The best microscope allows you to experience the wonders of nature, beyond what the naked eye can detect. Just as the best telescopes let you explore outer space, microscopes give you access to inner space.
These days, even the best microscopes aren't just found in universities or laboratories with big budgets. They're widely available for the ordinary consumer, at surprisingly affordable prices.
But how do you choose the best microscope for you? Well, just as if you were choosing a camera or phone, ask yourself what you want to use it for, and how much you have to spend on it. If you need further guidance, skip to our section on How to choose the best microscope.
Otherwise, read on as we round up the best microscopes in 2023, for scientific, educational, and photographic purposes.
Best microscopes in 2023
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Just get started with microscopes? Then you'll want the Bresser Biolux NV 20x-1280x, which is the best microscope for beginners – although it aims to be suitable for advanced users too.
This device comes with plenty of accessories, including an LED lamp offering six steps of variable brightness, a filter wheel with five colors, and various filters. More excitingly still, this mid-priced metal- and plastic-built microscope from German brand Bresser also features a built-in camera, enabling you to preserve and study your microscopic examinations at leisure.
There's a broad selectable magnification range from 20x to 1280x, and power (and portability) is delivered via three AA batteries. To get you started, there are five prepared slides and five blank slides included out of the box.
The resolution from the camera is limited to 1280x720 pixels, but this is fine for recording results, or showing your images on your computer screen using the supplied Windows software. In short, this is ideal for anyone taking their first steps into microscopic worlds.
Want to shoot pictures with your microscope? The Swift SW380T is our top pick. This slick, multi-purpose ‘research grade’ microscope is aimed at everyone from hobbyists to clinicians. And for a premium price, you get a huge 2500x magnification and the ability to attach a camera via its trinocular head/camera port.
Its two 10x and 25x glass eyepieces have been set at a 30-degree angle that aims to combat neck strain when viewing specimens, while the focusing system offers precision.
You get to choose from no fewer than six levels of magnification, including 40x, 100x, 250x, 400x, 1000x, and 2500x. An LED bulb controlled via a dimmer wheel provides the necessary illumination, while the large mechanical stage is similarly adjustable. Power comes courtesy of the mains.
The Celestron CM800 Compound Microscope is an affordable option that's marketed as ‘lab grade’, making it a great choice for college and university students. It comes with 10 prepared slides included out of the box, plus a sturdy all-metal build.
The combination of two eyepieces and three objective lenses allows for magnified observation at 40x, 80x, 100x, 200x, 400x, and even a whopping 800x, and the built-in LED illumination is adjustable. While a mains adapter is provided, it's also suitable to take out-and-about for field use. It can be powered by three AA batteries (included), and metal clips ensure whichever slide you're examining stays firmly in place.
A single focus dial maintains ease of use, and the microscope itself remains cool to the touch when in use. Even out of the classroom, this one exudes class.
While more expensive than some microscopes aimed at kids, this is a thoughtful bundle, supplied with 35 ready-prepared slides that mean young scientists can get started right away. Once the 8-12-year-olds (recommended ages) have had their enthusiasm engaged, they can use the supplied blank slides to explore their own specimens. There is even a brine shrimp egg hatchery experiment from which they can create slides.
Not only is all this inspiration included, but the microscope itself has a pleasingly adult feel with adult manufacture and binocular optics. We would prefer the option of higher magnification, but this set is more about revealing the potential to kids and binocular microscopes offer a 3D perspective.
The lighting means examining rocks and quartz is easy. It’s also much appreciated that a slide storage box is amongst the accessories, not to mention the detailed learning guide.
Do you or your kids want to delve deep into the microscopic world? Amscope's OMAX 40x-2000x Lab LED Binocular Microscope offers 2,000x magnification, you can explore the structure of fungi and protozoa, see the details of cell walls, membranes, organelles, and even view the nucleus in cells.
This microscope is mainly constructed from metal, with some plastic parts, and comes fully assembled. Perfect for home and school use, it features a sliding binocular viewing head, two pairs of widefield eyepieces, along with LED lighting and dimmer controls to help you see everything clearly.
The device is powered from the mains, and you can connect it to a camera via USB. You also get 100 glass slides and cover slips and 100-sheet lens cleaning papers with your purchase.
New to the microscopic world, and want to view it in three dimensions? This stereo microscope for beginners makes doing so easy and affordable.
This upright, 2x AA battery-powered microscope, with a robust metal head is nice and portable. It comes with 20x power and 10x adjustable stereo all-glass eyepieces with two objective lenses. You'll also benefit from a large viewing stage that bigger objects, such as rocks and beetles, can be placed on for examination with the aid of built-in LED illumination.
Two sample specimens are included and operation is made easy and straightforward via a single focus control. Also consider Celestron’s S10-60 device, which, as its name suggests, provides a wider magnification range of between 10x and 60x.
A microscope with a built-in camera is a great idea for keeping a record of your findings, and sharing them with your teachers, friends or fellow researchers. The PentaView as its name implies has five different optical magnifications, ranging from 4x to 60x. But thanks to the four-inch LCD touchscreen what you actually see is a magnification of 40-600x, so you can get a clear view of your observed sample – and there is even a digital zoom option if you wan to magnify further (although this will sacrifice quality). Images can be recorded onto an SD card at a reasonable, but unremarkable five megapixel resolution, with video captured at 640x480 pixels at 30fps. The LCD has a more limited 480 x 272 pixels resolution, however.
This is a cost-effective and portable alternative to a traditional microscope which can take advantage of your phone, tablet, or computer screen to give a close look without needing an eyepiece. The 2-megapixel camera feeds 1080P video to the phone wirelessly (or, oddly, 720P over USB). This makes it a very portable device.
Inevitably hand-holding such a device makes the image move, but an included mount
The Max-See viewing achieves what is promised too – there is no password on the camera’s wi-fi so it isn’t a difficult setup, but younger kids will need help. On the computer, the device appears as a camera just as when connecting a webcam.
The resulting video feed feels a bit more like a using macro camera (a feature that is included with some phones) – it wouldn’t please a serious biologist. It does, however, provide good detail for a similar investment as a basic kids' microscope without so much prep being required. You could even get some interesting stills for social media.
There's a sub-category of digital microscopes designed specifically for use as a tool by those soldering electronics or working with other tiny parts. This type is also ideal for coin collectors or other subjects lit only from above. And if that's what you're looking for, we recommend the AD4407.
This microscope comes with a decent-sized 7-inch screen. And its stand-out function is the ability to re-position the arm, thereby re-aiming the camera on the targeted work area and helping establish more of a three-dimensional perspective.
You also get HDMI-out, via which you can export images of 12 megapixels (4032 x 3024) and video at up to 4K (at 24fps), onto a MicroSD up to 32GB in size. The Dual LEDs mean none of the components should be in shadow during work, and a protective filter is provided. There's even a remote control that keeps the monitor looking elegantly button-free.
Want to turn your mobile into a microscope? The Jiusion 30X Zoom clips do just that. This no-fuss device is a lens with a built-in battery and LED light that can be placed over a phone camera lens that's no more than 25mm (1 inch) from the edge of the phone and over a phone no thicker than 12mm (half an inch).
That’s probably better suited to your kids' phones than the latest Pro models, which makes sense as this attachment is about fun and building enthusiasm. The batteries should provide over 70 hours of light, and carefully position the center of the image clearly. Better still, it can be used without instructions and all the features of the phone’s camera app will be available for image capture; it’ll easily capture interesting creatures on a garden safari.
Here's another great microscope for inspiring kids and younger students. With a variety of colors on offer, the plastic cases add a sense of personality that gives kids a sense of ownership, as well as keeping things nicely safe.
The microscope also features a two-position eyepiece (10x and 16x) which means there will be no losing eyepieces. The use of batteries means the microscope can be taken outside, and the lower illumination has a dimmer wheel, though you’ll simply need a well-lit environment as there is no upper illumination.
Where kids are interested in microscopes but just too young or impatient to handle the slides, the Junior Talking Microscope is an ideal alternative. The whole device feels a lot like a real microscope, but actually uses slides to teach them about the animal kingdom.
There are 20 slides with three images each. Each has accompanying facts which are read to the viewer by Bindi Irwin at the press of a button (once correctly positioned). Another button will ask questions to see if the knowledge is stuck.
While not every four-year-old is going to put the “slides” back in the drawer unaided, and even putting them in place can be a little fiddly, the storage tray is a thoughtful inclusion. In our experience, interesting facts they can access themselves are a great way to get the STEM ball rolling, even for kids who still find reading frustrating, which gives this clear appeal.
How to choose the best microscope
If you're buying a microscope for a child, you should probably aim for a cheaper model. If, however, you're a photographer looking to take digital images of the subjects you're viewing, it makes sense to get hold of a higher-priced microscope with accordingly higher specifications.
The main one to pay attention to is the magnification factor. The larger the number, the higher the microscope’s power, and the more extensive the level of detail visible. You’ll also want to examine build quality. If you need something robust then it's worth going for a microscope with an all metal-build, but if it's just for fun at home then something cheaper will definitely do the job.
Depending on the quality of the image you need, don’t discount the possibility of a phone adapter placed on the objective lens (eyepiece). The image might well be better than you expect, especially if you source the adapter from the microscope’s manufacturer.
When shopping for microscopes, you'll encounter three main types: compound, stereo, and digital. Let's quickly run through what these terms mean.
Compound microscopes effectively work like binoculars or telescopes, using an optical system with an objective lens and an eyepiece.
Stereo microscopes, meanwhile, have two separate (binocular) eyepieces and two optical paths to render their subject in a more three-dimensional way.
Finally, digital microscopes relay an image to a monitor, rather than requiring the user to peer down an eyepiece. They also make it much easier to capture images of their subject.
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