Most Popular Microscopes for Students
Best Microscope for College Students: Swift SW350B 40x – 2500x
The Swift SW350B Microscope has the extra power you’ll need for your college course experiments. The 1.3 MP camera plugs into USB ports. Check it out on Amazon.
My favorite microscope for high school students is the Amscope M-150C-MS Compound Microscope. I like it because it balances affordability with the features you’d expect in a more expensive piece of equipment (in particular, the indespensible mechanical stage!).
But if you need a higher quality microscope for upper-college classes, I’d recommend the Swift SW350B 40X-2500X Microscope. It is a step up to a binocular viewport and up to 2500x zoom for scientists with a serious thirst for knowledge and comes with a small USB camera.
I’ve provided a buyer’s guide that explains my selection criteria at the end of this article. But for now, I’ll show you what you came for – my top picks! The best microscopes for students are:
- AmScope M150C-MS 40X-1000X Biological Compound Microscope (best for high school)
- Swift SW350B 40X-2500X Microscope (best for college)
- National Optical 40X-1000X Compound Microscope Set (best value for money)
- AmScope T490B 40X – 2000X (my microscope!)
- AmScope M170C-E Compound Microscope with Camera
Five Best Microscopes for College & High School Students
Top Microscopes for Students
|1.||Swift SW350B Microscope||40X-2500X||Best microscope for college students. It will give you a crisp magnification all the way up to 2500x. The most powerful microscope on this list, with a reputation for quality. (Check Today’s Price on Amazon)|
|2.||AmScope M150C-MS Biological Compound Microscope||40X-1000X||The AmScope M150C-MS is the best in its price point, and my suggestion for high school students. The mechanical stage puts it above the competition. (Check Today’s Price on Amazon)||9/10|
|3.||Amscope T490B Trinocular Microscope||40X-2000X||This is the model I use on a day to day basis at home. It’s amazing quality and allows for DSLR camera attachment (you need to but an aftermarket piece to do this). I don’t suggest it number 1 because it’s more advanced than you really need. (Check Today’s Price on Amazon)||9.5/10|
|4.||National Optical Compound Microscope Set||40X-1000X||Affordable but with all the features you’d expect from higher priced microscopes. Great for beginners who want a microscope that’ll still be useful as their curiosity deepens. (Check Today’s Price on Amazon)|
|5.||AmScope M170C-E Compound Microscope with Camera||40X-1000X||Comes with a microscope! The big drawing card for this microscope is the camera attachment that plugs straight into your PC or Apple computer. (Check Today’s Price on Amazon)|
1. Swift SW350B 40X-2500X Microscope (Best for College)
Quick Review: This is the most popular microscope for college students. It gives magnification all the way up to 2500x which most people want and comes with a USB camera (although in reality you’re likely only going to be using up to 1000x).
This is a hugely popular choice for a professional but affordable piece of equipment.
Specs to expect include: 4 objective lenses (4x, 10x, 40x, 100x) and 2 eyepieces (10x, 25x) giving you 6 total magnification levels. This range is unparalleled among most other microscopes on this list.
Compared to my microscope, the Amscope T490C, it has very similar specs and can usually be purchased at a lower price point. It also comes with a digital camera. So, it’s got everything to ‘get you by’ at a good price point.
Don’t forget to buy a slide deck when you get this item as it doesn’t come with sample slides.
Be aware that this microscope is best for upper high school and college students only. Elementary school children often struggle with binocular eyepieces, so best to stick with a monocular piece for younger children.
|Why This One||Keep in Mind|
|Strong Magnification: This model has the strongest magnification of all the microscopes on this list.||More Powerful than you may Need: Note that you usually are only going to want magnification up to 1000x.|
|Smooth and Fine Adjustments: You can do very nice fine and course adjustments to get the perfect view of your specimen.||It’s Binocular: Microscopes with magnification over 1000X tend to be binocular, but bear in mind they’re a little harder to use for younger students.|
|Good Lighting: The Abbe condenser under the stage helps to improve the lighting from the dimmable bottom-up LED light.||Price Point: With the extra power comes a higher price. There’s no getting around this.|
|More Affordable than the Amscope T490B: My microscope, the T490C, is better in my opinion, but also more expensive.|
|1.3 MP Camera: The camera isn’t great (I prefer to attach a DSLR using an adaptor) but it would do the trick.|
2. AmScope M150C-MS 40X-1000X Compound Microscope (Best for High School)
Quick Review: The AmScope M150C-MS is the only entry-level compound microscope (that I’ve found) with a mechanical stage, which really steps it up from the competition.
Amscope’s M150C is a mid-level compound microscope that’s great for high school students seeking to sink their teeth into some microbiology experiments.
The key reason I chose this microscope is that it has a mechanical stage, and it’s the only one around this mid-range pack of microscopes with this feature. Mechanical stages, in my opinion, dramatically improve user experience, especially for youths. They allow you to move the specimen around at very fine intervals rather than clunkily using your thumbs.
Its fine and coarse adjustment knobs work well and switching lenses feels smooth and easy. Comparable microscopes (like the Leavenhuk) don’t feature this.
Unfortunately, this model doesn’t have an abbe condenser. But, abbe condensers don’t really come with microscopes at this price point.
Overall, this is a solid monocular compound microscope that shouldn’t disappoint. It has all the specs I’d expect at this price point and is a strong overall package.
|Why This One||Keep in Mind|
|Spinning Viewfinder: You can rotate the viewfinder 360 degrees for ease of vision.||No Abbe Condenser: For an abbe condenser, you’d be stepping up to the next price point, which is much higher. Overall, high school microscopes don’t come with abbe condensers – they’re too expensive.|
|Monocular: For your first microscope, it’s good to go with a monocular rather than binocular microscope. It’s a lot easier to use than a binocular head, especially for younger students.||No Smart Phone Attachment: Fortunately, you can buy smartphone attachments for taking photos at quite a decent price point.|
|Mechanical Stage: The mechanical stage is why I rank this one so highly. Its competitors at a comparative price point don’t come with one. In my opinion, this is a massive selling point.|
|Top Brand: In my experience, Amscope consistently creates really well designed equipment.|
3. Amscope T490B Trinocular Compound Microscope
Quick Review: If you don’t want to sacrifice quality, this is the microscope for you. It’s the one I own, and I absolutely love it.
The only reason I didn’t list this as the best microscope for students is that it’s a little more expensive than most. But if you want to go all-out for the best quality microscope, you can’t look past this one.
It has many of the same specifications as the above Swift SW350B 40X-2500X. But it’s from the premium brand, meaning the part quality is second to none.
The top reasons you’d want the Amscope is its mechanical stage that allows you to move your specimen around with a high degree of control, the high-quality lenses, and the trinocular port at the top for adding a DSLR camera for top quality photos (note: you need an attachment if you want to do this).
Here is mine all set up:
|Why This One||Keep in Mind|
|Best Quality: In my opinion, Amscope is the best brand for microscopes, offering high-quality build and excellent lenses.||No Digital Camera: This model doesn’t come with a digital camera, but it does come with a trinocular port for attaching your DSLR (adaptor required), which will lead to far better quality images than any dedicated USB microscope camera.|
|Abbe Condenser: You won’t get an Abbe condenser for the cheaper high-school level ones I’ve listed. The Abbe condenser delivers superior below-stage lighting.||Not 2500X Magnification: This microscope doesn’t have magnification as high as the 2500X SW350B above. However, let’s be honest, no one ever really uses magnification above 1000X – it’s just too much.|
|Trinocular Port: The trinocular port allows for DSLR attachment, which I absolutely love.|
|Enough Magnification for Anything: The 2000X magnification is more than enough for any sort of experiment right through high school and college.|
|Mechanical Stage: Honestly, I can’t live without my mechanical stage, which helps me to move my specimen around with fine precision while looking through the microscope.|
4. National Optical 40X-1000X Compound Microscope Set (best value for money)
Quick Review: Affordable but with all the features you’d expect from higher priced microscopes. Great for beginners who want a microscope that’ll still be useful as their curiosity deepens.
The main drawing card is the price point for this one. You won’t want to go any lower than this price without sacrificing serious quality.
Many people who buy their first microscope make the mistake of getting a stereo microscope. They’re far less powerful and won’t be any good for looking at specimens too small for the eye to see.
This National Optical 40X-1000X Compound Microscope Set should be your entry-level compound microscope for serious scientific and biological investigations.
Beginners will also love this setup. It comes with 5 blank slides and 5 prepared slides so you can get started as soon as you open the box.
I also feature this microscope in my list of the best microscopes for kids.
|Why This One||Keep in Mind|
|Monocular Setup: For your first microscope, it’s good to go with a monocular setup. It’s a lot easier to use than a binocular setup, especially for younger students.||No Abbe Condenser: For an abbe condenser, you’d be stepping up to the next price point, which is much higher. Overall, high school microscopes don’t come with abbe condensers – they’re too expensive.|
|Decent Magnification Range: This magnification range is standard for any microscope worth its salt: 40X, 100X, 250X, 400X and 1000X options.||No Mechanical Stage: I may harp on about this, but personally I think mechanical stages really improve user experience. At this price point, you’re better off going with the Amscope M150-C-MS which has one.|
|Very Simple: It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that might be a big distraction for a beginner. So there’s not a bad learning curve, but the requirement to manually move specimens (rather than mechanical stage) can be annoying.||No Camera Attachment: If you’re adamant about wanting a USB camera attachment, consider the Amscope M170C-E instead.|
5. AmScope M170C-E Compound Microscope with Camera
Quick Review: The big drawing card for this microscope is the camera attachment that plugs straight into your PC or Apple computer.
Get this one for the camera! You can replace the eyepiece with a specially made camera that’ll plug right into your computer. You can see your specimens from your computer screen. This is great for viewing as a group or for kids who struggle with viewfinders.
The digital camera is only 640x480px, though, so the quality won’t be amazing.
You can of course also use it in regular mode by looking straight down the monocle eyepiece.
The free gooseneck LED lamp is also a nice addition to the pack (although I rarely use overhead lights even if there is one).
Aside from the camera, this microscope also meets all my expectations for a monocular compound microscope for students. It’s got the regular magnification settings (40X, 100X, 250X, 400X & 1000X) and LED light illumination.
|Why This One||Keep in Mind|
|Monocular Setup: For your first microscope, it’s good to go with a monocular setup. It’s a lot easier to use than a binocular setup, especially for younger students.||Camera isn’t Great: While it’s great that you get a camera, it’s only 640x480px.|
|Overhead Gooseneck LED: You get both overhead and under-stage LED lights in this model.||No Mechanical Stage: I may harp on about this, but personally I think mechanical stages really improve user experience. At this price point, you’re better off going with the Amscope M150-C-MS which has one.|
|Comes with a Camera: This is clearly the main drawing card here. You can connect the camera to a PC or Mac (not an iPad) to view your specimen on a screen.||No Abbe Condenser: For an abbe condenser, you’d be stepping up to the next price point, which is much higher. Overall, high school microscopes don’t come with abbe condensers – they’re too expensive.|
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Buyers Guide: What to Look for in a Microscope
- Power (Compound vs. Stereo Microscopes)
- Magnification Strength (Monocular vs. Binocular)
- Lenses (Objective Lens and Eyepiece Combination)
- DIN Compatible Objective Lenses
- Achromatic Objective Lenses
- Slide Decks and Mechanical Stage Ergonomics
- Camera and Computer Compatibility
- Price Point
a) Power (Compound vs. Stereo Microscopes)
There are two types of microscopes: Compound and Stereo. This review explores compound microscopes only, because they will be the most valuable microscopes for students.
A compound microscope is a high power microscope. It can help you see ‘invisible’ things, like ‘microscopic’ bacteria and organisms or blood specimens.
A stereo microscope is a low power microscope. It is primarily used for investigating the very fine details of visible objects. Examples of objects you might look at through a stereo microscope include: bugs, insects, gems, and rocks.
All microscopes in this review are higher-powered compound microscopes.
b) Magnification Strength (Monocular vs. Binocular)
A monocular (one lens) microscope can magnify up to 1000x. A binocular (two lens) microscope can magnify to much greater magnitude, but of course comes with an extra cost.
The one binocular microscope on this list magnifies all the way up to 2500x is the Swift model listed number 1 above.
Children tend to find monocular microscopes easier to use.
c) Lenses (Objective Lens and Eyepiece Combination)
Microscopes achieve their magnification through a combination of the eyepiece and objective lens. The settings of the two lenses magnify one another.
Eyepiece – What to Look For
You should get a microscope with both of the following interchangeable eyepieces:
- WF (wide frame) 10x
- WF (wide frame) 25x
Objective Lens – What to Look For
A compound microscope has several objective lenses that you can cycle through. Expect to see 3 to 6 objective lenses. A microscope with 6 objective lenses would provide a greater range of magnification settings than one with 3.
A typical microscope should have the following objective lenses:
With the above settings, you’d be able to mix-and match the eyepiece with the lens to generate several magnification settings.
For example, a 4x objective lens combined with a 10x eyepiece will get you an overall 40x magnification.
Similarly, a 100x objective lens with a 25x eyepiece will get you an overall 2500x magnification.
Note that all microscopes on this list expect #2 (the binocular microscope) have a maximum magnification of 1000x via a combined 25x eyepiece and 40x objective lens.
d) DIN Compatible Objective Lenses
It is recommended that you get objective lenses that are DIN compatible. You’ll usually find that they state “DIN” before the degree of magnification (e.g. “DIN 40x lens”) if they are DIN compatible.
DIN stands for Deutsch Industrie Norm. It’s a way of normalizing the quality of lenses.
In real terms, if you have DIN compatible lenses, chances are it’ll be much easier to replace the lens with a new one if it gets scratched or breaks.
e) Achromatic Objective Lenses
An achromatic lens is a lens that normalizes light input. As different colors interact in different ways when they hit a curved lens, the sharpness and quality of the image can be hampered at higher magnification levels. Achromatic lenses account for differential refraction to give a clearer and flatter final image through the viewfinder.
A more expensive model will give you an abbe condenser which provides superior light distribution. Cheaper models often have a simple LED light with a simple diaphragm.
Some microscopes will also come with gooseneck LED lamps mounted behind the nose piece for more lighting.
I also like to use a light dimmer for adjusting the brightness. The dimmer is usually located on the bottom-right side of the microscope so you can adjust the brightness while looking through the eyepiece.
Most LED microscopes these days are portable, but not all. Check to see how the microscope is charged. You may find that many still rely on AA batteries. The only component that needs constant power is the LED lighting.
h) Slide Decks and Mechanical Stage
Microscopes should come with a mechanical stage and a component to hold down the specimen slides. Some also come with complementary blank slides so you can get started immediately. However, if you haven’t got a pack of slides, you probably should get a pack with your purchase so you can get started as soon as it arrives in the post!
Here’s the mechanical stage on my Amscope 490 microscope:
It is generally accepted that a 30 – 45 degree slant for the viewfinder is most comfortable for the average person. However, some microscopes may allow you to adjust the slant of the viewfinder for your comfort.
j) Camera and Computer Compatibility
Some microscopes allow you to attach a computer or camera to the lens to capture the image. The ability to hook a microscope up to a computer is amazingly beneficial for teachers. You can display the image on a screen for all your students to see at once.
You can buy an aftermarket camera and computer attachment if you have bought a microscope without one.
k) Price Point
One huge mistake novice buyers make is that they purchase stereo microscopes to save money. They then end up very disappointed when they cannot investigate specimens such as algae and blood.
Unfortunately, for microscopes, price and quality tend to correlate tightly.
In other words, as a general rule the more you pay, the better quality your microscope will be. This is because enhanced lenses cost much more to create. If you want sharper quality images and a better range of magnification, there’s no way around it: you have to fork out for the more expensive lenses.
Expect to pay between $65 and $300
The entry-level price point for a monocular compound microscope is about $65 and will rise to about $200 for better specs. To get magnification over 1000x, you’ll be wanting to get a binocular compound microscope which will come in at $200 and up.
A microscope is an incredibly fun educational ‘toy’ for budding scientists. But, it’s also a serious investigative device for the more serious scientific minds among us. The best microscopes for college students are binocular microscopes that magnify up to 2500x. With the extra strength, you’ll be able to do some serious biological investigations.
High school and elementary school students might be able to get away with a monocular microscope with 1000x magnification.
For me as a teacher, I prefer microscopes with computer compatibility so I can project the findings to all my class on a big screen. If you’re working alone, you of course won’t need to worry about that.
Whatever you choose, we do hope this list and buyers guide helped you find the best microscopes for students and make a better buying decision!
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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]