Microscopes

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Telescopes help to bring the universe above us closer to view, but micrscopes bring the tiny universes in the world around us closer. You can magnify the world in a lot of ways and the choices in microscopes are no exception.  There are handheld digital microscopes that bring out better detail in larger objects and there are educational or research grade microscopes meant specifically for the study of single cells.  With all of these choices how do you choose?  First, you have to think about what you really want to see.  Then consider the magnification and features of the instrument you're considering and whether it can achieve what you want.

 

 

Think about what you'd like to study.  If you're interested in leaves, flowers, rocks, bugs, mechanical parts and the like, you won't need extreme magnification as much as you'll need room under the microscope to observe them.  A great choice for this type of application is a stereo (or dissecting) microscope.  With no slides to prepare and an upright image, the user-friendly stereo microscope is great for beginners, hobbyists, and even industrial applications.  Digital hand-held models are also perfect for this type of observation.  Small and lightweight, they can travel to the object when the object can't travel to you.  They make great intruments for children who can survey the back of the dog, their own skin, or bugs on the lawn.

Most familiar and more widely recognized is the compound light microscope - the right tool for studying very small subjects like microorganisms, cells, pollen and the like.  These objects require higher magnification, and you'll need to prepare a glass slide to observe them properly as these microscopes work best with a perfectly flat surface. The compound light microscope is well suited to science or classroom applications or for the serious hobbyist.

The basic components of a microscope are magnification, focus and light.  Magnification is produced by combining the correct eyepiece with correct objective lens, but there are practical limits.  Extreme magnification relies heavily on optical quality and proportionally becomes more difficult to use.  For most cellular applications, such as viewing pond water organisms and cells, 200x magnifying power is sufficient.  The ability to focus in both coarse and fine adjustments is a practical feature.  While low magnification is easy to focus with a coarse adjustment, high magnification requires a finer touch to achieve focus.  Be sure to consider a microscope's light source, too.  Most desktop models will use either a mirror or built-in lamp illumination - with a way to control the amount of light.  Many subjects do not require (or shy away from) extreme illumination, yet cell details cannot be viewed with some back lighting.  Handheld models often require either the sun or a flashlight to light the way.

Now we need to set the observing stage.  All compound light microscopes come with slide holders.  These are needed to keep the specimen or prepared microscope slides steady. Stage clips work fine for lower magnifications, but you may wish to consider mechanical microscope stage for high magnification applications where the subject needs to be moved in slight increments.  Another consideration is whether to use one eye or two.  For the most part, a monocular head is fine for all practical applications.  However, eye fatigue should be considered for lengthy studies, and you may wish to look for a model with a binocular viewing head.  There are several microscopes which feature LCD displays and image capture as well, both great for educational situations or for sharing at home.

Can't decide? Don't forget that the experts at OPT are here to help you with all of your observing and equipment questions.

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