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Microscope for home use

 
pollinator
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Hi all. I’m not sure if this is the right forum page for this question, but it seems close enough.

I’m looking to pick up a microscope, not for any particular reason, but just because it would be fun to have and use with my kids. The absolute top priority is ease of use. I’m a glasses wearer, and my kids are just about to turn 7. My memory of most microscopes that I used as a kid was frustration. There was always a black halo in my field of view. I’m wondering about stereoscopic scopes with adjustable widths and individual diopters to allow for vision correction (my left and right eyes have different prescriptions).

We don’t need super high magnification, but we don’t want a frustrating piece of junk either. I’ve thought about systems that use a built-in camera to project to a screen rather than direct viewing, but I think it’s more exciting to be looking directly at something than it is to see it on a screen.

Does the group have any wisdom that might apply? The upper end of the budget is probably around $300 USD. I don’t mind buying used.

Thanks!
Daniel
 
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Hi Daniel, i recently bought a microscope for my daughter and I. she loves bugs and i want to learn to look at soil microbes and such from the garden. I started my search from the details suggested through the "soil food web" school and info on line about 'what makes a good soil microscope'. then searched on line for modest microscopes that fit those specs (or close enough) and found a trinocular one for around 300$ that even has a modest camera that we havn't hooked up since it's much more fun to peer through the lenses yourself.
After getting the optics to work right making slides that are interesting to look at is the other half the battle.
My daughter wears glasses and doesn't use them when looking in the scope. I think the eye pieces are individually focus able too. frankly i find myself closing one eye and looking in just one at a time. Bad form i'm sure and a habit i'll have to break lol.
I might say too to 'read the reviews' on whatever site you're going to buy from. I tried to make this purchase a while back and had to cancel the order when i thought to read the reviews. i was able to confirm that yes, that deal was too good to be true.
hope this helps some.
 
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That price point should give you a solid student microscope.  Stay away from scopes promising high magnifications. At that price points that mag is deliver3d in theory, but the quality isn’t there. AmScope puts out a decent product.

Let me rephrase that: don’t let the promise of high magnifications (say 1200or so) influence you.  High magnifications require high quality glass to give a good image ( as well as oil ..which is another issue). You are unlikely to get that in a scope at your price point. But, simply because a scope offers high mags does not mean the quality isn’t there at lower mags.
 
John F Dean
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Look for a course and fine focus, mechanical stage, and a diaphragm on the stage light. Lower magnifications are far more important than higher ones.
 
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I've had a Pluggable USB microscope for a few years, and for $20-$40 it has been surprisingly good. It doesn't have the magnification to see individual cells, but it's still pretty good. Also, it's kid-proof. I've dropped mine on the floor probably half a dozen times and it still works just fine.
S20211231_0002.jpg
Microprinting on $10 bill as seen through USB microscope
Microprinting on $10 bill as seen through USB microscope
 
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The USB camera styles are great for the garden and being able to use them with a cell phone camera is very handy. The USB endoscopes are cool too, I have put them in birdhouses and they have been there for two seasons so far. You can watch the birds as they lay their eggs and hatch. The endoscopes cost about 10.00 on Amazon.

 
pollinator
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I purchased a microscope with a moveable stage from Amscope. It was under $300, but with shipping to Hawaii, it went over $300. I use it for my veterinary work at the spay/neuter clinics and it works just fine. It has three magnification lenses, with the highest being an oil immersion lens.

Amscope offers quite a selection of scopes to choose from. I’m sure there are other companies, but another veterinarians bought one from Amscope and thus suggested the site to me.
 
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I don't know much about microscopes myself, but Oliver Kim over at Microbehunter has some great resources, including what to look for when purchasing:

https://www.microbehunter.com/the-beginners-guide-to-microscopy/

https://www.youtube.com/c/Microbehunter

Bear in mind there are many different types of microscopes.  Stereo (aka dissecting) microscopes offer a lower magnification, but useful qualities such as 3D visualization and depth perception. Therefore, making them ideal for visualization of larger objects.  Compound microscopes provide a much greater magnification power and so are better suited to inspect the microscopic structures in much smaller specimens.

 
Daniel Ackerman
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Once again, I am blown away by the quality and promptness of the replies on this forum. Thank you so much, everyone. I find myself torn now between between a traditional microscope and a stereo microscope. Do I want to look at moss structures first, or do I want to look for tardigrades in the moss? Maybe one this year, and the other next year. It was really helpful to see amscope.com as a good place to buy microscopy equipment.

I remembered that there's an antique mall nearby that has a vendor that sells a lot of up-to-date microscopes and stereoscopes. I might pop over there tomorrow and see what they have. All of your replies have been really helpful for narrowing my focus.

Thank you again,
Daniel
 
Daniel Ackerman
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also, that microbe hunter links is EXCELLENT.
 
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I have a little $20 usb one that plugs into the usb on my cell phone that is easy to use and okay down to bigger bacterial, soil particles etc.  The cheap plastic stand with it sucks.  They offered a good metal stand with it that was more than the microscope itself that probably would have been a good investment.  I assume there are better ones in the electronic stuff so you might want to look at some of them too.
 
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I don't know if this IBM produced microscope would suit your purposes or not, however, you can read all about it and download the Assembly Manual for free. Maybe it is worth a look-see!

It is reportedly a very good product even if it is a DIY job and supposedly is as good as, and has more capabilities than higher priced scopes.

https://github.com/IBM/MicroscoPy         https://github.com/IBM/MicroscoPy

This link also has VidClips and other links - including the Assembly Manual.

Maybe others will be interested in this DIY Project as well.
 
                              
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I have this one and I love it:  https://omaxmicroscope.com/40x-1600x-lab-binocular-biological-compound-microscope.html

 
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Dr. Redhawk has a low cost microscope recommendation in his soil series.
 
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I recently took the plunge and purchased a compound microscope for home/homeschool/fun use.  I also have kids of this age (8, 6 and 5 now) and wanted them to have a nice scope for the future.  The scope itself was only $200 but the additional things I wanted to go with it add on to the price, so be aware of that.  I'm a scientist by profession, but not the kind that looks through microscopes professionally so I was able to not agonize over decisions (I can't pick a telescope, for comparison).  My comments are limited to compound microscopes, as I haven't looked into stereo microscopes (yet!).  I will second the idea to not "chase" magnification. You will be disappointed in the results past about 1000x unless you want to bump up an order of magnitude in cost.

A microscope is like a SLR/mirrorless (i.e. swappable lens) camera; you can think of the body and lenses as somewhat independent.  In fact, if you look at a site like amscope, they have a handful of bodies in a myriad of configurations, so it's best to step back and think of them separately.

Lets start with the microscope body.  It provides a number of features necessary for looking at things.  First, the stage is where the sample sits to look at; it moves up and down (usually) to focus, and could also have the ability to move laterally to change the field of view (rather than just manually moving the slide).  Second, it has some ability to illuminate the specimen.  That could be a LED/bulb below, with or without an iris, or something as simple as a mirror to direct ambient light up through the sample and into lenses.  Sometimes they also have a light above the sample to illuminate something opaque.  Third, it has one or more places to look through (eyepiece holes).  This could just be a single one, and it could be straight up or at an angle.  There could be two, to be used separately (one angled and one vertical, sometimes called a "teacher's eyepiece") or together (binocular eyepieces, which usually have diopter adjustment).  There could also be three (this is what I have; binocular plus a vertical third eyepiece).  Finally, they have something to hold the objective lenses and quickly swap them out (the nose, which can rotate in the different lenses).  There could be three-five spots there, depending but 3 or 4 is most common especially at this price point.

I would highly recommend a moveable stage.  It really makes looking through the scope so much nicer, especially under higher magnifications.  It is the difference between a "nice" and a "cheap" feeling scope.  Second, make sure that you have coarse/fine focus, and I recommend seeking out a coaxial focuser.  This is where there is an inner wheel and an outer wheel which are geared to turn at different rates, but together.  It's a pain to have separate coarse and fine focusers and to run out of fine focus and have to back off, use the coarse, then back to the fine.  I recommend making sure the microscope has an adjustable iris, as that can be important in looking at some things.  I have lots of interested kids, so I went with the binocular+third vertical eyepieces so I can look through one and two kids can also look through the others.  I could also attach a camera to the third if I wanted.  For the record, I seem incapable of using the binocular eyepieces, but I think that's a personal deficiency -- I also can't see magic eye things and I think it is related.  My wife loves looking through the binocular scope (she is also a glasses-wearer and usually just takes them off and uses the microscope focus plus diopter to view things, which means they will be out-of-focus for the third eye, but that's how it will be.)

Next is the lenses, and there are two kinds to worry about: eyepiece and objective.  The eyepiece lens is what you look through.  In simple terms, I'd say go with 10x eyepieces, and no higher.  There is really no benefit to higher magnification eyepieces until the entire optical system is improved for physics reasons.  It just blows up the same blurry image past about that point.  It's also likely that there is no reason to go with a lower magnification eyepiece (at least as your primary eyepiece).  Just keep it simple there, and if you sometime had a compelling reason to use something else, buy that separately and swap it in as needed.  For the objective lenses (the ones close to the sample) you mostly need to decide: do you want especially low magnification (if so, make sure you get a 4x objective for 40x magnification) and do you want to look at bacteria and especially small things (if so, make sure you have a 100x oil immersion lens for 1000x magnification).  Don't forget that if you only wanted to rarely look at bacteria, for instance, you could choose to just buy that objective lens separately and swap it in as desired (if that was a better deal and you didn't mind it).  I have a microscope with 4 objectives: 4x, 10x, 40x, 100x.

I recommend the oil immersion lens, and I don't think you'll regret having it, and I think you'd prefer it just being there.

Finally, there are the additional things you will need/want.  You will want a box of blank slides and coverslips.  You need alcohol and wipes to clean them (even if they say they are pre-washed...) and to clean the lenses.  You will likely want some kinds of stains, depending on what you're looking at since cells tend to be transparent.  Esoin Y is great for plant matter.  If you have the oil immersion lens, I expect you'd want to do gram staining which needs crystal violet, iodine and safranin O.  There are other stains for living things (paramecia, amoebas) for viewing them swimming around, but I don't have experience with that (you also need slides with concave depressions to put their drops of water in).  You also need immersion oil if you have that lens (but they might send you a small sample size with the lens).  You might also want to get prepared slides which will likely be better than what you can make at home (but much less fun, to be clear!) and permanent (though you can do that at home as well).

In summary, you can get a very nice microscope at the $200-$300 range for home use and you might need to decide what features you want to narrow it down to a final choice.  I'll leave you with a couple of shots I took with my phone through the eyepiece of mine to give you an idea of what you can achieve with a simple set-up.  The phone was hand-held so the images are not the best, but that's what I've got available right now; I assure you it looks much better with your eyeballs.
mint-stem-1.jpg
Low-ish (probably 40x, I don't remember) magnification view of a cross section of the stem of a mint plant, stained with Esoin Y.
Low-ish (probably 40x, I don't remember) magnification view of a cross section of the stem of a mint plant, stained with Esoin Y.
mint-stem-2.jpg
Same mint stem under high magnification (400x, I think) showing one of the little "hairs" off of the side of the stem.
Same mint stem under high magnification (400x, I think) showing one of the little "hairs" off of the side of the stem.
sourdough-starter.jpg
Gram-stained sample of my sourdough starter. You can see the yeast (central yeast budding in this shot) and some bacteria (likely lactobacillus).
Gram-stained sample of my sourdough starter. You can see the yeast (central yeast budding in this shot) and some bacteria (likely lactobacillus).
 
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I’m a student at Dr. Elaine’s Soil Foodweb school. Next section in my course is microscopy. I purchased a Swift SW380T and it does all the course asks. Microbe Hunter gives it a good rating.
I too wear glasses and have seriously different prescriptions in each eye, and only one eye works at a time. Your old issue of a dark halo was likely due to having the aperture closed too much. Open the aperture and turn down the light intensity.
 
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This won't work for everyone, but IF you happen to have a way to access the sales that universities sometimes have at the end of the year, you might be able to pick up a good microscope pretty cheap.  My sister works at OSU (Oregon State) and some years ago picked up a couple for (if I recall correctly) around fifty bucks each.  She kept one and gave the other to our other sister for homeschooling her kids.  I don't know if you have to be an employee, or how often such sales happen, but it's something that could be worth checking out if the opportunity arises.
 
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Not the inexpensive way and excuse me repeating some other members' comments here.

One person's recommendation from Elaine Ingham


Ocular Micrometer
10x Wide Field Eyepiece
4x 10x 40x Objective Lenses (20x would be preferable to 100x)
Iris Diaphragm
ABBE Condenser 1.25 Numerical Aperture
Adjustable/Mechanical stage
(Shadowing or Differential Interference Contrast Microscopy - NOT Phase Contrast)

Another mentioned local schools and universities for a good deal on these kinds of microscopes
https://www.mushroomexpert.com/microscope.html

 
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Dr. Redhawk's excellent soil series discusses microscopes here.
 
Daniel Ackerman
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Thanks again! I ended up picking up what I think is an old high-school microscope. It's an Accuscope with plenty of features. It needs a good cleaning, but other than that, it seems to be in great shape. Mechanicals are all nice and smooth. The thing feels like a tank.
I borrowed some pre-prepared slides from a friend, and my Jeff Bezos will be delivering my clean slides tomorrow, I think.

Again, all of your replies have been a great help, and I hope this thread is useful to others, as well!

Happy New Year, everyone!
-Daniel
 
John F Dean
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Hi Daniel,

It sounds like you made an excellent choice.  How much did it cost you?
 
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