5 Best Microscopes for Students (2020) – School & College

About The Author: Hi, I’m Prof. Chris and I run things around here. Disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

best microscopes for students

My favorite Microscope for College and High School Students is the National Optical 40X-1000X Compound Microscope Set.

I like it because it balances affordability with the features you’d expect in a more expensive piece of equipment (such as 1000x magnification).

If you want the best quality microscope (at a higher price point), I’d recommend the Swift SW350B 40X-2500X Microscope. It’s got a binocular viewport and up to 2500x zoom for scientists with a serious thirst for knowledge.

Most Affordable
National Optical 40X – 1000X Compound Microscope

Jump to my review of the National Optical Compound Microscope Set. It’s my pick for value-for-money.

The best microscopes for students are:

  • National Optical 40X-1000X Compound Microscope Set (best value for money)
  • Swift SW350B 40X-2500X Microscope (best for college)
  • TELMU 40X-1000X Dual Cordless Microscope
  • AmScope M150C-I 40X-1000X Biological Compound Microscope
  • AmScope M170C-E Compound Microscope with Camera

College Student? Here’s my Recommendation.

Swift SW350B

Check the Price
on Amazon.

Jump to my review of the Swift SW350B Microscope. You’ll probably need the extra power for your class experiments.

Five Best Microscopes for Students

1. 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.

Check the price
on Amazon.

Benefits for Students:

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 smaller specimens. 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.

2. Swift SW350B 40X-2500X Microscope (best for college)

Quick Review: 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 the price
on Amazon.

Benefits for Students:

College students will need the power of this binocular microscope for your lab experiments.

And this Swift SW350B is what I believe to be the most affordable high-quality binocular microscope for college students on the market.

Binocular microscopes have greater magnification potential than monocular ones (this is the only binocular one on this list).

This is your 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 the other microscopes on this list.

Don’t forget to buy a slide deck when you get this item as it doesn’t come with sample slides.

Who’s it For:

Upper high school and college students. Elementary school children often struggle with binocular eyepieces, so best to stick with a monocular piece for younger children.

3. TELMU 40X-1000X Dual Cordless Microscope

Quick Review: Get this TELMU microscope if you want to photograph your magnified images with your smartphone. The smartphone attachment is amazing!

Check the price
on Amazon.

Benefits for Students:

The clear standout for the TELMU is the smartphone compatibility. Place your phone on the phone holder and adjust it so that the camera looks through the lens. You can then save images of what you see onto your phone.

Aside from the phone holder, the TELMU has all the elements you’d expect of a student-level compound microscope, including three objective lenses and two eyepiece lenses (10x and 25x) to allow for a magnification range between 40x and 1000x.

You’ll also get 4 prepared and 6 blank slides – perfect for the beginner who wants some specimens to start viewing straight out of the box.

Turn the bottom LED light on to view translucent specimens.

4. AmScope M150C-I 40X-1000X Biological Compound Microscope

Quick Review: The AmScope M150C-I is an all round solid compound microscope coming in at a decent price point for its specifications.

Check the price
on Amazon.

Benefits for Students:

I’m a fan of the 360 degree rotation capability of the monocular head – it’s great for sharing.

You can power the LED lights via AA batteries or an outlet, so it’s a versatile and portable microscope.

I also like that there’s control knobs on both sides (as a left-handed person, I appreciate this!).

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.

5. AmScope M170C-E Compound Microscope with Camera

Quick Review: The big drawing card here is the camera attachment that plugs straight into your PC or Apple computer.

Check the price
on Amazon.

Benefits for Students:

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 an awesome addition to the pack and goes above and beyond a lot of the competition.

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.

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Buyers Guide: What to Look for in a Microscope

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 (see #2 on the list above) magnifies all the way up to 2500x.

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:

  • 4x
  • 10x
  • 40x
  • 100x

Overall Magnification

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.

f) Illumination

Most modern microscopes use LED illumination. It’s cheaper and more efficient than other illumination formats that you come across in some microscopes such as halogen lighting.

Look for dual illumination from above and below. Illumination from below is great for translucent specimens.

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.

g) Portability

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!

i) Ergonomics

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.

Final Thoughts

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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