Magic is just science we don’t understand yet, said Arthur C. Clarke, the prominent 20th century science fiction writer.
Imagine the magic scientists witnessed the first time they saw the sandy, grainy shape of blood cells at 40x magnification.
Or the stippled, crowded amalgamation of individual blood cells at 100x magnification.
Or even the groups of cells and channels between them at 400x.
And finally, the flowing, roving mobs of cells that twist and turn and crash upon each other at 1000x.
Reading Between The Cells
The compound microscope comes from an antique time. Shakespeare was a young man writing plays for a modern world. Witches were burned at the stake. Rembrandt was early in his art career.
When the compound microscope was invented by Dutch scientists, a great well of mysteries gave up their secrets. Even today, this invention from antiquity persists in new forms and pushes exploration on the micro-scale to unimaginable places. And in the centuries since its creation, the compound microscope has found its way into all kinds of places the inventors probably never anticipated.
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Lit from above or below
When you buy a new compound microscope, you start with obvious choices and work your way down to the details you can’t necessarily see, but have an impact on the image in the end.
One of the most obvious choices is:
Do you want your sample lit from above or below?
An upright frame with lens system above the stage illumination below is the most common configuration. You’ll hear this called an upright microscope. The other option is an inverted configuration, where the lens is below the stage and the illumination comes from above.
Inverted microscopes are best for use when examining thick specimens or specimens that need a larger working space than a slide, like those in petri dishes.
Inverted microscopes allow you to cycle through more samples in a short amount of time. They limit the steps associated with placing and removing samples to 2. Place the sample, then remove the sample. There is no loading blank slides.
An inverted microscope is great for industrial samples and live cell imaging.
The upright microscope frame is the most familiar type of optical microscope. They’re referred to as benchtop compound microscopes, high-power microscopes, or high magnification microscopes.
With any compound microscope, you get a two-dimensional image that comes from a compound lens system. Each lens compounds the magnification of the previous lens factorally, usually to a maximum magnification of 1000x.
How do we get to that kind of magnification power exactly?
The eyepiece lens, with a typical magnification of 10x, is powered-up by objective lenses with magnification factors of 4x, 10x, 40x, or 100x, for a total magnification of 1000x.
At its highest levels of magnification, compound microscopes are used across applications in:
Of course, the variables are more plentiful than just inverted or upright. The most suitable microscope for your application depends on:
What you’re actually doing.
How much magnification do you need.
Specific features related to your application.
So let’s focus on a few questions and illuminate the things that matter most before you buy your next compound microscope.
Q: What setting will you use the light microscope in?
We’re taught to share as soon as we understand that things can be ours. But that part of your personality hides away when you start using your departmental budget. What if:
You only plan to use your compound microscope for an occasional or semi-regular process.
Colleagues in nearby departments also need a new instrument for their occasional or semi-regular process.
The same upright or inverted compound microscope can be used for multiple applications. A great way to stretch your budget further is to share (and to choose Omano over brands where you pay a premium just for the name).
Scientific, Laboratory, Clinical Use
Are you working in a clinic, laboratory, research center, or a scientific workroom? Biological compound microscopes (not to be confused with dissecting microscopes) can be used across applications in each workplace. These are high quality lab microscopes specifically constructed to accommodate the full spectrum of tasks common in medical and specialty clinics, hospitals, universities, and a range of research facilities. Some light microscopes you can consider include the, BA210 LED Compound Microscope, MT4200 Dermatology Laboratory Microscope, MT4200-V Veterinary Laboratory Microscope, and the MT9000 Series Polarizing Microscope.
School or University Use:
Students can be hard on microscopes in class. They’re unfamiliar with the controls, the sensitivity. And they can be discouraged from an interest in science by frustrations they could overcome in time.
School microscopes come with features fundamental to students and a good magnification range for worthwhile learning experiences. They’re built to nurture an interest in science. Robust elementary school microscopes with a lower magnification level are best-fit for Grades K-4 learning about the existence of the hidden world. Middle school microscopes or high school microscopes have solid magnification settings appropriate for studying specimens clearly in biology classes - the OM36 40X-1000X Compound Student Microscope is particularly suited. University microscopes or medical school microscopes are designed with more advanced capabilities, and come at higher price points than entry- and mid-level microscopes.
Because microscopes have been informing science education since before SCIENTIST was a word, there are microscope designs for all kinds of scenarios. Microscopes for teaching that come with two or more heads so student and teacher can examine samples together. Portable Microscopes powered by rechargeable LED batteries that let you review samples in the field.
Home and Hobby Use
You’re an explorer. You’re interested in stuff. You like to see things other people don’t see. Or you want to instill this lens on life in your kids - the thought that there is so much to explore all around us. The love of science. The knowledge that they can seek answers of their own.
We love the idea of your kids getting into science early, and the JuniorScope, The Ultimate Kids Microscope is built just for that. It’s definitely not a toy microscope. It’s designed to nurture the next generation of great scientists!
As your kids grow, they might graduate to the OM116L 40x-400x All Metal LED Student Compound Microscope, or something that can last a lifetime like the OM136C 40X-400X Student Compound Microscope.
Or you’re looking to explore things yourself, and you want something a little more grown up. You’re a student of science, and we built these grown-student microscopes just for you: OM36 40X-1000X Compound Student Microscope, OM118-B4L LED 40X-1000X Compound Student Microscope.
If you are an advanced hobbyist and are into photomicrography, you can go for a trinocular microscope with superior optical performance like the BA410E-TPH Elite Trinocular Phase Contrast Microscope, MT5000 Biological Microscope, or the 1000x Microscope - OM139 Compound Laboratory Microscope with Infinity Plan Optics to capture clear, bright, magical images of the near-invisible.
Q: What type of compound microscope do you need?
Compound microscopes incorporate different technologies to illuminate subjects. Those different methods of illumination were developed for specific applications. Because even when you’re looking right at cells or cytokines, they can still trick and elude you.
Brightfield Microscopes are the most used microscopes especially in the life sciences, microbiology, bacteriology. It follows a simple method of transmitting white light illuminated from below through fixed specimens. This light is absorbed by denser areas of the specimen, creating a contrast and producing a dark image on a bright background.
Darkfield Microscopes are used to look at specimens like algae, plankton, crystals, and minerals. Unstained samples. The specimens appear bright against a very dark background.
Polarizing Microscopes use polarizing light combined with transmitted and/or reflected light to acquire color differences in the optical path of specimens being reviewed. Applications include examining chemicals for pharmaceutical purposes as well as rocks and minerals. You’ll hear earth scientists calling these Geology Microscopes or Petrology Microscopes.
Phase-contrast Microscopes bring out contrast in samples without having to stain them. Stains can alter or harm some samples and phase-contrast is the way around that. The contrast is brought about by a special phase contrast objective lens combined with a phase condenser or a phase slider. These are widely used in biological research, where scientists can analyze differences between structures with similar levels of transparency. Applications include examining blood cells, living cells, bacteria, and other microorganisms.
Metallurgical Microscopes presents higher magnification of up to 500x or 1000x with transmitted and reflected light or just reflected light. Also referred to as Materials Microscopes, these inverted microscopes allow users to view opaque/polished samples or samples that do not allow light to pass through like metals and coated films at high magnification. You probably could have guessed from the name.
Epi-fluorescence Microscopes are mostly used in cell biology. They use a high-intensity light source like a mercury arc lamp to emit a broad spectrum of light that passes through samples in a straight line.
Q: What are your microscope preferences?
Time to sweat the details! Once you have decided on the type of compound microscope you need, it’s time to settle your microscope preferences -- from the head type, objective lens, and the type of illumination.
Head Type / Ocular Type
Monocular Microscopes aren’t just for aristocrats. In fact, just the opposite. They use a single tube with interchangeable eyepieces on one end. They’re generally more basic models, with no mechanical stage, and used for shorter durations. Looking down the single eyepiece of a monocular microscope for extended periods of time isn’t as ergonomically friendly as looking down the dual eyepieces of a binocular microscope.
Binocular Microscopes are common. They’re used across industries and applications. The dual eyepieces reduce eye strain caused by long work hours at a microscopy station.
Trinocular Microscopes have two eyepieces like the binocular microscopes.Plus one more to use as a dedicated camera port for still and live imaging. The image can stream directly to your computer monitor or the screen you use to teach cell biology in your classroom.
Achromatic lenses help with chromatic aberrations and color correction. They have a 65% flat field. That means 65% of the field of view is not distorted by the lens. These are the most common lenses in microscopy. They’re the most affordable lens type.
Semi-Plan lenses are of greater quality than achromatic optics. They have an 80% flat field and with aberrations typically located in the outer 20% of the field of view.
Plan lenses are premium lenses. They are almost aberration free (95%).
Halogen illumination presents a bright and concentrated white light, used commonly with non-live specimens. Halogen lights get hot, and they can damage the specimen if exposed for too long. Halogen bulbs last approximately 3,600 hours.
LED illumination emits a cooler (more bluish, but still white) light and is a good alternative to halogen bulbs. LED bulbs last longer than 50,000 hours. Since it can also be powered by rechargeable batteries, microscopes offering this illumination type not only present longevity but also better portability. All microscopes used in field work rely on LED light sources.
Tungsten/incandescent illumination produces hot yellow light and is usually found on microscopes where price is the main purchasing criteria.
Fluorescent illumination radiates a fairly white light and runs at much cooler temperatures as compared to incandescent lighting.
Q: Want to talk about microscopes and other cool science stuff?
Maybe after walking through this compound microscope buying guide you’ve arrived at a Juniorscope for your little Faraday or Hawking, or a classic student microscope with the addition of a high resolution digital camera for your biology classroom (making it a dandy digital microscope). Maybe Plan optics matter ot you most, and you’ve arrived at an Infinity Plan Research Compound Microscope.
But maybe you still don’t know.
That’s just fine.
Your microscope will be with you for a long time. It’ll probably stay in your lab longer than you do. Or it’ll set the stage for a lifetime of scientific exploration for your kids. With that kind of long-term relationship at stake, it’s worth taking the time to get it exactly right.
We love science, we love microscopes, and we love to talk about it any chance we get.
Call us to talk about the tiny secrets you want to uncover. The magic you want to convert to science. The places you want to go.
We have the map to get you there.
Microcope.com showcases an extensive selection of microscopes to meet your basic and advanced microscoscopy needs. Shop affordable or premium compound light microscopes for any application from reliable brands including Omano, Motic, and Meiji Techno. If you are looking for more information on our offered products or for other microscope types available, you can leave us a chat or message us via our contact us page.