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.

 
Elementary Student LED Microscope
  For ages 7-12  Model MW1-H1 (about $150)
The MW1-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 LED illuminator that is a cordless microscope and includes recharger and rechargeable batteries. The cordless microscope can be run off the recharger. Shop for this model here.
 
Middle School Microscope
  For ages 9-12  Model MDS1 (about $149)
The MDS1 is used most often in middle schools.  The frame is metal and the microscope has glass optics. The main difference between this model and some others is that it includes a 10x eyepiece and a 16x eyepiece. Total options for magnification include 40X, 64X, 100X, 160X, 400X and 640X. This microscope is mid size (about 13" tall) and has an LED illuminator. It 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.
 
Richter Optica HS2M Monocular High School Microscope
  For ages 10 - Adult   Model HS-2M (about $299 - $349)
The HS-2M is a step above the microscope shown above and includes a built-in mechanical stage. The objectives are slightly more advanced and there is an option for 1000x magnification. The HS-2M 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.)  The microscope is available with 40x, 100x and 400x magnification (HS-2M-3), or 40x, 100x, 400x and 1000x magnification. Shop for the 400x model here (HS-2M-3) or shop for the 1000x model here (HS-2M).
 
Swift M3-B Microscope
  For ages 10 - Adult   The Swift Optical Model or M3-B (binocular) (about $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.
 
HS-2B Binocular High School Microscope
  For ages 16 - Adult   Model HS-2B (about $399 - $449)
There is typically a price jump when you move from a monocular to a binocular microscope. But the HS-2B keeps this price jump fairly low. The previous models have one eyepiece, while the HS-2B has a binocular (two eyepieces) head. This microcope has a built-in mechanical stage and is available with either 40x, 100x, 400x or an option for including 1000x magnification. The light is (cool) LED. Shop for the binocular microscope 40x, 100x, 400x here (HS-2B-3) or shop for the 1000x model (HS-2B) here.
 
Binocular Microscope
  For ages 16 - Adult   Model U1B (about $499)
The U1 is a binocular microscope with 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.
 
  For ages 16 - Adult  Model UX-1 Plan Achromat Binocular Microscope (about $699)
The Richter Optica UX-1 is similar to the U1B shown above, with the main difference being that it comes with Plan Achromat objective lenses. Plan Achromat objectives are corrected for the curvature of the lens and provide a clear crisp image across the entire field of view (whereas when using a standard Achromat objective, the very outer edges of the circular image you view through the microscope will be slightly out of focus). The microscope is available as either binocular (2 eyepieces), or trinocular (2 eyepieces + camera port). Magnification is 40x, 100x, 400x, 1000x, LED lamp and a lifetime warranty.  This microscope is appealing because it is more of an advanced microscope that can also be used cordless. Shop for this model here.
 
Phase contrast microscope
  Adult  MW4-H3 Binocular Microscope (about $740)
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

 
  For ages 6-12  Model 185 (about $90)
The 185 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 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-SPS (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 eyepieces could be used to change the magnification. Shop for this model here.
 
Swift SM102 Microscope
  General Purpose - Ages 10 and up.  Model Swift SM102 (about $339)
The Swift SM102 is a dual power stereo microscope with 20x and 40x magnification. This microscope has built-in top and bottom LED lights. The microscope can be purchased corded or cordless. Shop for this model here.
 
Stereo Dissecting Microscope
  General Purpose - Ages 10 and up.  Model S2-BL (about $399)
The S2-BL is a dual power stereo microscope with 15x and 45x magnification. This microscope has built-in top and bottom LED lights. The stand is compact in size.. Different eyepieces can be used to change the magnification. Shop for this model here. The microscope is also sold as a 10x / 30x microscope here, or a 20x / 60x microscope 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.
S6 Stereo Zoom Microscope
Advanced- Adult  S6-BL Zoom Microscope (from $569)
Richter Optica makes the S6 zoom stereo microscope. With built-in top and bottom LED lights and zoom of 7X-45X this microscope is often used in high schools. The magnification can be increased with different eyepieces or auxiliary lenses.   Shop for this microscope here.

Stereo Zoom Microscope

Advanced- Adult  S6-ILP Zoom Microscope (from $719)
Richter Optica makes the S6 zoom stereo microscope with 10X-67X magnification.The microscope has built-in top and bottom LED lights. 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 F1D
  For ages 6-12  Model F1D (about $199)
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.
 
High School Digital 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 $540)
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.
Richter Optica HS-2D digital high school microscope.
High School Richter Optica HS-2D Digital Microscope (about $799)
The Richter Optica HS-2D 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 megapixel camera with basic measure and capture software. Note that the camera will not work with a MAC, so if you need a MAC based digital microscope, take a look at the HS2-WiFi or U2D below. USB connection for camera. 5-Year Warranty. Shop for this digital microscope here.

Richter Optica HS2-WiFi microscope.

High School Richter Optica HS2-WiFi Digital Microscope (about $899)
The Richter Optica HS2-WiFi 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 1.3 megapixel digital WiFi camera that creates its own WiFi signal. Up to six students can connect their devices (tablet, Android or iPhone, laptop, etc.) and view a live image from the microscope on their device without wires or cables. The camera has a rechargeable battery. Free App download for devices to connect to microscope camera. 5-Year Warranty for microscope, 1-year for camera. Shop for this WiFi digital microscope here.

University Richter Optica U2D 5mp Digital Microscope (about $1,895)
The Richter Optica U2D digital microscope has Infinity Corrected Optics with 40X, 100X, 400X, 1000x magnification, a built-in mechanical stage and LED illumination with coarse and fine focusing. The 5 megapixel camera includes software for image capture and making measurements. The camera works on PC or MAC. 5-Year Warranty for microscope, 1-year for camera. Shop for this digital microscope here.

Swift M10T-MCS Microscope

High School - Adult, Veterinarians Swift Optical M10T-MCS Digital Tablet Microscope (about $1,999)
Swift Optical used to make the very popular M10L Digital LCD model. This has been replaced by the Swift M10T-MCS digital tablet microscope that includes semi-plan achromat objectives. The 8" Tablet uses a touch screen. Capture 5 megapixel images with a micro SD card, or use WiFi to project images to tablets, wireless laptops or phones. The tablet is HD-ready and can project images to LCD monitors or projectors with a mini HDMI cable. Includes software. 40X, 100X, 400X, 1000X. This microscope is popular among veterinarians. Available with semi-plan or plan achromat objectives. A phase contrast version is also available. Shop here for the tablet microscope.
Laboratory Richter Optica U2LCD Digital LCD Microscope (about $2,119)
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

 
  High School - Adult Video Flex Devices (about $330-650)
This flexible arm camera is used most often by teachers to project images to a classroom projection screen or a computer. This type of camera is best for showing a classroom of students objects such as spiders, flowers, dissection items, text from a book, etc. 1-year warranty.  Shop for flexible gooseneck cameras here.
 
Dual Power Microscope
  High School - Adult Digital Microscope S2D-SPS (About $799)
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 $735)
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 S2-SPS-LCD (about $1,075)
The S2-SPS-LCD is a dual magnification (10X and 30X) stereo microscope, with a 8" Android Tablet camera mounted on the trinocular port (a 10" tablet is also available). 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.

University - Adult Richter Optica S6D Digtal Stereo (about $1,749)
This microscope has a zoom magnification of 7X-45X 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. Auxiliary lenses are available in order to increase or decrease both magnification and working distance. 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 $1,455)
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.
Stereo Tablet Microscope
University - Adult Richter Optica S6LCD Microscope (about $1,900)
The Richter Optica S6LCD digital microscope has 7X - 45X 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 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.

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