Updated February 13, 2020 by Daniel Imperiale

The 10 Best Compound Microscopes

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This wiki has been updated 17 times since it was first published in September of 2016. Have you ever wanted to get up close and personal with some of the things that surround you in the everyday world? Well, now you can, with one of these 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 choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best compound microscope on Amazon.

10. C & A Scientific Premiere MSK-01L Basic

9. AmScope Optical M100C-LED

8. Gosky 40x-1000x Optical

7. Vision Scientific VME0007B-100-LD

6. Omax 40X-2500X Full-Size

5. Celestron Binocular CB2000CF

4. AmScope B120C-E1 Siedentopf Binocular

3. Omax Lab LED Binocular LP100

2. AmScope M150C-I Biological

This item has been flagged for editorial review and is not available.

1. Swift SW380T

Special Honors

Meiji Techno MT-31 This binocular option boasts a durable cast aluminum base that keeps it in place on a lab table. It also has something that few other models in the industry have to offer: a built-in 2100 mAh rechargeable battery. An order can be customized to include a number of the company's cameras, and it's guaranteed against any and all defects for a period of two years. meijitechno.com

Cole Parmer EW48923 If you teach students in small groups in a high level science program, you can gather them around the included tablet-style display that easily hooks up to this high-magnification model. It's available in four different configurations with varying contrast capabilities, and each one comes with a powerful 3W LED bulb for illumination. coleparmer.com

Editor's Notes

February 12, 2020:

Since we already have a list dedicated to microscopes for kids, we got rid of the My First Lab Duo-Scope and replaced it with the Swift SW380T, which is an offering from a company that's been very highly regarded in the industry for many years. It's one of the most smartly designed scopes out there, with its cutout handle that dramatically increases its portability while also decreasing its weight.

In reordering the ranking, we looked very hard at build quality and the smoothness of any and all adjustment points, from stage clips to diopters, in addition to magnification. In step with the trend toward more professional options, we also added a pair of pro-level scopes to our special honors section from reputable, if niche, companies, one of which has a tablet hookup on its trinocular head that's ideal for teaching environments.

October 18, 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.

Compounding Reality

That compound microscope brought me closer to those discoveries than a simple optical microscope could have.

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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Daniel Imperiale
Last updated on February 13, 2020 by Daniel Imperiale

Daniel Imperiale holds a bachelor’s degree in writing, and proudly fled his graduate program in poetry to pursue a quiet life at a remote Alaskan fishery. After returning to the contiguous states, he took up a position as an editor and photographer of the prestigious geek culture magazine “Unwinnable” before turning his attention to the field of health and wellness. In recent years, he has worked extensively in film and music production, making him something of a know-it-all when it comes to camera equipment, musical instruments, recording devices, and other audio-visual hardware. Daniel’s recent obsessions include horology (making him a pro when it comes to all things timekeeping) and Uranium mining and enrichment (which hasn’t proven useful just yet).


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