What's the best microscope for the least money?
March 16, 2014 7:29 PM   Subscribe

Is it possible to get a decent microscope for, say, $200? If not, what's the least amount I might spend to get one? By "decent" I mean one that might be found in a college science lab, I guess.
posted by Camofrog to Science & Nature (9 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I bought 2 good used ones off of eBay. Spent maybe $100 for both.
posted by brownrd at 7:33 PM on March 16, 2014

Response by poster: What's a good brand? I want it for general-purpose use--looking at drops of pondwater, looking at bugs, that kind of stuff.
posted by Camofrog at 7:40 PM on March 16, 2014

Best answer: In my lab we use Leco, Nikon, and Olympus for light microscopy. It's the optics that will make the difference for you, but if you're not looking for really high magnification, you can probably get away with a less expensive brand and model. Used is a good way to go.

Drops of pond water will be much easier for you, since you won't need as much depth of field as you will with an insect. If you find something on line used, you can look up the specs on the company's website.
posted by blurker at 8:10 PM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For bugs you'll want bright field with 5-50x total magnification and possibly stereo to appreciate the three-dimensional features. This combination (low magnification, bright field, stereo) is called a dissecting scope and $200 is a reasonable budget for a cheap or secondhand dissecting scope.

For pondwater, a reasonable configuration might be 100x total magnification bright field. That'll be good enough for green algae and paramecia. I don't know how much those cost on the low end.

Also, note that the total magnification is usually the product of the objective magnification and the eyepiece magnification, so you might see a microscope that has a 10x objective and a 10x eyepiece. That'll give you 100x total magnification.

FYI, the microscope I used for my intro course at college was 50-1000x total magnification, with a mercury lamp for fluorescence work, and capable of bright field, dark field, or phase contrast illumination. I never asked how much it cost, but I strongly, strongly suspect you can't afford it.
posted by d. z. wang at 8:26 PM on March 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Just a weirdo option to bear in mind. Emerging clever technology creating cheap and surprisingly robust microscopes out of paper:

Illustrative video
Web site
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:18 PM on March 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

looking at bugs

Deal extreme has some good loupes, magnifying glasses, and microscopes that may meet some of your needs; many cheap enough to be impulse buys. The ~$45 digital usb microscopes would be neat for looking at bugs, currency, and circuit boards but lousy for pond-dwellers since they don't do slides without a separate attachment that's out of stock.

The traditional lab microscopes look kind of meh, but the little sub-$10 pocket microscopes would be good for bugs.

I wouldn't buy anything that doesn't have a positive review.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:49 PM on March 16, 2014

If you really want to know about microscopes, Nikon has a good page here. I'm partial to Nikon microscopes, but Zeiss, Leica, and Olympus make pretty good microscopes as well. Ebay lists a lot of microscopes, I'd suggest trying there.
posted by Comrade_robot at 4:35 AM on March 17, 2014

Best answer: If you're able to get to Cambridge, MA, I'd recommend either the MIT Flea or the Harvard Recycling and Surplus Center as possible options for picking up lab equipment on the cheap (or free!). (Plus, the Flea is like something out of the Hackers universe; everyone should go at least once.)

If you're not able to get to Cambridge, I'd see if any schools/universities around your area have something similar.
posted by pie ninja at 5:19 AM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

One says Nikon and the other one doesn't have a brand but is labeled, "Johns Hopkins School of Medicine".
posted by brownrd at 6:36 AM on March 17, 2014

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