Three best microscopes
Microscopes bring the infinitesimal to life on your tabletop. There are more affordable models available today than ever before. Modern microscopes have impressive magnification with easy-to-use features that, with a little practice, let you dive into a world that's usually invisible to the naked eye.
These instruments can be used to supplement your children's science curriculum or enhance your personal research. The trick is to find a model within your budget that has the features that will help you view your chosen subject.
Here at BestReviews, we've created this shopping guide to help you find the microscope that's right for you. Check out our top three picks and prepare to jump into the micro world.
Considerations when choosing microscopes
Microscopes designed for home use generally fall into two categories: stereo (low-power) and compound (high-power) microscopes.
Stereo microscopes, also known as dissecting or low-power microscopes, have low magnification. Each of the two eyepieces has its own objective lens so you see a three-dimensional image. The design of this type of microscope makes it ideal for exploring the surface of an object during dissection or for repair work, such as fixing watches, and other precise tasks. Some models are used for medical procedures.
Compound microscopes get their name from the multi-lens design. The objective lens, which is closer to the object being viewed, creates most of the magnification, while the ocular lens, which is near the eye, adds an additional 2x to 20x magnification. Compound microscopes create a two-dimensional image that's ideal for looking at small organisms and blood or tissue samples rather than doing repair work or dissection.
Compound microscopes are either monocular (one eyepiece) or binocular (two eyepieces). In general, monocular designs are less expensive and offer lower magnification levels, up to 1000x. Binocular models are easier to use for adults (children tend to prefer monocular models) and have greater magnification, 2000x on some models.
Magnification: Most microscopes come with 4x, 10x, and/or 40x objective lens magnification. You then multiply that number by the magnification of the optical lens to get the total magnification. There are microscopes with as little as 60x magnification and a few high-end models with as much as 2000x. For most home users, 400x magnification is sufficient.
Digital capabilities: Some microscopes can be connected to a computer or tablet so you can see the image on a bigger screen in real time. Digital microscopes also allow you to keep your images for future reference.
Microscope prices: Monocular compound microscopes with 40x to 1000x magnification start at less than $100. Though you might not get the clarity you would at higher magnification, these offer a good balance of magnification and price.
Binocular compound microscopes and stereo microscopes start at around $100 and go up to over $400. Higher magnification and digital capabilities can be found at the higher end of the price range. The more expensive models also have finely tuned visual adjustments for the best clarity at higher magnification.
Q. What is a diopter adjustment and do I need one?
A. You'll find diopter adjustment knobs on binocular microscopes. They allow you to separately adjust each eyepiece to accommodate the visual needs of each eye. While they aren't necessary, they do create the best image clarity.
Q. What kind of portable microscopes are available?
A. There are several pocket microscopes on the market that, as their name suggests, are small enough to carry with you in a backpack or bag. Some of these connect to a smartphone and use that as a screen. However, these microscopes have relatively low magnification and are more prone to damage due to their use while on the go.
Microscopes we recommend
Best of the best: OMAX Lab LED Binocular Compound Microscope
Our take: Rivals and beats many of the microscopes used in schools. Relatively reasonable price.
What we like: Eight magnification levels, up to 2000x. Excellent focus and stage adjustment options for the best possible view.
What we dislike: Clarity starts to diminish at highest magnification.
Best bang for your buck: Carson Micromax LED Pocket Microscope
Our take: The price makes this one a steal. You can examine objects no matter where you are.
What we like: Despite its small size, offers 75x magnification, enough for outdoor exploration.
What we dislike: Only works on a perfectly flat surface.
Choice 3: My First Lab Duo-Scope Microscope
Our take: The perfect microscope for science-loving kids. Comes with excellent accessories package so kids can get started right away.
What we like: Glass optics work far better than the plastic found on other children's models. Lights from above or below for more viewing options.
What we dislike: Runs on batteries only.
Stacey L. Nash is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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