.
 
Swift M3-B Microscope
  For ages 10 - Adult   The Swift Optical Model M3-M (monocular) or M3-B (binocular) (about $415-519)
This microscope is different from most in that it allows for both low power (dissection) and high power with the same microscope. Use the 20x macro objective with the top LED light to view rocks and larger objects that will not allow light to pass through them. The stage adjusts to fit larger objects under the microscope. When ready to view slides simply adjust the stage and make sure the bottom light is on. 40x, 100x, 400x magnification for viewing all microscope slides. The microscope includes rechargeable batteries and a recharger - cordless operation can be nice with small kids running around. Swift offers a lifetime warranty on this model. Shop for this model here. The monocular version is here.
 
High School Microscope
  For ages 16 - Adult   Model MW2-H3 (about $409)
Exactly like the MW2-H2 above but built to superior performance standards and with a professional built-in mechanical stage.  This is more microscope than you would see in a high school biology class as it has four powers, 40X, 100X, 400X and 1000X.  It includes a special focusable Abbe condenser above the light and a much smoother mechanical stage than the bolt on types used on the regular MW2-H2.  Shop for this model here.
 
Binocular Microscope
  For ages 16 - Adult   Model U1B (about $499)
There is typically a price jump when you go from a monocular to a binocular model, but the U1 keeps this price jump fairly low. The previous models have one eyepiece.  The U1 has binocular vision and is a true research grade microscope.  It has a smooth built in mechanical stage, four powers (going to 1000X), a substage Abbe condenser and a bright LED light. The microscope comes with a blue filter and immersion oil. Richter Optica offers a 5-year warranty on this microscope.   Shop for this model here.
 
Phase contrast microscope
  Adult  MW4-H3 Binocular Microscope (about $720)
The binocular MW4-H3 microscope has several options for objective lenses including standard achromat objectives, super high contrast objectives, plan achromat objectives and phase contrast objectives. Super high contrast objectives provide better color images. Plan objectives are corrected for the curvature of the lens and provide a clear crisp image across the entire field of view and phase contrast is best explained here. The microscope is available as either binocular (2 eyepieces), monocular (1 eyepiece) or trinocular (2 eyepieces + camera port). Magnification is 40x, 100x, 400x, 1000x, halogen lamp and a lifetime warranty.  This microscope is appealing because of the objective options. Shop for this model here.
 
Richter Optica U2 Microscope
  Adult   U2B Lab Microscope (from $940)
The U2 laboratory microscope has Infinity Corrected Optics and is available in a trinocular model which means that it provides binocular vision plus a third tube where you can place a camera.  Research quality, four powers, LED lamp with dimmer, coaxial coarse and fine focusing.  For the price, this is a very fine instrument. Shop for this model here.

Low power microscopes
are used for looking at larger things.

  • Low power microscopes usually have both a top and bottom light (reflected and transmitted) and are good for looking at transparent objects as well as opaque objects. Specimens include coins, stamps, whole insects, fabric weaves, insect wings, sand, soil and tiny electrical components. Magnifications range from 10X to about 80X.

  • Most low power microscopes are called "Stereo" or "Dissecting" microscopes and have two eyepieces and a separate objective lens for each eyepiece lens. This allows triangulation and provides a "stereo" or 3 dimensional image. When you look through a stereo microscope the image will have depth.

  • Low power or stereo microscopes are usually chosen for a particular application. The most common magnifications used are 20X, 30X and 40X. More magnification isnot always better as you see less of the object at higher powers. A coin collector, for example, would want a 10X model and someone who collects sand would want a microscope from 30X-40X.
  • There are three general types of stereo microscopes. Those with a single power (we recommend 20X or 30X), those with two separate powers (we recommend 10x and 30x or 15x and 45x) and Zoom models. Zoom stereo microscopes provide a continuous range of magnifications, from about 10X-40x.

Recommended low power microscope models

 
20x microscope
  For ages 6-12  Model MW1-L1 (about $89)
The MW1-L1 is not a "stereo" microscope because it has only one eyepiece.  Rather, it is an inexpensive inspection microscope with only one power, 20X.  It does not have an internal light but works well under all normal ambient light conditions.  Compact in size (measuring 10 1/2" tall) the 185 has a metal body and glass optics.  Shop for this model here.
 
single power microscope
  General Purpose - Ages 10 and up. Model MW1-L2 (about $195)
Top and Bottom Lights on this stereo microscope.  The MW1-L2 is a single power stereo.  Choose a single magnification between 10X to 80X.  This microscope is compact in size (about 11" tall) and uses 110 volts. If you want several magnifications an inexpensive way to do this is to purchase a different pair of eyepieces along with the microscope. Shop for this model here.
 
stereo microscope
  General Purpose - Ages 10 and up.  Model MW2-L1 (about $255)
The MW2-L1 is one of a family of compact size dual power microscopes.   We believe that this is one of the best choices for an economy priced stereo.  Compared to the MW1-L1 above, you get an additional power for $60.  Choose from a wide variety of magnifications.  For general purposes, we recommend 10X / 30X  or 15X / 45X.   Shop for this model here.
 
Stereo Microscope S2
  General Purpose - Ages 10 and up.  Model S2-BL (about $375)
The S2-BL is a dual power stereo microscope with 10x and 30x magnification. Rather than having built-in illumination, this microscope utilizes an LED ring light. The post stand allows the head to be moved up a bit higher in order to view larger objects beneath the microscope. Different could be used to change the magnification. Shop for this model here.
 
zoom microscope
  Advanced- Adult  National Optical 420 (about $570)
The 420 is a full size industrial grade zoom stereo.  With 10X eyepieces you will enjoy a zoom range of 10X-40X, other eyepieces and optional auxiliary lenses allow you to push this stereo as high as 120X.  Also available with a trinocular head (420T).  Halogen top and fluorescent bottom lighting.  Shop for this model here.

Stereo Zoom Microscope

Advanced- Adult  S6-BLED Zoom Microscope (from $625)
Richter Optica makes the S6 zoom stereo microscope. With built-in top and bottom LED lights and zoom of 7X-46X this microscope is often used in industrial settings or Universities.   Shop for this microscope here.

So which microscope should I choose?

It really depends on your applications.  As a gift for children, you will find that the high power microscope is more useful and has more educational value than the low power counterpart.  There are many more activities that one can do with a high power microscope and high power observations are arguably more exciting.  We have seen children spend literally hours examining pond water critters and insect parts with a microscope.  Also, high power microscopes are generally the types used in schools (grades 3-12).  If you are looking for other types of microscopes or curious about models other than these basic instruments, go here and see other types.

Now I have a microscope.  What do I do with it?

There are many books and online resources available describing educational activities that one can do with a microscope.  If you are working with a high power microscope, you should first learn how to properly use it and learn how to prepare wet mount slides.  Hopefully the company you purchase your microscope from will provide slides and information.  Check out this website for other info and activities.  A good place to start would be here.  Bookmark or link to us as we are continuously adding new material. 

Digital Microscopes
are available in high and low power

  • Now that you have decided if you want high power or low power, the other option to consider is a digital microscope.
  • Digital microscopes include a camera or a tablet LCD camera for viewing live images.
  • Digital microscopes allow you to capture and save images and many cameras include software for making measurements or adding text to images.
  • Before purchasing a digital microscope consider how you would like to use the microscope. Do you have room to set a laptop next to the microscope? If not, would a tablet camera on top of the microscope work better? If you want to project the image onto a large screen in a classroom figure out if your LCD projection system uses an S-Video input or a USB input. This will help determine what type of digital camera you need.
  • Finally, there are benefits to having a detachable camera. A built-in microscope camera can be nice because there are no camera parts that can be removed from the microscope. However, should the camera break or if you want to upgrade the camera at some point, replacing the camera is not an option with a digital microscope where the camera is built in.

Recommended Digital Microscope models for High Power

 
Digital Kids Microscope
  For ages 6-12  Model F1D (about $209)
The F1D is a kids microscope with 40X, 100X, 400X magnification. The microscope has an LED light and operates on the included cord or batteries. Coarse and fine focusing makes it easier to focus at higher magnifications. The children's microscope includes a removable 3 megapixel USB eyepiece camera. The eyepiece camera can be removed and the eyepiece replaced for use as a standard microscope. 5-Year warranty.   Shop for this model here.
 
Digital Kids Microscope
  Kids Ages 8+ Digital Microscope MW1-HD2 (about $250)
This digital microscope with built-in camera and LCD screen provides 40X, 100X and 400X magnification for viewing slides. A top LED light allows you to look at small opaque objects. Capture or display images with either USB output (includes software) or with an SD card. 5 megapixel camera when capturing to SD card, but only 0.3mp for all other image capture. Includes analog output for connecting to TV or LCD projector. 1-year warranty.  Shop for digital microscope here.
 
Digital Kids Microscope
  Kids Ages 8+ Digital Microscope MW1-HD1 (About $355)
This small kids digital microscope has 40X, 100X, 400X magnification and includes a built-in 0.3 megapixel camera. The microscope connects with USB cable to the computer and includes software. Round microscope stage. Only coarse focusing makes it a bit harder to focus at 400X. LED light, 5-year warranty.  Shop for digital kids microscope here.
 
Digital High School Microscope
  High School - Adult  Digital Microscope HS-1D (about $370)
The HS-1D is a dual head high school microscope, with a 3 megapixel USB eyepiece camera in one of the eyetubes. 10X, 40X, 100X magnification. Coarse and fine focusing. Ability to add a mechanical stage to the microscope. Rechargeable cordless microscope with LED light. If you have a MAC this one isn't for you - camera only works on a PC. 5-Year Warranty. Shop for this model here.
 
Digital HS Microscope
  High School - Adult  MW2-HD1 Digital Microscope (about $499)
The MW2-HD1 has 40X, 100X, 400X and 1000X magnification.  The built-in 0.3 megapixel camera connects with a USB cable. Rechargeable LED light, microscope can be used cordless or with recharger. Includes software for image capture. Built-in mechanical stage and coarse and fine focusing. Lifetime warranty.   Shop for this model here.

WiFi Microscope

High School National WiFi Microscopes (about $425-735)
National Optical makes several WiFi microscopes and a WiFi camera. The digital WiFi microscopes are available with 40X, 100X, 400X and optional 1000X magnification. The digital microscope transmits its own WiFi signal (no network needed) and a live image from the microscope can be shared to iOS or Android WiFi phones, tablets or laptops with a free downloadable App. Images can be shared with up to six devices. Includes 1.3 megapixel built-in camera. Microscopes are corded with LED lights.   Shop for WiFi microscopes and camera here.
High School - Adult, Veterinarians Swift Optical M10L Digital LCD Microscope (about $1215-1,480)
Swift Optical makes two versions of the M10L digital microscope - one is monocular (1 eyepiece) and one is binocular (2 eyepieces). The 3" LCD monitor folds down when not in use. Capture 5 megapixel images with an SD card, or use 640x480 resolution on the LCD screen or through the USB cable. S-Video and RCA output allows projection to a large monitor or TV. Includes software. 40X, 100X, 400X, 1000X. This microscope is popular among veterinarians. Available with semi-plan or plan achromat objectives. Shop here for the monocular microscope or binocular microscope.
Digital University Microscope
University Richter Optica U1D Digital Microscope (about $1250-1400)
The Richter Optica U1D digital microscope has 40X, 100X, 400X, 1000x magnification, a built-in mechanical stage and LED illumination with coarse and fine focusing. The camera is a 3.2 megapixel or 5 megapixel camera with basic measure and capture software. USB connection for camera. 5-Year Warranty. Shop for this digital microscope here.
University Richter Optica U1LCD Digital LCD Microscope (about $1399-1799)
The Richter Optica U1LCD digital microscope has 40X, 100X, 400X, 1000x magnification, a built-in mechanical stage and LED illumination with coarse and fine focusing. The LCD tablet camera is Android based and is a standard tablet with a microscope camera built into it. The microscope is available with either a 7" basic tablet or a 10" tablet with advanced software for measuring. Tablet has a micro SD card slot and a USB cable can be used with the camera. 5-Year Warranty for microscope, 2-year for camera. Shop for this LCD digital microscope here.
Laboratory Richter Optica U2LCD Digital LCD Microscope (about $2175)
The Richter Optica U2LCD digital microscope has Infinity Corrected Optics with 40X, 100X, 400X, 1000x magnification and focusing eyepieces, a built-in mechanical stage and LED illumination with coarse and fine focusing. The LCD tablet camera is Android based and is a standard tablet with a microscope camera built into it. The microscope includes a 10" tablet with advanced software for measuring. Tablet has a micro SD card slot and a USB cable can be used with the camera. 5-Year Warranty for microscope, 2-year for camera. Shop for this LCD digital microscope here.

Recommended Digital Microscope models for Low Power

 
Microscope handheld camera
  Kids - Adult Digital Microscope / Camera MW1-LD2 (About $99)
This small portable camera provides low power magnification. USB connection. Includes software. 1.3 mega pixel camera. Includes metal stand and 1-year warranty.  Shop for digital camera here.
 
Digital Kids Microscope
  For ages 6-12  MW1-LD1 Digital 20X / 40X Microscope (about $260)
The MW1-LD1 is a kids microscope with 20X and 40X magnification. The magnification is changed by adding a small lens to the bottom of the microscope. The microscope has a small flexible arm LED light that can be positioned to shine on the object. Built-in 0.3 megapixel camera connects with USB. Includes software. This microscope would be good for kids who want to look at objects found around the house or in the yard. 5-Year warranty.   Shop for this model here.
 
  High School - Adult Swiftcam4 (about $580)
This flexible arm camera has 1.3 megapixels and a USB output for viewing a live image on the computer. The camera includes an 8mm focusable lens and includes a carrying case. This type of camera is best for showing a classroom of students objects such as spiders, flowers, dissection items, etc. 1-year warranty.  Shop for flexible gooseneck camera here.
 
Digital Stereo Microscope
  High School - Adult Digital Microscope S2TPD (About $699)
This digital stereo microscope has 10X and 30X magnification and includes a 3.2 megapixel camera with software . The microscope uses an LED ring light. This magnification is best for coin or stamp collectors. 5-year warranty.  Shop for digital stereo microscope.
 
  High School - Adult  Digital Microscope MW2-LD1 (about $719)
This microscope is a dual magnification (10X and 30X) stereo microscope, with a built-in 1.3 megapixel camera. The camera allows you to view a live image from benath the microscope when using the included software. Built-in top and bottom lights. This microscope is used by hobbyists. Lifetime Warranty. Shop for this model here.
 
  High School - Adult  Digital Microscope S2PLCD (about $745)
The S2PLCD is a dual magnification (10X and 30X) stereo microscope, with a 7" Android Tablet camera mounted on the trinocular port. The tablet camera allows you to view a live image from beneath the microscope and the touch screen is used to capture images. LED ring light. This microscope is used by teachers for dissection and often in industry for quality control. 5-Year Warranty. Shop for this model here.

Stereo Digital Microscope

University - Adult Richter Optica S6D Digtal Stereo (about $1295)
This microscope has a zoom magnification of 7X-46X and includes a 3.2 megapixel USB camera mounted on the trinocular port. Includes software for measuring and capturing images. The stand includes built-in top and bottom LED lights. 5-year warranty. This microscope is used in Universities and the manufacturing industry. Shop for digital zoom microscope here.
University - Adult MW5-LD2 Digital Microscope (about $1,400)
This stereo zoom microscope with 10X-40X magnification has built-in top and bottom lights. A 2 megapixel USB camera is mounted on the trinocular port and includes software for viewing images and making measurements. This microscope is used most often in industrial settings for quality control. Shop here for this microscope.
University - Adult Richter Optica S6 LCD Microscope (about $1250-1400)
The Richter Optica S6LCD digital microscope has 7X - 46X zoom magnification, built-in LED illumination above and beneath the stage.. The camera is a 10" Android Tablet 5 megapixel Camera with touch screen. Tablet accepts Micro SD card and includes USB cable. 5-Year Warranty. Shop for this LCD stereo microscope here.

To learn more technical information about evaluating microscopes, read this.

home forums links

Copyright 2014, Microbus, All rights reserved