Choosing a microscope for beginners should be an enjoyable process. When I was in the course of selecting a microscope system for my use, plenty of factors came into play, so this created a rather daunting experience. With so many brands and construction types available, the decision-making process easily became a huge dilemma. These are the things I looked at when I got my beginner microscope.
I had to choose between a compound and a stereo microscope
Light microscopes derive their magnification from the objective lens and the eyepiece lens. The objective lens serves as the primary source of magnification, while the eyepiece lens acts as the secondary magnification component.
Light microscopes are of two types: compound and stereo, otherwise known popularly as high power and low power, respectively.
Compound microscopes are used for viewing smaller or more microscopic samples or specimens, such as bacteria, blood samples, water organisms and more. Those types of objects require the higher power of magnification for detailed viewing that a compound microscope can provide. A compound microscope typically comes with three to five objective lenses ranging in magnification between 4x and 100x.
Thus, if you have a 4x objective lens and a 10x eyepiece, the total magnification to expect would be 40 times. Boasting an integrated system, a compound microscope has its body and base forming a single unit. You can choose among monocular, binocular or trinocular models, depending on your desired magnification, the level of comfort, cost and intended application.
For my stamp and numismatics practice, I bought a stereo microscope, which is used for viewing larger objects including insects, bugs, gems, rocks, leaves and of course, coins and stamps, among others. Those types of specimens only require lower magnification between 6.5x and 45x, and this was exactly what I needed to work with. There are at least two eyepieces in a stereo microscope, from which we can obtain a three-dimensional image of the object under observation.
Choose between dual power and zoom configurations. Stereo microscopes are also available with a trinocular system for photography applications, perfect for my use. Stereo microscopes can also be integrated units but are more often modular in that a variety of stereo microscopes can be configured with various bases.
I ascertained the quality of construction
Although a higher quality device often commands a higher price, this would be too much of a generalization to go by when purchasing a beginner microscope. I was not focused on the price but the overall functionality of the instrument. For instance, high-quality units offer too many features that I didn’t find useful for my purpose.
The more crucial element for me was to buy from a reputable manufacturer. Thanks to the advances in microscope technology, there have been a variety of fine quality instruments with excellent optics but without the hefty price tags commonly attributed to popular brands. Loads of affordable devices now boast decent optics and an ergonomic design as well as reliable performance for daily use.
Many are made of high-quality prisms, solid metal alloys, and iris diaphragms.
I made sure the microscope came with top-quality optics
A good-quality objective lens comes with an achromatic design, which produces an enhanced ‘flatter’ image through color correction. On the other hand, some microscopists prefer an objective lens of better quality and less aberration compared to what achromatic lenses provide.
I looked for DIN- (Deutsche Industrie Norm) compatible objectives, which go perfectly with DIN-compatible microscopes for interchangeability. Also, a wide eyepiece offers easy viewing, so I wanted Super WideField (SWF) eyepieces, but there are Widefield (WF)ones available as well.