Looking for the best microscope so you can exploring a whole new miniature world? This guide is here to help you get started, so you can find the right microscope for your needs, and buy it at the right price - for study, work or play.
Most people's experience of microscopes starts with science lessons at school – and may bring back memories of the smell of lab chemicals and white lab coats. For many of us, zeroing in on insects, tiny organisms and crystalline structures not readily visible to the naked eye retains its fascination – and we still need a microscope to achieve such views. Today these scientific instruments are affordable - and offer features that you may not have enjoyed at college.
So what should you be looking for in your own microscope? As with any technological gadget, you first have to ask yourself what you want the microscope for, and the age and ability of the person using it. Also, with home-use microscope prices varying from the tens into the hundreds of dollars (or pounds), you'll also need to nail down your budget.
If you're a photographer, you also may want to consider if you want to be able to take a digital image of whatever you’re viewing, magnified. In this digital age, microscopes can offer this microscopy facility too.
Look for the terms ‘compound’, ‘stereo’ or ‘digital’ when looking to buy your first microscope. Like binoculars, compound microscopes utilize an optical system with an objective lens and an eyepiece.
Stereo microscopes reveal an object in all its three dimensional glory. Finally, digital microscopes will be able to relay an image via a monitor, rather than the user needing to peer down an eyepiece – and allow you to capture pictures of your findings.
As when buying binoculars (see our guide to the best binoculars for that), you’ll want to consider the microscope’s magnification factor. Essentially, the bigger the number quoted, the higher the microscope’s power, and the more intricate the level of detail visible.
You’ll also want to examine build quality. Do you want a sturdy, metal build tool for professional use, or are you looking for something fun for home education, which can stand to be a little less robust?
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 Celestron LCD Digital Microscope II a powerful option that not only comes with a 3.5-inch touchscreen LCD and a five megapixel digital camera with which to record findings, but also a magnifying power of up to 400x that can be magnified to the equivalent of 1600x if using the 4x digital zoom. What’s more, a 1GB SD card is included in the package, along with a carry case and AC adapter. Focusing is simplicity itself with the single wheel, while there is LED illumination provided for both the upper and lower level, with metal clips to hold slides securely in place. Another possible advantage is a TV output facility, which you can use to view your findings much larger on an external screen. A mechanical stage allows for adjustment by the user, while a six-position filter wheel offers red, green and blue filters and a range of apertures. A comprehensive option that just about has it all.
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.