You probably don’t have super power robotic eyes like the 6 Million Dollar Man, but armed with a good microscope, you will have the power to see amazing things that you wouldn’t be able to see with the unassisted eye. To choose the best microscope for you, you’ll need to understand:
- Your Purpose
- What Type of User You Are
- Features and Mechanics
- Your Budget
Your purpose is the most important factor when choosing a microscope. The kinds of things you want to look at with it will determine what type of microscope you need.
There are two basic types of microscopes – compound (high power), and stereo (low power).
If you want to use the microscope to look at very small things, such as the internal structure of cells, you’ll most likely want a compound microscope. If you’re looking at larger things, such as coins, stamps or circuit boards, you’ll most likely want to use a stereo microscope.
Low power microscopes generally magnify objects by up to about 120X. High power microscopes usually magnify subjects up to 1,000X or more.
What Type of User You Are
Determine who we be using the scope. Will it be a child, a student, or a professional? For children, it’s best to choose a simple, inexpensive microscope, which sometimes might even be considered a toy.
Students need a good quality student microscope, and professionals need a high-quality research model. Regardless of who the scope is for, make sure you choose it based on the quality of resolution and detail, instead of just the magnification.
Features and Mechanics
Evaluate features and mechanics. If you’ll be viewing two dimensional objects, such as stamps, minerals, coins or insects, then you should choose a stereo microscope. Stereo microscopes have two eye pieces, which give you greater depth perception than models with only one eye piece. Compound microscopes have one eye piece, and are preferable for viewing two-dimensional objects such as slides.
Look for a microscope that has a slanted eye piece (versus one that comes straight up from the top, since these are easier to look through. Also, look for an eyepiece that rotates. This is especially important if you have more than one person using the scope at a time.
Maybe the most important part of the scope are the objective lenses. These determine your magnification. We wouldn’t recommend going less than a 4X, a 10X, and a 40X. Some scopes will add a 100-immersion lens, which is great for high level microbiology.
The Stage is he next area to consider. Most scopes will have spring-hinged stage clips. But you may want to consider upgrading to a mechanical stage, which will let you hold the slide in place, and easily move it around for fine-tune adjustments.
Consider the light source. Keep in mind that LED illumination runs cooler, and will better preserve specimens. We recommend looking for an adjustable iris diaphragm, so you can control the amount of light that will be showing through your specimen. This will make it easier to see some features of your specimen, and allow for better depth of view within your specimen.
Make sure the microscope you’re going to buy is well built. These instruments are expensive, and you’ll want quality components and construction that will stand up to years of use.
The frame should be sturdy, and well-built. Look for frames made of metallic alloys that minimize vibration, and don’t expand and contract with temperature changes. Never buy a scope with a frame made from plastic.
You’ll also want to make sure that the lenses are made of optical glass, that the focus gears are made of metal, and that they attach to the metal frame with metal screws. You also may want to choose a model that has ball bearings in moving and rotating parts, instead of just oil.
Finally, consider a digital microscope if you wish to display images on a computer, manipulate images, and share images.
Next, consider your budget. A children’s model usually costs around $100, while costs for student and research models run hundreds or even thousands of dollars. You might be tempted to buy a low power, inexpensive microscope. But we encourage you, if you’re in it for the long haul, to consider investing in lab-grade scope. You can get one for around $200 – $300, and it’ll be worth your investment.
Determine what accessories are included in the package, and what else you may need to buy.
If you think through all of the points above, then your decision about which microscope to buy will be more informed than 99% of the general population, and you’ll know what it takes to get the best microscope for your investment. And armed with the right microscope, you’ll be well on your way to making great discoveries for a lifetime!