How to choose a new microscope

Buying a microscope can be a daunting prospect for the uninitiated. 

First you need to decide what you want to use the instrument for and your skill level – some microscopes are easier to use than others.

But the decisions do not stop there. The next choice is type of instrument: a traditional optical microscope, a digital one, or the best of both worlds, a traditional microscope with a digital eyepiece attachment.

So what is right for you?

If you’d like to view objects as tiny as cells, the decision is (relatively) simple. You need the kind of traditional optical microscope known as a compound microscope.

Compound microscopes can be either binocular or monocular but both have high magnification up to 1000X or even 2000X. They are ideal for examining microscope slides, which have a very thin specimen on them. You can buy these already prepared or make your own. Some uses for this sort of instrument would be to view the cells of an onion, cheek cells, root, leaf and stem cells or blood cells. The choice between monocular or binocular is a personal and financial one. Monocular microscopes are easier to use and generally cheaper but binocular microscopes can be more comfortable for longer periods in the lab.

If you are setting your sights on larger objects than cells, the kind of traditional microscope called a stereo microscope could be the right choice. These are low magnification up to 80X and used to look at objects such as insects, leaves and rocks.

But these days, you can also view these types of object through a digital instrument. The advantage here is that you can save the images of the objects you observe onto your computer. They also come in convenient formats to take into the field and examine the plants, insects or fossils you might find along the way.

The downside is that digital microscopes are relatively low magnification. So if your interests lie at the cellular level, but you also want to record images of the things you see, a digital eyepiece might be the answer. This is simply a small digital camera that replaces the standard eyepiece of the microscope and connects to your computer via a USB cable.

From there the choice is yours, according to what your pocket can stand. Better, clearer optics cost more but the technology is improving all the time and even at the cheapest levels, modern microscopes perform as well as only the most expensive did just a few years ago.

Jeffrey Phillips

1. Dino-Lite AM2111, handheld digital microscope

A great entry-level handheld digital microscope with variable magnification of 10x-50x and up to 230x and 640x480 pixel colour imaging. Perfect for viewing macro specimens such as insects, crystals, leaves and rocks.

2. TLI mTech, digital microscope
A high resolution digital microscope with a 5 MP colour camera for printing high resolution images. Eight white-light LEDs provide adjustable illumination with a magnification range of 20x to 300X. You can even take time lapse videos using the microscope in its metal stand.

3 TLI-XTX3C, dual magnification stereo microscope

This stereo microscope is an economical, robust micro- scope suitable for junior and senior secondary schools with magnification of 20x and 40X.

4 TLI-MS6, optical stereo zoom

A more sophisticated stereo option, with 0.8x to 5x zoom objective magnification combined with 10X eyepieces to give a wide range of magnifications and a wide field of view from 27.5 to 4.4 mm.

5 TLI-F2, monocular compound microscope

An economical choice of monocular microscope with four magnifications to a maximum of 1000X. Easy to use, great for senior secondary school students.

6 TLI-MB103, binocular microscope

This is an inexpensive binocular microscope, but one which shares features of more expensive models. It can be used right up to university and even in the laboratory. The NSW Department of Primary Industry rates it for use in faecal worm egg counting. With magnification up to 1000X.

Thanks to The Logical Interface for its advice in preparing this article. The company provides technology solutions for educators, researchers and industry in microscopy and other fields. Thanks to online microscope retailer for product information.

Curated content from the editorial staff at Cosmos Magazine.
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