first microscope

Your First Microscope

I’ve written this post to help a beginner choose a first microscope. I won’t go into detail about how a microscope works. To learn more about that, I suggest you read my post about the compound microscope parts and how they function. I recommend reading that post because it will help you understand what you are buying, and I guarantee you that it’s not obvious at all.

Choosing A First Microscope

The most important points you need to consider for a beginner microscope are:

  • The magnifications of the included objectives.
  • The type of objectives included.
  • The type of lighting in the microscope.
  • The build quality of the microscope.

Although there is more to a microscope than this, these are the most important factors for choosing a beginner microscope.

What Is The Best Microscope To Get A Detailed View?

To get an idea of what you can see with a beginner microscope, you should know that all the microscopic images in this post were taken with an absolute beginner microscope with 4x, 10x and 40x objectives, and a 10x eyepiece (400x maximum magnification). The microscope cost me less than $150. I used a very cheap snapshot camera to take the pictures, and I just held the camera over the eyepiece by hand.

If you’ve read my post about how a microscope works (you’ve read it, right?), you will know that the advertised total magnification of a microscope is pretty much irrelevant to the detail you can see with a microscope. Much more important is the lighting and the types of objectives and the magnification of the objectives you are using. This will determine what detail you can see, and how much of the image is clearly in focus and how much is out of focus.

I would suggest getting a microscope that includes at least a 40x objective. You’ll also enjoy lower magnifications such as a 10x objective to see the bigger picture which you will miss with high magnification objectives.

40x spider skin under microscope
A spider skin under a microscope at 40x magnification.
100x spider skin under microscope
A spider skin under the microscope magnified 100x.
40x plant cells under microscope
Plant cells magnified under a microscope 40x.
100x blood under microscope
Blood under a microscope magnified 100x.

A 40x objective will allow you to see many cells clearly. You can see microscopic predators eating other microscopic lifeforms. You can see red blood cells, but they will still be quite small at that magnification.

400x blood under microscope
You can see individual red blood cells under a microscope at 400x magnification.
400x plant cells under microscope
Plant cells magnified 400x under a microscope.

If you want to see red blood cells highly magnified, or make an amazing video of red blood cells, you will need a 100x objective. To use this objective, you will need to use the oil immersion technique. It’s worth the trouble.

Achromatic vs Planachromatic Objectives

For a beginner microscope, achromatic objectives are perfectly acceptable. Microscopes with planachromatic objectives are much more expensive, and more suitable for someone who is getting advanced in microscopy. Buy a microscope with achromatic objectives. If the microscope does not advertise what kind of objectives are included, they will be achromatic.

Halogen or LED lighting

There are quite a few different types of microscope lighting systems. From mirrors up to advanced fluorescence lighting. For a beginner microscope, halogen or LED lighting will provide the bright lighting needed for high magnification at an affordable price.

Brands Of Microscopes

Buying a top microscope brand is going to be expensive. The best brands have earned a premium spot in the market. There are lesser known brands that provide good microscopes though. And if you’re only spending $150 on a microscope, it’s not important that it’s a brand like Nikon or Olympus. I doubt Nikon or Olympus sell $150 microscopes anyway!

I suggest buying a microscope with a lot of positive reviews and few negative reviews. The negative reviews are going to come from people who have experienced mechanical faults in their microscopes, which many cheap brands have.

Buying A Microscope For Kids

If you are trying to figure out what microscope to buy for a child, I recommend a microscope with a quality build (less prone to getting broken from bumping) with a 40x objective at least. Less than 40x is okay for a while, but the child is going to get bored after a few days because they won’t see cells and blood and microscopic critters and interesting things at a lower magnification. A “grown up” microscope will provide children with entertainment and education for years. You may even incubate a lifelong interest in microscopy in them.

A good idea for children is to buy a small set of prepared slides. A prepared slide is a permanent slide with a specimen mounted and covered with a cover slip. The microscope you buy may even include a set. The children will have something interesting to look at straight away. Of course, the most fun is in using your creativity and preparing your own slides.

prepared microscope slides
Prepared slides are cheap to buy and give great samples to look at.

Microscope Photography

If you buy a microscope, you must try microscope photography! It’s great fun. You can post your images and videos on Facebook and YouTube. They are guaranteed to be of great interest to your friends, and for sure more interesting and unique than their shared posts. Who knows? Your images and videos may even go viral!

For microscope photography, you can use your phone or a handheld camera or buy a special camera designed to fit into the eyepiece tube.

You can also just hold a camera over the eyepiece. I took all the microscopic images in this post this way. Just press the camera lens against the eyepiece, look at the digital display on the camera to align it, and hold it steady while you take a picture.

Microscope Cost

A good beginner microscope with strong lighting and a 40x objective and 10x eyepiece (400x total magnification) will have a price of about $100-$150. This will be something that lasts a long time, and provides a great opportunity to explore how biological life works. This will not be a professional level instrument, but it can be a good beginner microscope to get started with.

If you are more serious about microscopy right from the start, then I would suggest a model with a 100x objective lens and a 10x eyepiece (1000x total magnification). A beginner microscope like this will probably go for around $250-$300.

However, you can always buy a 400x microscope and later buy a 100x objective to use with it. Your microscope will probably lack some features such as binocular eyepieces, and may not have as good lighting (although my beginner microscope has great lighting), but it may be a better path for someone who isn’t that serious about microscopy in the beginning, but may want to expand the magnification of their microscope later.

You can buy an achromatic 100x objective separately for about $25. Make sure the microscope you are buying supports DIN objectives. DIN is a microscopy standard for the screw thread of the objectives. A DIN objective will only fit into a microscope that takes DIN objectives. DIN is the most widely supported international microscopy standard.

In the UK you get the Royal Microscopy Standard (RMS), but if you buy an RMS microscope, be aware that you will only be able to upgrade it with RMS microscope parts. If you move overseas, you will struggle to buy RMS objectives and eyepieces that fit your microscope.

How To Buy A Microscope

To know how to choose a microscope, you need to know how the microscope components function together. Using this knowledge, search online for some microscopes that give you the features you want, and read the positive and negative reviews.

Where To Buy A Microscope

Amazon is a good place to buy a microscope. That’s where I bought my first microscope. It was very well packaged and delivered in 3 days. I live in Europe, and Amazon UK had quick and affordable shipping. Also, I got to read the reviews and judge for myself if the seller gave good support.

Happy microscope shopping!

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