The 10 Best Microscopes

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The best microscopes can be used to view objects as small as bacteria, but there are also microscopes with much lower magnification that are useful for people who want to solder circuit boards or repair hard-to-see parts on watches. Some microscopes are made of simple metal and glass, while others have digital aspects that allow the user to capture videos, still images, and also allow them to analyze those images. Many are the stereotypical bulky microscopes that you’d expect to see in a lab or a classroom, but a few on the following list are handheld digital microscope tools, and hardly look like microscopes at all.

The products featured here come in a wide range of prices from as low as $35 to $600 and up. Whether you’re just starting out, want to buy a first microscope for a child, or need some serious professional equipment, there’s a microscope for you out there. We’ve personally scoured dozens of professional and customer reviews, how-to videos, and articles to find the top ten microscopes that are currently on the market. Through features like magnification power, lighting, digital aspects, and value, we examined how to buy the top microscopes available.

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  • Great value
  • Made for education
  • Five magnification settings
premium choice rating
  • Ideal for large samples
  • Highly controllable LED
  • Two Barlow lenses
great value rating
  • Great value
  • Portable
  • Diffuser to reduce glare

Microscopes are actually centuries old: the first true microscope was invented by Dutch scientist Antony Van Leeuwenhoek in the mid-1600’s, while the first lens used to magnify objects was used in 1000 AD. Though Leeuwenhoek’s microscope had a magnification of only 270X, microscopes quickly advanced in power as the production of glass lenses was refined.

Today we have microscopes that can magnify an object 2500X and beyond (2500X is the highest power of any microscope on the list at the end of this article). With their ability to get up close and personal with the world, microscopes are incredibly useful for science and education but also for children who will no doubt be entertained by the amazing views that microscopes have to offer.

The following ten microscopes serve a variety of needs. We’ll break them down to the basics so you have everything you need to know before making your choice.

View the Best Microscope for the Money, Below.

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1. AmScope M150C-I 40X-1000X

AmScope M150C-I 40X-1000X

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Read Customer Reviews Here »

You’ll quickly find that AmScope microscopes dominate this list—and there’s a reason for that. Though AmScope was only founded in 1996, the company is known for producing high quality yet fairly affordable microscopes. The AmScope M150C is highly regarded when it comes to serving students in science classes.

In fact, the M150C was made especially for education, tailored for students from elementary school all the way to high school. Besides the children’s AmScope-KIDS M30-ABS-KT2-W and the small Plugable USB2-MICRO-250X, the AmScope M150C-I is the best bargain on our list with a price of only $80.

Magnification Power

The AmScope M150C-I’s magnification settings are 40X, 100X, 250X, 400X, and 1000X.

Lighting

The LED lights are dimmable and can function either through an outlet or with three AA batteries.

Digital Components

In order to keep costs low, AmScope decided to sell the optional digital camera separately.

See more information on AmScope M150C-I 40X-1000X.

Why We Like It

  • Great value
  • Made for education
  • Five magnification settings
  • Two powering options

Magnification Range
40x - 1000x
Type
Biological Compound
Dimensions
15 x 10 x 7 Inches
Editor Rating
premium choice rating

2. AmScope SM-4TZ-144A

AmScope SM-4TZ-144A

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This is another AmScope, but it is drastically different from the AmScope M150C-I featured above. First of all, the SM is a stereo microscope that is much better for looking at larger items with its low magnification and far working distance. For example, a user could examine damaged circuit boards or other sizeable items. It has a 45-degree inclination to reduce neck and eye strain. It is also the priciest scope on our list for about $600.

Magnification Power

The SM-4TZ has a magnifying range of 3.5X to 90X. The two Barlow lenses can be used to increase range or working distance.

Lighting

The 144 LED bulb is removable and has four zones that allow the user to control the intensity of the light as well as its direction. The light is bright and cool: perfect for when samples are sensitive to changing temperatures. A rheostat is built in for control of the brightness.

Digital Components

As is true for most AmScope products, the digital camera is optional and purchased separately.

See more information on AmScope SM-4TZ-144A.

Why We Like It

  • Ideal for large samples
  • Highly controllable LED
  • Two Barlow lenses
  • Reduces eye and neck strain

Magnification Range
3.5x - 90x
Type
Professional Trinocular
Dimensions
21.6 x 21.3 x 19 Inches
Editor Rating
great value rating

3. Plugable USB2-MICRO-250X

Plugable USB2-MICRO-250X

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The Plugable USB2-MICRO-250X is as portable as it is affordable, going for a bargain price of about $35. It’s a digital microscope that’s great for students and hobbyists alike.

Magnification Power

With 250X magnification, the Plugable obviously can’t get close enough to examine bacteria (as microscopes with 400X magnification and beyond would be able to do), but for only $35, it’s still pretty impressive. It’s better for viewing bigger samples like coins or stamps.

Lighting

There are LED lights built in that are adjustable via a dial. Something not seen in many microscopes is that the lights shine through a diffuser (this helps to reduce any glare—particularly helpful when looking at samples that reflect light).

Digital Components

With your computer, you can easily control the camera feature. Aspects like capture resolution and exposure are simple to adjust. There are also video and time-lapse features if your sample is one that changes over time.

See more information on Plugable USB2-MICRO-250X.

Why We Like It

  • Great value
  • Portable
  • Diffuser to reduce glare
  • Many camera features

Magnification Range
0x - 250x
Type
Digital
Dimensions
9 x 6 x 2 Inches
Editor Rating

4. OMAX 40X-2000X Digital

OMAX 40X-2000X Digital

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OMAX is a company that’s nearly half a century old. Over the years, the main focus of their products has been for educational purposes, enriching the lives of students of all ages. OMAX creates not only microscopes but also a wide variety of software and cameras that enhance these tools even more.

Magnification Power

The OMAX can magnify at eight different settings: 40X, 80X, 100X, 200X, 400X, 800X, 1000X, and 2000X. At such a high magnification, a user can easily see details of blood cells or even bacteria.

Lighting

The lighting is an adjustable LED.

Digital Components

The USB camera works with most Windows and Mac systems. Like the Plugable USB2-MICRO-250X, it can capture both still images and videos.

See more information on OMAX 40X-2000X Digital.

Why We Like It

  • Eight magnification levels
  • Magnifies from 40X to 2000X
  • Able to view small and large objects
  • Creates still images and videos

Magnification Range
4x - 2000x
Type
Digital Binocular Compound
Dimensions
12 x 8 x 15 Inches
Editor Rating

5. AmScope SE400-Z

AmScope SE400-Z

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The SE400-Z is a fixed stereo microscope that’s great for engineers who constantly need to solder big items or electricians who want to repair circuit boards. It has a long working distance for handling these large items. It can also be used for watch repair, gem setting, and many other large items that require detail work that is difficult for the naked eye. The 30-degree vertical inclination reduces eye and neck strain.

Magnification Power

The largest of samples can be looked at through 1X magnification. Otherwise, there are the switchable 10X and 20X wide field eyepieces.

Lighting

This microscope uses either an adjustable gooseneck LED light or a halogen wand. Many users opt for the gooseneck light which is more suitable for directing the light to different areas of the sample.

Digital Components

As usual, AmScope offers a separate digital camera that can be attached to the SE400-Z.

See more information on AmScope SE400-Z.

Why We Like It

  • Great for large samples
  • Interchangeable 10X or 20X widefield eyepieces
  • Reduces eye and neck strain
  • Gooseneck LED light or halogen wand

Magnification Range
1x - 20x
Type
Professional Binocular Stereo
Dimensions
17 x 16 x 8 Inches
Editor Rating

6. OMAX 40X-2000X

OMAX 40X-2000X

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The OMAX 40X-2000X is great for high school and college students, hobbyists, and lab workers. With its eight options for magnification, it shares a lot in common with the OMAX 40X-2000X Digital, just without the extra digital components. The 45-degree inclined binocular is reminiscent of the AmScope SM-4TZ-144A’s and the AmScope SE400-Z’s ability to lessen neck and eye strain.

Magnification Power

Its eight magnification settings range from 40X, 80X, 100X, 200X, 400X, 800X, 1000X, and 2000X. It also has two interchangeable wide-field eyepieces of 10X and 20X. It is well-suited to viewing specimens like fungi, protozoa, and even bacteria.

Lighting

The OMAX has a lower LED light whose intensity is adjustable.

Digital Components

If you’re searching for features like photo capture, videos, and time-lapses, the OMAX 40X-2000X Digital has everything you need.

See more information on OMAX 40X-2000X.

Why We Like It

  • Eight magnification settings
  • Magnifies from 40X to 2000X
  • Has two interchangeable 10X and 20X widefield eyepieces

Magnification Range
40x - 2000x
Type
Compound
Dimensions
12 x 8 x 15 Inches
Editor Rating

7. AmScope M158C-E

AmScope M158C-E

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At about $120, the AmScope M158C-E is very affordable considering all of its digital features. With up to 1000X magnification, it’s also fairly powerful.

Magnification Power

The monocular viewing head has 10X and 25X widefield eyepieces that are interchangeable. The microscope comes with an optional camera and provides a 40X view when attached to the eyepiece.

Lighting

The AmScope M158C-E has LED lights that are rechargeable. It is a cordless device.

Digital Components

As mentioned above, there is an attachable 40X magnifying camera. It works with Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows Vista, and Windows 7. As for hardware, an Intel Core2 2.8GHz processor, 2GB RAM, and a USB2.0 port are needed. The fact that it’s cordless and rechargeable means you can take it anywhere without worrying about finding an outlet.

See more information on AmScope M158C-E.

Why We Like It

  • Great value
  • Cordless and rechargeable
  • Optional camera
  • 10X and 25X Interchangeable widefield eyepieces

Magnification Range
40x - 1000x
Type
Compound Monocular
Dimensions
15 x 10.3 x 6.8 Inches
Editor Rating

8. AmScope-KIDS M30-ABS-KT2-W

AmScope-KIDS M30-ABS-KT2-W

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This AmScope is one of the highest quality microscopes designed for young children with an interest in science. They make great kids microscopes for those between the ages of 5 to 12. It has a whole host of accessories including brine shrimp eggs and a hatchery, a petri dish, a specimen slicer, and five prepared microscope slides. This beginner microscope can be bought for only $40.

Magnification Power

With six magnification settings (including 120X, 240X, 300X, 480X, 600X, and 1200X), the Kids AmScope can view a wide variety of samples.

Lighting

This beginner microscope has both LED and mirror illumination with a built-in color filter wheel. The battery-powered microscope comes with 2 AA batteries.

Digital Components

Obviously there are no digital components that come with this beginner microscope, but its plethora of accessories will keep kids entertained for a long time.

See more information on AmScope-KIDS M30-ABS-KT2-W.

Why We Like It

  • Great value
  • Many accessories
  • Battery powered light
  • 6 magnification settings
  • Up to 1200X magnification

Magnification Range
20x - 1200x
Type
Beginner Compound
Dimensions
15.8 x 14.6 x 5.1 Inches
Editor Rating

9. AmScope B120C-E1

AmScope B120C-E1

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The AmScope B120C-E1 is a microscope with a high range of magnification. From 40X to 2500X, it is the most powerful microscope on our list. It also features a 30-degree inclination for neck and eye comfort. It is great for professionals, high school students, and teachers.

Magnification Power

There are six magnification settings: 40X, 100X, 250X, 400X, 1000X, and an incredible 2500X that beats out even the OMAX whose maximum magnification is 2000X.

Lighting

Like most USB microscopes, the B120C-E1 has an LED bulb whose brightness is adjustable by a dimmer. The bulb is cool, making this microscope perfect for temperature-sensitive samples.

Digital Components

The microscope is USB capable and comes with a camera that is compatible with Windows (XP, Vista, 7, and 8), Mac OS X, and Linux. The software is user friendly. Users can take photos, shoot videos, and measure their samples. USB microscopes are on the up!

See more information on AmScope B120C-E1.

Why We Like It

  • 2500X magnification
  • Comfort for eyes and neck
  • Cool lighting for temp-sensitive samples
  • Shoots videos and takes photos

Magnification Range
40x - 2500x
Type
Siedentopf Binocular Compound
Dimensions
16.5 x 11.8 x 9.1 Inches
Editor Rating

10. Dino-Lite USB Handheld Digital

Dino-Lite USB Handheld Digital

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The Dino-Lite handheld digital microscope features offer not only photo and video capture, but also measurement, annotation, and analysis of samples. As its name suggests, this microscope is highly portable, tiny enough to carry almost anywhere. To look at any photos or videos captured, a computer is required.

Magnification Power

The Dino-Lite handheld digital microscope has a variable 10X to 220X magnification. While users cannot hope to see the smallest of samples like the OMAX microscopes can, there is still a multitude of items that are viewable.

Lighting

The Dino-Lite usb digital microscope has 8 LED lights that can be controlled through the scope’s software.

Digital Components

The software that comes with the Dino-Lite usb digital microscope has features for annotating and analyzing images. It can also take time-lapse videos and can measure samples precisely. The Dine-Lite usb digital microscope is compatible with Windows (XP, Vista, 7, 8, and 10), Mac OS 10.5+, and Android devices.

See more information on Dino-Lite USB Handheld Digital.

Why We Like It

  • Great value
  • Portable
  • 8 LED lights
  • Annotates and analyzes images
  • Takes time lapse videos
  • Measures samples

Magnification Range
10x - 220x
Type
Hanheld Digital
Dimensions
4.1 x 1.3 x 1.3 Inches
Editor Rating

Microscope Buyers Guide

What do you want to use your Microscope For?

First and foremost, you must ask what your specific needs are. Microscopes like the AmScope SM-4TZ-144A and the M158C-E both have a great magnification for viewing large objects but aren’t as worthwhile if you want to look at something as small as bacteria samples. If you’re aiming to look at the latter, something like the AmScope B120C-E1 with its 2500X zoom would be the way to go. If you’re going to be in a lab all day, things like the size and weight of the microscope won’t really factor into your final decision.

In such a case, you’ll likely require a high-powered, professional scope like the OMAX 40X-2000X or the AmScope SM-4TZ-144A. However, if you want your microscope to get some mileage, a small and portable microscope like the Plugable USB2-MICRO-250X or the Dino-Lite USB microscopes tend to be affordable and well-suited for travel.

Magnification Power

As touched on above, magnification power should play a huge role in your buying process. After all, the main reason you want a microscope is to see small things close up. Microscopes like the AmScope SE400-Z, the AmScope M158C-E, and the AmScope SM-4TZ-144A should be your go-to if you want, for example, to repair small parts of a phone with a soldering iron. On the flip side are microscopes with ranges exceeding 1000X magnification.

There are a number of these on our list, including the OMAX 40X-2000X, and the AmScope B120C-E1. Even the AMSCOPE-KIDS M30-ABS-KT2-W (which is built as one of the many microscopes for kids) can reach magnification levels of 1200X. Amazingly, all of these microscopes will allow you to see the details in blood cells and bacteria.

Lighting

The lighting of the sample you are viewing is very important. As all the products on this list use some form of adjustable lab LED light, the question of the right lighting mostly comes down to how these lights are powered. Some have dual options of either plugging the microscope into an outlet (not good for portability) and inserting AA batteries (the Kid’s AmScope model is one that only works with batteries). Others have no cords and are rechargeable (such as the cordless AmScope M158C-E) with the help of a rechargeable battery.

Digital Components

Many microscopes today can be easily connected to a laptop and will offer a whole host of new microscope features to play around with. You’ll have to ask yourself two things: can I afford this software, and do I really need its advanced features? Software like this will certainly jack up this price. Luckily, when microscope manufacturers like AmScope make microscopes they usually have an optional microscope camera that you can buy separately and attach to the eyepiece of your scope.

Not only can you capture still images with this image capture microscope camera, you can also make videos (including time-lapse videos), and you can accurately measure the size of your samples. Another bonus is that you can upload and email these findings to colleagues. In short, if all you want to do is look at samples as a hobby, a handheld digital microscope may not be necessary.

How do you use a Microscope?

There are many types of microscopes, but we’ll focus here on the one that’s most common in school labs: the compound microscope. First, set the microscope to its lowest magnification power on the objective lens (this is likely 4X). Then put the microscope slide you want to examine onto the mechanical stage and clip it down with the mechanical stage clips. Move the mechanical stage upward with the focus knob until it’s as close to the objective lens as possible without actually touching it.

Then look in the eyepiece and fine focus the image until it’s clear. The condenser will need to be adjusted so that the optimal amount of light comes through. Now you can switch to a higher power objective lenses and readjust the fine focus and condenser again if you need to.

What are the four main types of Microscopes?

Compound light microscopes are relatively inexpensive machines that combine optical glass lenses and light to magnify objects up to about 1000X. These are the scopes usually seen in science classes. Stereo microscopes (also known as dissecting microscopes) have two differently angled optical glass lens paths that create a 3D image of the sample. These are low power scopes that magnify between 10X and 200X. As technology advances, handheld digital microscopes are on the rise.

Invented in 1986, digital microscopes use USB to connect to your computer where you can then make use of the video and image capture of your subject. Lastly, pocket microscopes are tiny, portable, hardy machines that can typically magnify between 25X and 100X.

How does a Microscope Work?

The lens of a microscope provides magnification by bending the light waves that pass through it. Compound lenses have two or more lenses that combine their power to further magnify a sample, sometimes making them appear 2000 times larger. For a microscope to have a clear image of the sample, there must be high resolution. This is achieved by the frequency of light waves as well as the lens quality.

Shorter wavelengths mean better resolution. Proper lighting is also important. Sometimes a user must stain their sample beforehand to obtain the right contrast. Otherwise, microscopes have condensers that change the size and brightness of the beam of light (a narrower beam means higher contrast and more visibility).

Conclusion

A microscope can be a potentially pricey investment. If you’re a beginning hobbyist and are not sure if you’ll maintain interest in your microscope, a cheap portable beginner microscope with a minimum of digital bells and whistles is your best bet. At any rate, the purchase of a microscope requires some serious research. Ask yourself what you want to use the microscope for, what magnification you need, what power sources for the microscopes are available to you, and whether or not you want to attach your microscope to your computer.

We would suggest looking for customer or professional reviews that feature photos captured of magnified samples. This way you can see the resolution and the amount of detail that the microscope is capable of. The quality of the image will ultimately come down to high or low price, so bare that in mind when you’re figuring out how much money you’ll end up spending on your new microscope.

Expert Tip

Microscopes are actually pretty fragile, so always carry them with one hand holding the flexible arm and the other holding the base, and never carry it by the eyepiece.

Did you Know

An electron microscope is capable of magnifying objects up to 500,000 times, allowing scientists to see down to individual atoms.