The 10 Best Compound Microscopes
We spent 45 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top choices for this wiki. Have you ever wanted to get up close and personal with some of the things that surround you in your everyday world? Well, now you can, with one of these excellent compound microscopes. We've included models priced suitably for everyone from young school kids to professional forensic scientists, with magnification ranges and capabilities to match nearly anyone's specific needs. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best compound microscope on Amazon.
October 17, 2018: The consistent performance of the camera on the AmScope B120C-E1 shot it to the top of our list. We also added a model from Vision Scientific, a company that looks poised to shave some business from the likes of Amscope and Omax in the years to come. The unit we included is really well-priced for its optical quality.
Some kids preferred to torture insects with magnifying glasses, but I was better at putting them out of their misery quickly, and getting down to the business of science.
When I was a kid, my family built a small addition on our house, and under that addition was a crawl space about three feet in height with exposed insulation and hard concrete floors. It was intended as a storage space, but as so little of it was used as actual storage, it wasn't long before my best friend and I took up residence there. At roughly 10 years old, we were already a little tall for the space, but we were just the right height to sit comfortably in old lawn chairs without hitting our heads on the cross beams. That space became our laboratory.
I always had an interest in science growing up, and much of that adoration came from the time spent in that little crawl space of a laboratory looking at anything my buddy and I could find to place under the objective lens of my compound microscope.
With one eye glued to the eyepiece of that microscope, I saw the inner workings of everything from simple chemicals to bits of eyeball harvested from the carcasses of carpenter bees who had taken up residence in the awning above my front door and had met their justifiable end with the swing of a tennis racket. Some kids preferred to torture insects with magnifying glasses, but I was better at putting them out of their misery quickly, and getting down to the business of science.
That compound microscope brought me closer to those discoveries than a simple optical microscope could have. The main difference between the two styles of microscope is that a simple model, as its name implies, relies on a single lens to refract light bouncing off or shining through a subject into the eye of the viewer. A compound microscope, on the other hand, utilizes two or more lenses to magnify that light. The result is both a larger image and greater resolution of detail, as additional elements of glass can correct for aberrations and focusing anomalies that can occur with just a single lens. This is why camera lenses, which started out as single pieces of glass back in the early days of photography, have come to contain upwards of a dozen or more glass elements inside them.
Which Compound Microscope Is Right For You?
The compound microscope I used as a child was undoubtedly inferior to any of the microscopes on our list, and probably inferior to the majority of microscopes on the market today, even those targeted at children. Despite this embarrassment of riches, it still falls to you to find a model that will suit your specific needs. Knowing a few of the key differences among available compound microscopes is sure to help you make that decision.
Despite this embarrassment of riches, it still falls to you to find a model that will suit your specific needs.
One of the most important aspects of any microscope is its degree of magnification. Most of the microscopes on the market allow you to select from one of a few objective lenses, which are the glass elements closest to the subject itself. These allow you to switch from among different magnification settings, some of which may be more appropriate for certain subjects than others. Simply put, the closer you need to get to your subject, the more magnification you're going to want, though this often increases the price of a given microscope.
As imaging technology has gotten better and better in recent years, many microscope manufacturers have chosen to eschew the traditional glass eyepiece in favor of an optical sensor. These microscopes often attach to monitors or computers so that you can view your subject on a large screen. This kind of microscope is excellent for demonstrative purposes in classrooms or among the larger groups of scientists. It also allows you to easily save images of whatever you look at, and to zoom in on those images even further than the objective lenses would allow once you get them into photo editing software.
If you're more of a traditionalist, and you want a microscope that provides you with the ability to look through it physically, you still have some choices to make. The biggest of these is whether you prefer a monocular or binocular eyepiece. Binocular microscopes are certainly going to be more expensive, as they practically double the amount of glass that you're purchasing, but they also tend to be a little bit more comfortable to use, as you don't have to squint with one eye closed to peer through to the stage. Of course, if you can't decide between a traditional eyepiece and an optical sensor, there are models on the market that provide you with both in a single unit.
Other Important Considerations
Once you've decided on the major aspects of your microscope as discussed above, there are a few additional features to look out for that may make your decision making process that much easier. These are the little things that can drive you nuts about a microscope if they aren't suited to your particular wants or needs.
Eventually, microscopes incorporated small incandescent bulbs not unlike those found in flashlights to illuminate your subject.
One of the most important of these features is your light source. Old fashioned microscopes often relied on mirrors to reflect available light up through a hole in the stage and up through your subject on its slide. Eventually, microscopes incorporated small incandescent bulbs not unlike those found in flashlights to illuminate your subject. Still, many of these weren't quite bright enough to get you the best possible resolution. But in recent years, most microscopes have built LED lights into their design. These will last longer and outperform incandescence varieties, and they don't add any kind of significant expense to the initial purchase, so make sure your microscope is outfitted with one.
The size of the stage itself, and the means by which that stage affixes your subject under the lens can be crucial. This is especially true if you work with samples that are larger than traditional slides, and that may need a little bit more room for you to examine. If the stage itself is too small, if the hole in the stage designed to let light pass through is too small, or if the clasps intended to hold your subject in place aren't adjustable, you may find yourself spending an inordinate amount of time just trying to position your sample before you can even take a look at it.
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