The best microscopes unlock an incredible miniature world to explore. Great for users young and old, microscopes are a fascinating way to see tiny things in a whole new way. Whether you're interested in insects, crystals, minuscule organisms or whatever else, a microscope is the way to discover them.
You may think of microscopes as being the preserve of science lessons at school or laboratories with big budgets, but these days, these scientific instruments are widely available for anyone to enjoy – and at prices most of us can afford! That's why we've put together this guide to help those who are looking to buy a microscope, to give you an idea of the best microscopes out there right now.
This means, of course, that you could be forgiven for not knowing where to start when it comes to buying a microscope. It's best to approach it as you would buying a camera, or any gadget at all; ask yourself what you want to use it for, and how much you have to spend on it. Prices and applications of microscopes can vary, so you'll have an easier time if you nail this down first.
For instance, if you're buying a microscope for a child, you can probably aim for a cheaper model. If, however, you're a photographer looking to take digital images of the subjects you're viewing, then it makes sense to get hold of a microscope with this capability.
There are three main types of microscope that you'll encounter when shopping for them: 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 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.
While different microscopes will have various different specs, the main one you want to pay attention to is magnification factor. The larger the number, the higher the microscope’s power, and the more extensive the level of detail visible. Otherwise, the main thing to look at is build quality and construction material
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.
We've included a broad range in this guide, so let's get right to the best microscopes you can buy in 2021!
Best microscopes in 2021
For our money, the Bresser Biolux NV 20x-1280x is the best microscope for beginners – although it aims to also be suitable for advanced users. 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-build microscope from German brand Bresser also features a camera built in, enabling us to preserve and study our 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. If you are a beginner, there are five prepared slides and five blank slides included out of the box, to get things underway. The resolution from the camera is limited to 1280x720 pixels – but this great for recording results, or showing your images on your computer screen using the supplied Windows software. In short, this is a comprehensive option that won’t break the bank, making it ideal for anyone taking their first steps into microscopic worlds.
The Celestron CM800 Compound Microscope is an affordable option that nevertheless claims to be ‘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 allow 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.
This unusual design rethinks the traditional microscope - so instead of looking at your miniature subjects through an eyepiece, you view them using a flip-out LCD screen. The FlipView looks very similar to a camcorder - and can record stills images on a microSD memory card, and can capture 1080P HD video too; this makes this a great learning tool, and allows you to easily collect illustrations for scientific projects. The maximum magnification is 120x - but there is the option to link the device to a PC to get a higher 300x view, and the benefits of a larger screen. The battery is rechargable, and there is a built-in light. You can use the FlipView handheld, or resting flat on the subject - but a stand is also provided for lab-like observations.
With a recommended age of eight years up to 12, the Geosafari Micropro is an affordable metal and plastic microscope set from Learning Resources. In effect a ‘science toy’ as much as it is a de facto microscope, it's an ideal way to get young, enquiring minds interested in science. It arrives with 48 separate pieces to play with, including specimen slides, petri dish, test tube, tweezers, pipette, scalpel and spatula. Boasting adjustable magnification between 50x to 600x, it should have the necessary 'wow' factor to keep kids hooked, too. Two AA batteries are required to power its light – these are sadly not included. There is, however, an 18-page guide to get you up to speed, including advice on how to use the various tools. Hours of fun await…
Looking to tempt the younger generation into scientific discovery but don’t want to be met with cries of ‘boring’? The Levenhuk Rainbow 50L is a brightly colored, easy to use, education-orientated microscope that proves science need never be dull. A single monocular head offers magnification from 40x up to 800x, there’s a neatly revolving ‘nosepiece’ with three objective lenses, with an LED lighting up the upper and lower stages. Power comes via an AC adapter or two AA batteries, which are helpfully included out of the box – this is an ‘experiment kit’ that aims to enable curious minds to get started straight away, after all. The eyepiece is ergonomically inclined by 45 degrees for more comfortable viewing, while a lifetime warranty provides extra peace of mind for the indecisive.
The Celestron S20 is a great beginners' stereo microscope. This upright, 2x AA battery-powered microscope is a great, portable option with a robust metal head. It comes with 20x power and 10x adjustable stereo all-glass eyepieces with two objective lenses. Another advantage here is a large viewing stage that bigger, three-dimensional 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. If you’re interested in this one, also have a look at Celestron’s S10-60 device, which, as it sounds, affords a wider magnification range, from 10x to 60x.
The Biolux Touch is a great choice as a biological microscope for students around 12 and up, or those teaching them, offering as it does the necessary magnification to see plant cells and their nuclei on a clear display with intuitive pinch-zoom for digital enhancement of the optical image. The microscope has two dimmable LEDs, one above for viewing non-transparent materials (like a butterfly wing), while the underside light has a rotating filter offering six different hues to clarify the image. Images and video can be recorded onto SD cards up to 32GB, and the 5-megapixel sensor offers decent quality for inclusion in a report. Videos are mjpegs. (Curiously the sibling with a smaller 3.5-inch screen offers up to 1600x digital zoom).
The Dino-Lite has plenty going for it. This cylindrical microscope is powerful, convenient (you can hook it up directly via USB to your Windows or Mac OS device) and precise (by virtue of it being handheld). Providing illumination via eight LEDs and featuring a 1.3 megapixel sensor at its heart, this digital microscope is claimed to be ideal for a range of close-up inspection tasks. For Windows users, Dino-Capture 2.0 software is provided, while for Mac users there’s DinoXcope. An optional stand is recommended for optimum results, though the size and cylindrical shape means that a regular test tube clamp will also do the job!
The Swift SW380T is a slick, multi-purpose ‘research grade’ microscope setup aimed at everyone from hobbyists to clinicians. And while it may not be the cheapest on offer in our roundup, it does pack a lot in – principally, an impressive 2500x maximum magnification and the ability to attach a camera (not included as standard) via its trinocular head/camera port in order to record your findings.
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. We 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, meaning that barring a power cut you won’t get caught short of juice.
The best microscope for professionals right now is the AmScope T580B. If your budget stretches to a few hundred big ones then you might want to drop them on this sturdy, metal constructed ‘trinocular’ compound microscope, which offers a magnification range impressively stretching from 40x up to 2000x. A further bonus is that the viewing head offers a vertical camera mount, there’s a 30-degree viewing angle to avoid neck strain, plus 360-degree rotation capability and a two-tier mechanical stage with low position control. A halogen bulb provides illumination, with adjustable light intensity plus a spare bulb included in the set, while anti-mould surfaces are said to protect optics if the device is used in high humidity conditions. Well-built and feature-packed, this microscope should ensure years of use.
A sub-category of digital microscope exists which are designed specifically for use as a tool by those soldering electronics or working with other tiny parts. (They’re also ideal for coin collectors or other subjects lit only from above.) The AD407 is a relatively high-end choice, offering as it does a decent sized 7-inch screen to work from. A 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. The system also has HDMI-out, exports images of 12 megapixels (4032 x 3024) and video at up to 4K (at 24fps), presumably with some upscaling, onto up to 32GB MicroSD. The Dual LEDs mean none of the components should be in shadow during work, and a protective filter is provided. There is even a remote control which keeps the monitor looking elegantly button-free.
A minimalistic approach, but one which will offer a decent magnification and thanks to its design clip reasonably well over most phones. This no-fuss device is a lens with built-in battery and LED light which can be placed over a mobile phone camera lens which is no more than 25mm (an 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 positioned the center of the image is clear. 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 in a garden safari.