9 Essential Tips for Choosing a Microscope
Choosing a microscope can feel like an overwhelming process. Unlike a car, all microscopes don’t pretty much do the same thing! It’s a piece of technology which is highly specific and can have all sorts of strengths and weaknesses.
We think that digital stereo microscopes are a great place to start, like the ITI-350L LCD USB Digital Microscope. You’ll get plenty of magnification power without obscuring the objects that you’re looking at with hazy lenses. The digital construction makes it easy to see, capture, and show off your findings!
Index of Tips for Choosing a Microscope
- Microscope cost
- Digital vs. analogue
- Screen or no screen?
- Amount of magnification
- Compound vs. stereo
- Light source
- How transparent is your object?
- Zoom or no zoom?
- Achromatic lenses
How Should You Choose a Microscope?
1. Microscope cost
Microscopes aren’t exactly cheap. The really, really advanced ones can easily run thousands of dollars. But microscopes don’t have to break the bank! There are plenty of powerful, affordable models—like the ITI 3025B1 Zoom Stereo Microscope. You’ll still get tons of stereo zoom and object viewing potential without spending a fortune on magnification.
Before you start, figure out your ceiling. What’s your total budget for microscopes? Then find a few models that are well under your budget.
2. Digital vs. analogue
If you love the classical magnification of an analogue microscope, it’s understandable. Some scientists and hobbyists really prefer the minimalism and authenticity that a classical microscope offers. But if you’re tired of complex focusing processes—digital microscopes help solve a lot of the potential problems. Digital microscopes sometimes have eyepieces and viewing systems at the same time.
Microscopes are essentially big constructions of lenses and lights. Because they are a relatively simple tool, any kind of analogue microscope will be customizable through the addition of new parts. Digital microscopes sometimes have less customization, as you won’t be able to change the interactions of the electronic components. But if you go with an analogue microscope, you can usually buy new lenses and systems to increase the magnification power, field of vision, or clarity of your scope.
3. Screen or no screen?
Digital microscopes come in two varieties: microscopes that have a screen attached and microscopes that connect to external screens through WiFi or Bluetooth. There’s no right answer to the question, although the microscopes that connect to external screens are becoming increasingly popular. Many of us are walking around with incredible screens in our pockets and backpacks. Leveraging those screens makes more sense than selling an external screen.
4. Amount of magnification
Compound microscopes will simply give you a lot more power because you’ll be able to use the scanning objective combined with an eyepiece to easily hit 400x on the magnification scale. Stereo microscopes are significantly less powerful, and make it up through other benefits. If you need something that can see the details of cells, you’re going to need a compound microscope.
5. Compound vs. stereo
The main difference between microscopes is compound and stereo. There are variations of each type, like the straight compound microscope and fixed or zoom stereo microscopes.
Stereo microscopes use lower power settings to help you see the general structures of your specimen. If you want to see the details of cells and bacteria, you’ll need a compound microscope. Compound microscopes help you zoom in on smaller cells, but they often aren’t as good at focusing on larger structures. For example if you want to examine circuit boards or the overall structure of a leaf, a stereo microscope is going to be a much better tool. You get a much larger field of view on a stereo microscope.
Compound microscopes can increase magnification somewhere between 40X and like 1600X. Anything at or above 1000x will require a lot of special preparation to get the microscope to work correctly. If you use a 100x objective lens and combine it with a compound 10x eyepiece, you can get to 1000x. But you’ll need special oils and preparation to be able to bring the cells into focus.
Stereo microscopes allow you to zoom in on larger objects, like microchips. Unlike microscopes, which fire light up through a specimen towards the viewer, stereo microscopes use independent light beams to render a 3D image of the object in your field of view. These 2 beams of light are where the name “stereo” comes from. You can get a better view of the depth of the object with a stereo microscope, and you can also look at objects that light would normally not pass through.
6. Light source
Today, most microscopes use an LED light source that helps illuminate the camera lens. Older models used chemicals like tungsten or halogen to illuminate the specimen, but these light sources are a lot more unreliable. LED is powerful, clear, and now the standard for microscopic illumination.
Most microscopes that are built for educational settings will now use LED illumination as the standard.
7. How transparent is your object?
Microscopes work by magnifying light. Compound microscopes specifically work through light microscopy, which allows light to pass up through the object before it is magnified for the viewer. Stereo microscopes fire light from different directions to illuminate an object.
If you’re using a compound microscope, your specimen must have some value of transparency for light to get through to the eyepiece. When using a stereo microscope, you can perform a dissection, clean fossils, and handle objects that you normally could not handle without magnification. So stereo microscopes allow you to illuminate a wider range of possible objects.
8. Zoom or no zoom?
Some stereo microscopes are fixed power microscopes and others are designed to be zoom power microscopes. Fixed power scopes have a number of fixed objectives and they cannot magnify beyond those objectives or even between them. These scopes are great for focusing, although they lack the flexibility of zoom scopes.
On the other hand, zoom power stereo microscopes have a lot more flexibility. The objective lens can be moved up and down, closer and further away from the sample. This allows you to magnify the specimen between the max and min values that the microscope would typically get. Most zoom microscopes can get a zoom up to about 45x the normal magnification. It is much more difficult to refocus because the objective lens can move freely up and down.
For younger audiences, the ease of a fixed stereo microscope will be ideal. Older audiences may want the flexibility and power that can come from a zoom microscope.
9. Achromatic lenses
Usually in this post we’ve listed a lot of options that are the scientists’ choice. Some people really prefer digital or analogue microscopes, and the difference between a stereo and compound scope is relevant depending on what kind of work you want the microscope to do. But here’s one that should be standard: you should find an achromatic lens that is also DIN compatible. Most microscopes use achromatic lenses, which is the best kind of lens. And most microscopes are also DIn compatible, which means that they have parts that can be swapped out and traded for other standard parts. This helps you repair and improve your microscope when you want to.