Fancy exploring a whole new miniature world? This guide to the best microscopes is here to help you get started. Hear the word ‘microscope’ and you're immediately transported back to school science lessons, the smell of lab chemicals, protective plastic goggles and a teacher in a white coat. Whether you enjoyed such lessons or not, zeroing in on insects, tiny organisms and structures not readily visible to the naked eye retains its fascination – and we still need a microscope to achieve such views.
In this guide, we've rounded up our pick of the best microscopes available right now, so you know where to invest your money. Read on for some tips on what to look for, or if this has awakened a yearning for scientific discovery, take a look at our guides to the best telescopes and the top astrophotography tools to try.
The best microscopes: What to look for
So what should you be looking for in your own microscope? As when buying 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 that facility too.
Look for the terms ‘compound’, ‘stereo’ or ‘digital’ when looking to buy your first microscope. Like binoculars, compound microscopes utilise 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.
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 – again something reflected in the price. Do you want a study, 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?
Our buying guide to the best microscopes examines the small details for you, so that the big issues will look after themselves.
1. Bresser Biolux NV 20x-1280x
This battery powered device with integral HD camera is the best microscope for beginners
Magnification: From 20x to 1280x | Eyepieces: 5x and 16x | Objective lenses: 4x, 10x and 40x | Camera: Yes, 1280 x 720 resolution | Power: 3x AA batteries (included) | Dimensions: 150 x 105 x 270mm | Weight: 1100g
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 colours, 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. In short, this is a comprehensive option that won’t break the bank, making it ideal for anyone taking their first tentative steps into microscopic worlds.
2. Celestron CM800 Compound Microscope
Our pick for the best value microscope, this 'lab grade' option will suit students and amateur enthusiasts alike
Magnification: 800x | Eyepieces: 10x and 20x | Objective lenses: 4x, 10x and 40x | Camera: No | Power: 3x AA batteries (included) or mains power | Dimensions: 55.9 x 40.6 x 35.6cm | Weight: 1430g
The Celestron CM800 Compound Microscope is an affordable option that nevertheless claims to be ‘lab grade’. 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.
3. Celestron Micro Fi Wi-Fi Microscope
A super-compact, hand-held digital microscope for use by smartphone and tablet users
Magnification: 10x to 80x | Eyepieces: None (viewing via smart device) | Objective lenses: None | Camera: No | Power: 3x AA batteries required | Dimensions: 20.3 x 7.6 x 15.2cm | Weight: 295g
The Celestron Micro Fi comes with a particular USP: this is a Wi-Fi enabled handheld digital microscope that works in conjunction with your smart devices. Once you’ve downloaded the relevant app, you can stream live video to up to three devices at once, with a signal range of up to 30ft. You can also record ‘movies’ and stills with a press of the microscope's shutter release button. Despite the compact size, the Micro Fi offers 80x magnification and ring-style illumination via six LEDs.
Be aware you'll be paying a premium for both the compactness and connectivity when compared to a higher-powered conventional desktop microscope – and batteries will only offer two hours of use. However, if you’ve a particular niche this fills – such as examining insects in the great outdoors with a class of foraging school children, perhaps – then this ultra-portable option might well be the best microscope for you.
4. Dino-Lite AM4113T USB Microscope
The best USB microscope, with support for both Windows and Mac devices
Magnification: 10x to 50x, 220x | Eyepieces: None (viewing via Windows PC or Mac) | Objective lenses: None | Camera: None built in (although the scope itself can be used as one) | Power: Via USB | Dimensions: 10.5 x 3.2cm | Weight: 105g
The Dino-Lite AM4113T 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!
5. Learning Resources Geosafari Micropro
After the best microscope for kids? This inexpensive set comes with everything you need to keep young minds occupied
Magnification: 50x to 600x | Eyepieces: 10x and 20x | Objective lenses: Not specified | Camera: No | Power: 2xAA batteries (not included) | Dimensions: 9.7 x 25.4 x 33cm | Weight: 780g
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 (as is oddly typical for something aimed at kids) 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 the little ‘uns.
6. Celestron S20 Portable Stereo Microscope
An introductory stereo microscope at an economical price
Magnification: 20x | Eyepieces: Two at 10x | Objective lenses: Two | Camera: No (digi-scoping kit optional extra) | Power: 2 x AA batteries (included) | Dimensions: 7 x 5 x 10" | Weight: Not given
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.
7. Celestron LCD Digital Microscope II
This powerful, tech-heavy device is our pick for the best microscope with a camera
Magnification: 40x to 400x | Eyepieces: Two at 10x | Objective lenses: 4x, 10x, 40x | Camera: Yes, 5 megapixels | Power: 4x AA batteries (not included) | Dimensions: 170 x 140 x 330mm | Weight: 1600g
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.
8. Swift SW380T
With up to 2500x magnification and the ability to attach a camera, this is the best microscope for macro photography
Magnification: 40x to 2500x | Eyepieces: Two at 10x and 25x | Objective lenses: 4x, offering 40x, 100x, 250x, 400x, 1000x and 2500x adjustments | Camera: Optional, via camera port | Power: Mains power | Dimensions: Not given | Weight: Not given
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) 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.
9. Levenhuk Rainbow 50L
This colourful, easy-to-use option is the best starter microscope around
Magnification: 40x to 800x | Eyepieces: One | Objective lenses: 4x, 10x and 40x | Camera: No | Power: Mains or via 2x AA batteries (included) | Dimensions: 18 x 26.9 x 40.4cm | Weight: 2740g
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 coloured, 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.
10. AmScope T580B Compound Trinocular Microscope
The best professional microscope, with high contrast optics and ‘anti mould’ surfaces
Magnification: 40x to 2000x | Eyepieces: 10x and 20x | Objective lenses: 4x, 10x and 40x | Camera: No | Power: Mains | Dimensions: 21 x 18 x 10" | Weight: 8140g
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.
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