The best microscopes don't cost much, but they open up a whole new world to explore. While the best telescopes enable you to explore the vast reaches of outer space, microscopes give you the equivalent access to inner space. So if you want to experience the endless complexity of nature, beyond what the naked eye can detect, you'll be richly rewarded.
These days, the best microscopes aren't just limited to universities, or laboratories with big budgets. They're widely available for anyone to use, and at surprisingly affordable prices.
Choosing the right one for you is best approached 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. Prices and uses of microscopes can vary, so you'll have an easier time if you nail this down first.
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 2022.
Best microscopes in 2022
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-build 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 an 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 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.
With a recommended age of eight years up to 12, the Geosafari Micropro is an affordable metal and plastic microscope set from Learning Resources. It's an ideal way to get young, enquiring minds interested in science.
With adjustable magnification between 50x to 600x, it should have the necessary 'wow' factor to keep kids hooked. Two AA batteries are required to power its light, which are not included. There is, however, an 18-page guide to get you up to speed, including advice on how to use the various tools. There are 48 pieces to play with in total, including specimen slides, petri dish, test tube, tweezers, pipette, scalpel and spatula.
Want to view the microscopic world 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.
The Dino-Lite is a 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 a regular test tube clamp will also do the job.
There's a sub-category of digital microscope 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 which keeps the monitor looking elegantly button-free.
Want to turn your mobile into a microscope? The Jiusion 30X Zoom clips does just that. This no-fuss device is a lens with built-in battery and LED light which 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 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.
Rather than buy a microscope attachment to your phone, you could buy a phone that features a microscope. And here's our top recommendation
The Oppo Find X3 Pro is a flagship phone, with all the features you’d expect; Android 11, a snappy and smooth 10-bit 3216 x 1440 pixel 6.7-inch display. It’s powered by the fast Snapdragon 888 chipset and looks gorgeous in a choice of three shiny colors. Best still, one of the four cameras in the bump which gently protrudes, in a soft curve, from the back is a ‘Microlens’, sold as a microscope.
Admittedly at just three megapixels it doesn’t match the 50 megapixel main camera’s resolution. But it does offer 60x magnification and FHD video recording of subjects via a piece of optical glass which apparently takes over 40 hours to cut.
The results are spectacular and, though it only works with subjects you can get within a few millimetres of your phone (and there is no support to help with the process unlike with traditional microscopes); but the optics are up to the challenge.
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 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 is 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 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 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 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.