The Ultimate Guide To Choosing The Best Microscopes In 2021

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Science is all about exploring the world, and one of the best ways to do that is through a microscope. Everything from insects to ordinary, everyday items become far more exciting when viewed through a microscope, making scientific discovery all the more appealing to users of all ages.

While microscopes are fun and practical, there are so many models to choose from, so how do you pick? Fortunately, we’ve compiled a list of the best microscopes to buy for either yourself or your kids. Whether you’re brand new to these devices or just looking for some recommendations, here is everything you need to know.

Contents

What is a Microscope?

The primary purpose of a microscope is to view items that are too small to see with the naked eye. As we’ll discuss, there are a few different types of microscopes out there, but the core principle remains the same. By magnifying objects, their details are easier to see and document for scientific purposes. The act of using a microscope is called microscopy.

Types of Microscopes

When browsing the best microscope models, you’ll notice that they can be broken down into four distinct categories: stereo, compound, digital, and USB. While the mechanics are relatively similar across each type, they deliver results in unique ways. Here’s a breakdown of each microscope type and how it works.

Stereo Microscopes

When using a microscope, there are two ways to view your target object. One way is to see through it by illuminating the surface behind it. This style of microscopy is ideal for viewing cells and other elements that are mostly translucent. For nontransparent objects, however, a stereo microscope is best.

The term stereo microscope comes from the fact that there are two viewing angles to create a single image. This design allows you to see intricate details without looking through your target. Stereo microscopes are ideal for viewing small items like insects, sand particles, electronic circuit boards, or jewelry. Typically, these models have more comfortable eyepieces that allow you to rest your eyes on them rather than hover over the lens to see the target.

Compound Microscopes

If you want to view transparent targets, you’ll need a compound microscope. This term refers to the fact that these devices use two lenses (objective and eyepiece) to achieve high magnification rates. For example, while a stereo microscope may magnify an object 40 or 50 times, compound models can easily reach 400 or 500x magnification.

One feature you’ll notice on compound microscopes is the ability to switch between objective lenses to get a closer look at your target. Stereo microscopes, however, have only one viewing option, although you can usually zoom in as needed.

To see translucent or transparent items, compound microscopes use an illuminated surface.

USB Microscopes

To use stereo and compound microscopes, you have to bring the item to the device. While some stereo microscopes use an adjustable arm to allow you to see details on larger objects, they have a limited range of movement. USB microscopes, however, are more portable, allowing you to move along a target’s surface.

The term USB microscope refers to the fact that you plug the device into a computer or smartphone via a USB cable. To see through the lens, you need a compatible viewing app that connects to the microscope itself.

Although these microscopes are smaller, they still use compound lenses to achieve high magnification (i.e., 1000x). However, instead of switching between objective lenses, you simply turn a dial to see closer. That said, USB microscopes don’t have an illuminated backing, so it can be hard to view transparent items. Some models have built-in lighting, while others require secondary illumination.

Digital Microscopes

This final microscope type works similarly to a USB model, although it has a stationary stand. Instead of looking through an eyepiece, digital microscopes project the image on a digital viewing screen. So, you don’t need to plug the machine into a computer or smartphone for it to work.

The primary benefit of a digital microscope is that it’s easier to see your target since you don’t have to look through an eyepiece. Also, if you need to capture images for any reason, you can do so far more easily than you could with a compound or stereo microscope. These units can utilize stereo or compound lenses for 3D or transparent viewing.

Best Compound Microscopes

TELMU Microscope 40x-1000x

TELMU Microscope 40x-1000xPin

Getting interested in science is easy when you have a reliable and easy-to-use microscope like this one from Telmu. Even better, you or your kids can get started on viewing items right away, thanks to the box of slides included with your purchase.

Dual Lighting Setup

Although the best compound microscopes allow you to see through objects, this model also allows you to see nontransparent targets. You can switch the lighting source depending on your needs, making this microscope that much more versatile. However, you can’t use both lights at the same time.

Smartphone Adapter for Streaming

If a digital microscope is too expensive, you can use this smartphone attachment to get the same results. Simply mount your phone’s camera to the eyepiece, and you can stream or take photos of your targets in real-time. Since this model has up to 1000x magnification, you can get some incredible shots for school or social media.

What Customers are Saying

“Our kids loved this scope! It was easy for them to use (just like they have at school), and everything worked like it was supposed to. For the price, we felt we got a very high-quality instrument to last for many years.”

Pros

  • Sturdy construction with rubber feet for stability
  • Illuminate objects from above or below for versatility
  • Smartphone attachment allows you to stream your view or capture images
  • Up to 1000x magnification
  • Box of slides included

Cons

  • Can be tricky to angle your smartphone with the attachment
  • Some elements are made of plastic, giving a somewhat flimsy feel

OMAX 40X-2000X LED Binocular Compound Lab Microscope

OMAX 40X-2000X LED Binocular Compound Lab MicroscopePin

If you need a compound microscope that packs a punch, this model from Omax is an excellent choice. As a lab-quality device, you can get even closer to your subjects and get crystal-clear resolution. Also, because this is a binocular setup, it’s much easier to view your targets since you can use both eyes simultaneously.

Up to 2000x Magnification

Viewing translucent objects like cells and bacteria is super easy with this setup. Three sets of lenses enable you to get incredible images, and you can buy pre-made slides to help you calibrate your machine right out of the box.

Adjustable LED Lighting

Sometimes, you don’t want to oversaturate your target with too much light. An adjustable knob on the side allows you to brighten or darken the viewing plate according to your needs. That said, all lighting comes from below, so this microscope is not ideal for opaque targets.

What Customers are Saying

“This is a top-quality microscope for several reasons. I am a college student studying microbiology, and this microscope exceeded my expectations and fit my budget perfectly.”

Pros

  • Lab-quality microscope
  • Up to 2000x magnification
  • Two eyepieces for better comfort
  • Can include slides (optional)
  • Adjustable lighting system
  • Stain-resistant enamel coating for protection

Cons

  • Model is relatively small
  • Not designed for professional applications
  • Best Digital Microscopes

Celestron – TetraView LCD Digital Microscope

Celestron – TetraView LCD Digital MicroscopePin

Viewing objects is so easy when you have a large, high-definition view screen. This model from Celestron is a compound microscope, making it ideal for looking at transparent items like cells and bacteria. Its compact design makes it suitable for smaller home setups where space may be an issue.

Five Megapixel Camera w/ 4.3″ Touchscreen

If you’ve used standard microscopes before, you know that it can be uncomfortable to try and maintain your view of your targets. In most cases, you have to hover your eyes over the lens to see correctly, which can strain your neck.

Fortunately, this digital microscope gives you a much wider field of view, thanks to its built-in 5MP camera. The touchscreen also swivels, allowing you to move it as needed to show others what you’re seeing. The camera shoots still images and video and saves them to an internal SD card. However, you can also connect to a computer for live streaming or external file saving.

Compound Microscope Design

This particular model can deliver up to 1600x magnification, making it ideal for both opaque and translucent objects. You can switch the lighting from top to bottom to suit your needs. However, keep in mind that the camera quality will shift depending on the light source.

What Customers are Saying

“The value for the money is the best, and the LCD screen is way better than trying to strain/focus your eyes in a lens. Can’t beat being able to take photos and video instantly.”

Pros

  • High-Def 5MP digital screen
  • Two GB SD card provided
  • Capture images or video
  • Connect to a portable device directly
  • Compact design
  • Rotating screen for convenience
  • Up to 1600x magnification and zoom

Cons

  • Focusing knob does not lock in place, so images can get blurred easily
  • Clarity can shift during use

TOMLOV 7″ LCD Digital Microscope

TOMLOV 7" LCD Digital MicroscopePin

When comparing the best digital microscopes, one of the primary elements to pay attention to is the size and quality of the camera. In this case, the TOMLOV comes with a 12MP camera and a massive seven-inch view screen. The device also includes a built-in navigation menu so that it’s easy to make adjustments on the fly.

Four-Hour Battery Life

Although you can keep this microscope plugged in, don’t feel like you have to be a wallflower. The four-hour battery allows you to take this device wherever you need to go and explore your objects up close. Recharging is a snap with the micro-USB cable provided.

Large Viewing Area

Since this digital microscope doesn’t use compound lenses, you can view much larger targets. The space between the base and the camera is sufficient for all kinds of viewing, making this a highly versatile machine. That said, there is no bottom illumination, so you won’t see transparent objects.

What Customers are Saying

“I love this product; it’s worth the money; it’s good for anything that you know you wanna research or look into, and the quality is freaking amazing.”

Pros

  • 12MP camera
  • Connects to Windows or Mac
  • Sturdy metal frame
  • Up to 1200x magnification and zoom
  • Easy to use menu interface
  • Four hours of battery life
  • 32GB SD card provided
  • Shoot images or video

Cons

  • Instructions are hard to read
  • USB charger can be hard to plug in

Best Stereo Microscopes

AmScope SE400-Z Professional Binocular Stereo Microscope

AmScope SE400-Z Professional Binocular Stereo MicroscopePin

As we mentioned, stereo microscopes work best for viewing 3D, opaque objects like insects or circuitry. AmScope is the most widespread brand of stereo microscopes, delivering high-quality results. In this case, we have a fully adjustable microscope that offers flexibility and versatility while working, thanks to its open design and boom arm.

Adjustable Boom Arm

If you need to look at tiny objects, a microscope with a built-in base works best. However, if you need to inspect larger items (i.e., electronics and circuit boards), you need a boom arm like this one. The arm allows you to shift the field of view on both the X and Y axis, giving you greater flexibility while working. Keep in mind, though, that the arm can make the microscope top-heavy, so you want to stabilize the base.

Flex LED Light

Typically, microscopes have a fixed light source. Since this model gives you a greater range of motion, it needs a light that is just as flexible. The gooseneck design allows you to position the LED as you see fit, or you can move it out of the way altogether.

What Customers are Saying

“In terms of optical quality and working distance, I think this meets my needs 100%; the working distance is long enough that I now have room for my hands, and I no longer have to hunch over my desk in order to see through the eyepiece.”

Pros

  • Sturdy construction
  • Boom arm offers more flexibility
  • Adjustable LED light for convenience
  • Ideal for large-scale objects
  • Up to 20x magnification

Cons

  • Can’t adjust focus – only two magnification options
  • When extended, the boom arm can make the stand unstable

AmScope SE306R-PZ Forward Binocular Stereo Microscope

AmScope SE306R-PZ Forward Binocular Stereo MicroscopePin

If you need a stereo microscope that offers better control while viewing smaller objects, this is a much better choice than the SE400-Z above. Best of all, you can look at both translucent and opaque objects, thanks to the dual-lighting source. This microscope offers a reversible plate as well to create better contrast while viewing.

Extra-Comfortable Eyepieces

If you’ve ever had to strain your neck and eyes to look into a standard microscope, you will love these eyepieces. They come with rubber gaskets on the side that help hold your head in place automatically. This design means that you can work for longer periods without pulling a muscle.

Top and Bottom Lighting

Although stereo microscopes are not ideal for all transparent objects, some items look better when lit from below. Having both lighting options ensures that you can get the most out of this device.

What Customers are Saying

“I am a student of microbiology and genetics. I have owned this for about 2 years now. It is a VERY nice microscope. Resolution is great, it is versatile, and nothing has broken on it.”

Pros

  • Durable construction
  • Top and bottom LED lighting
  • Dual-sided plate for black or white background
  • Comfortable binocular eyepieces
  • Stable base with rubber feet

Cons

  • Wider field of view doesn’t yield great results
  • Hard-to-read manual

Best USB Microscopes

Wireless Digital Microscope Handheld USB HD Inspection Camera

Wireless Digital Microscope Handheld USB HD Inspection CameraPin

When it comes to versatility and ease of use, USB microscopes are an excellent choice. While they won’t work for professional applications or lab settings, they allow you to get a closer look at the world around you. With an easy setup and connection system, you can even record your work and share it online.

Wi-Fi Connection

Some USB microscopes require you to stay connected to your smartphone or computer. However, this model comes with a built-in Wi-Fi connector, giving you much more flexibility and freedom. That said, if you are outside, the system is a bit finicky, so you might have to re-establish the connection multiple times.

Up to 1000x Magnification

Technically speaking, you can’t get up to 1000x magnification on everything. However, with the proper setup and illumination, you can see microscopic elements like amoeba and plant cells. The primary issue is that this microscope doesn’t have a base plate, so it’s hard to get close enough to your target.

What Customers are Saying

“I do a lot of circuit board soldering, and my eyes aren’t what they used to be. I can set this up on a workpiece, magnify the image as needed, and see the detail of what I’m doing through the wireless connection.”

Pros

  • Built-in stand for stability
  • Compatible with Android and iPhone
  • Free app to view your images
  • Record stills or video clips
  • Wireless internet connection available
  • Up to 1000x magnification
  • Adjustable LED lighting

Cons

  • Hard to focus and take images simultaneously
  • Stand can feel a bit flimsy

Cainda Digital USB Microscope

Cainda Digital USB MicroscopePin

If you want a quick and easy way to get up close to your targets, this microscope from Cainda is an excellent option. While not as powerful as a professional-grade model, it works well to stimulate your senses and give you a unique perspective on the world around you.

Adjustable LED Lighting

This model comes with eight built-in LED lights, which you can brighten or darken, depending on your needs. As with other USB microscopes, it can be challenging to get close enough to your target, but the lighting system enables you to get crystal clear images once you do.

Capture Images or Video

One of the best things about a USB microscope is that you can record your activities in real-time. If you connect to a smartphone, you can share your footage live, making it ideal for demonstrations or webinars.

What Customers are Saying

“I’ve had this scope for a little while now. I use it almost daily to look for bugs on my plants (especially russet mites). I absolutely love this thing and can’t believe I ever grew anything without it.”

Pros

  • Easy to use software
  • Compatible with Android, iPhone, Mac, Windows
  • Adjustable LED lighting
  • Take pictures or record video in real-time
  • Wider base than other USB microscopes

Cons

  • Magnification claim is misleading
  • No Wi-Fi connection

How to Choose a Microscope

We’ve seen a lot of high-quality microscopes on this list, but how can you narrow your search even further? Here are the top features and benefits to pay attention to when comparing different models.

Size

Since microscopes come in different sizes, you first have to determine the types of objects you’ll be viewing. Do you plan on looking at 3D targets, or do you want to look at microscopic slides? If you plan on looking at larger targets, you’ll need a microscope that offers more flexibility (i.e., stereo or USB).

Another point to consider with the size of your microscope is where it will go when it’s both in and not in use. Some models are relatively compact, while others can take up quite a bit of room on a countertop or table.

Price

Microscope prices can vary wildly, depending on the technology used. For example, compound microscopes can sometimes cost around $100 or more, while digital microscopes will be at least $200 or higher. Typically, USB microscopes are the cheapest option, but they also have limited functionality because they are so portable and have a relatively small viewing surface.

Overall, when comparing prices, consider how often you’ll use the microscope and how reliable it has to be for your needs. A more expensive model is worth the cost if you need something robust and powerful.

Type

We discussed the various types of microscopes, and each one is best for a specific application. Here are some examples of when to use each type:

Compound Microscopes – Ideal for looking at microscopic cells and biological elements, such as bacteria. You will need a set of slides or Petri dishes for these microscopes.

Stereo Microscopes – Best for looking at small, nontransparent items like sand or bugs. Stereo microscopes can also work best for electronics and circuitry.

Digital Microscopes – Since you can buy these models in either a stereo or compound version, the primary purpose of purchasing a digital microscope is to get a larger viewing area or capture images and screenshots.

USB Microscopes – If you want something simple and easy to use, a USB microscope is an optimal choice. These units are also ideal for exploring the outdoors since you can connect the device to your smartphone and see targets like trees, grass, and bugs in their natural habitat.

Final Verdict

As you can see, microscopes come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and designs. Hopefully, this list will help you find the best microscope for your needs, whether you need something for work or just want to be more scientific at home.

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