# Amateur microscope mostly for children

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Gold Member
When I was a child I used to have a microscope. I don't remember the maximum zoom it could do. Nowadays when I look up for amateur microscopes on the web, they seem to go up to either 1000x or 2000x. Do you think it's enough to get some fun by looking at bugs and cells of onions for example? The use would not be for research, only to have fun.

Is there any recommendations you could provide? I'm thinking to buy one either in the near or not too far away future.

Mister T
Gold Member
Edmund Scientific is a good source for stuff like that.

DEvens
berkeman
Mentor
I would buy a USB based microscope. That way the kids can also save the images they like best and can use them for their science class reports, etc.

phinds, vanhees71, DEvens and 6 others
davenn
Gold Member
2021 Award
I'm thinking to buy one either in the near or not too far away future.

I would buy a USB based microscope. That way the kids can also save the images they like best and can use them for their science class reports, etc.

excellent suggestion … completely agree :)
and one step further, make sure it can be used with eye or camera
just so the real hands on experience is still there

vanhees71 and berkeman
davenn
Gold Member
2021 Award
they seem to go up to either 1000x or 2000x. Do you think it's enough to get some fun by looking at bugs and cells of onions for example?

more than enough, to get decent quality viewing at high magnifications will require a much higher quality instrument ... much more cost

I have one similar to this .....

great for magnifications over 1000x
but with a hefty price $2k + stick with something good quality but a fraction of the price @Mister T suggested Edmund Scientific .... a good company sophiecentaur Science Advisor Gold Member I would buy a USB based microscope. That way the kids can also save the images they like best and can use them for their science class reports, etc. It would all depend on the particular 'kid'. Operating two devices at the same time when a child is crawling about on the grass or just beside a garden pond seems to me to be a recipe for disaster. But a teenager could probably cope. As a starter scope, I think a straight simple visual would be best up to, say, early teens. I would suggest that a wireless connection to a smart phone would be better than USB. I use a wireless endoscope (very cheap and cheerful) and an App on my iPhone. No wires to get tangled up in and all the functions of record, display and store. Amazon have a big range of Wireless Microscopes and others. Look at the reviews. vanhees71 and berkeman hutchphd Science Advisor Homework Helper My favorite scope for my own amusement is a Bausch and Lomb stereozoom 7 which I got for$200 on ebay. It has a maximum linear magnification of 35x. This is a front illuminated (reflection) scope and a much better design for most kids IMHO. It makes circuits huge and bugs are very scary.
Most of the Chinese scopes which they advertise as 1000x are really more like 33x linear magnification (they must be looking at area). But that's a good thing because a real 1000x linear scope is a lab instrument and requires high illumination and careful handling......not all that much "fun". I have seen "1000x" scopes advertised ~<$50 with gear driven stand, dedicated electronic screen, zoom capability, and SD card. The electronic display is cheaper to build than purely optical I think. That's what I would get, but I have not used one. BillTre and Merlin3189 Andy Resnick Science Advisor Education Advisor When I was a child I used to have a microscope. I don't remember the maximum zoom it could do. Nowadays when I look up for amateur microscopes on the web, they seem to go up to either 1000x or 2000x. Do you think it's enough to get some fun by looking at bugs and cells of onions for example? The use would not be for research, only to have fun. Is there any recommendations you could provide? I'm thinking to buy one either in the near or not too far away future. Personally, I recommend starting with something like Digital Blue's QX5 or QX7 USB scope- Digital blue is no longer is business, but the scopes seem to still be available. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0095YJVUM/?tag=pfamazon01-20 https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0002HLKI2/?tag=pfamazon01-20 If you are interested in higher-quality lenses/camera and want more capability, Edmund Optics has a decent array of options: https://www.edmundoptics.com/c/microscope-systems/628/ Amscope is another source: https://www.amscope.com/ What you should do is find a model that you like and try and find a used one on eBay. Happy to comment on any model you find promising. berkeman PAllen Science Advisor Has something changed in recent years? I thought for 1000x or more nonempty magnification you need oil immersion. And empty magnification is worse than useless. As a kid, I would think decent quality in the range from 25x to 400x is much more useful than higher magnifications. vanhees71, Merlin3189, Asymptotic and 3 others OmCheeto Gold Member I purchased my first two microscopes about 2 months ago. I've been delighted with both. The only annoying thing was the false advertising involved with my USB microscope: 0.2 megapixel, advertised as 2.0 megapixel​ 3.6x - 47x magnification, advertised as 5x - 500x​ 640x320 resolution, advertised as 1600x1200​ I paid$90 for what is selling for around $20. Anyways, even at 17x magnification, bugs are HUGE! This poor sod, is 2 mm across the shoulders: I say poor, as I froze it for a month at -10°C, and when it awoke, I drowned it in isopropyl alcohol for half an hour. When that didn't kill it, I lit it on fire. My other microscope cost about$300, and is most fantastic. I have seen bacteria, Swimming!
But fungi are more photogenic.

Here's something that grew in some tea that I left out a bit too long:

I'm guessing it was with my 40x objective.

Here's a fungus culture I grew from my mouth. Prior to putting it under the microscope, I thought the colony was bacterial.

vanhees71, Dale, Asymptotic and 3 others
DaveC426913
Gold Member
The only annoying thing was the false advertising involved with my USB microscope:
0.2 megapixel, advertised as 2.0 megapixel​
3.6x - 47x magnification, advertised as 5x - 500x​
How on Earth could you let them get away with that!?

OmCheeto
Gold Member
How on Earth could you let them get away with that!?
As far as I can tell, nearly everyone selling them is claiming the same thing.

sophiecentaur
Gold Member
I say poor, as I froze it for a month at -10°C, and when it awoke, I drowned it in isopropyl alcohol for half an hour. When that didn't kill it, I lit it on fire.
That's why cockroaches and their friends will outlive us all.

Andy Resnick
Has something changed in recent years? I thought for 1000x or more nonempty magnification you need oil immersion. And empty magnification is worse than useless.

As a kid, I would think decent quality in the range from 25x to 400x is much more useful than higher magnifications.

You are correct- the advertised giant magnification is mostly empty magnification. But look at all them zeros!

DaveC426913
Gold Member
You are correct- the advertised giant magnification is mostly empty magnification. But look at all them zeros!
I assume that empty mag is the same for microscopes as for telescopes.

Telescopes use a Barlow lens that simply makes the image larger without adding detail (as well as resulting in a dimmer image).

The key to a telescope is not magnification - it is objective lens diameter.

davenn
Gold Member
2021 Award
I assume that empty mag is the same for microscopes as for telescopes.

Not usually, the scope (with a given focal length) with the appropriate eyepiece will give
200 - 500 x mag. but for the el-cheapo scopes that advertise that it is useless as the view
is extremely poor

sophiecentaur
Gold Member
Not usually, the scope (with a given focal length) with the appropriate eyepiece will give
200 - 500 x mag. but for the el-cheapo scopes that advertise that it is useless as the view
is extremely poor
It's such a shame when a kid is given something technical which was chosen by a non-technical person. My Granny gave me a number of such gifts and she never found out just how useless they were. I hadn't the heart.

davenn
davenn
Gold Member
2021 Award
It's such a shame when a kid is given something technical which was chosen by a non-technical person.

True, but it's even worse that this crap is on the market to start with

I dread to think of the number of people ( kids and adults) that have been turned off astronomy because of
sales hype and garbage gear

berkeman
Andy Resnick
The key to a telescope is not magnification - it is objective lens diameter.

Close: it's the numerical aperture (f-number). The rule of thumb is that empty magnification begins around 500 to 1000 times the numerical aperture.

Andy Resnick
When I look at this image (a selfie) at 100%, it corresponds to a magnification of 8000x, but when posted here it's only a paltry 6000x:

(It's a nucleus in one of my cheek epithelial cells, not sure about the tiny black spots.... ). When re-scaled to 'maximum usable magnification' it looks like this:

Orthoceras, OmCheeto and davenn
OmCheeto
Gold Member
When I look at this image (a selfie) at 100%, it corresponds to a magnification of 8000x, but when posted here it's only a paltry 6000x:

View attachment 255924
(It's a nucleus in one of my cheek epithelial cells, not sure about the tiny black spots.... ). When re-scaled to 'maximum usable magnification' it looks like this:

View attachment 255926
I spent most of yesterday and part of today testing this "maximum usable magnification" thing.
It appears to be true!

I can't really tell much difference between the original and the one that's been through the wringer washer.

According my my maths below, I could have gotten away with a 0.3 megapixel camera vs the fancy 5.0 megapixel camera I went out of my way to pay extra for!

One consolation though, is that the 5.0 megapixel camera fits my camera-less telescope!
I tested it the other day on a tree across the street, and it looks as though Saturn will be about 39 pixels across, rings not included.

BillTre
Gold Member
I have a number of microscopes that I use for different purposes.
My favorite and most useful is an old American Optics stereoscopic (dissecting microscope).
I think of this as the most kid friendly kind of scope in the it gives you an extreme close of what you see. Something kids will be able to relate to.
Get a weird bug or what ever and look at it under the scope. It also has a convenient working distance so that yo can manipulate things under the scope as you look at them. This gives you a better feel for the things your looking at and is not something that I get as much from digital cameras.
I have been lucky to have worked near where old lab equiment was put to be recycled or sent to the dump. Since I can often fix mechanical problems wit these kinds of scopes, I have a several scopes of various kinds I have reclaimed from their final destiny at the dump.

OTOH, this scope is old and was not made for taking pictures.
I have a digital scope I use for the equivalent mag pictures.
However, it is not so handy for doing manipulations of objects under magnification.

I also have a handful of compound scopes (mostly for things like looking at slides), which I have used for trying to ID fish diseases or for looking at things living in pond or fish tank water. It would also be OK for slides of tissues, but I have not made any of these for home use.
These are also older student scopes not made for taking pictures.
The digital scopes I have seen can have different lenses (purchased separately) to give higher mags. This would require a stable mounting system to get decent results.

I friend of mine bought a nice med student quality compound (nice phase optics) scope for a few hundred dollars.
He takes pictures by holding his iPhone camera up to the ocular. This works OK, not great.

berkeman
Has something changed in recent years? I thought for 1000x or more nonempty magnification you need oil immersion. And empty magnification is worse than useless.

As a kid, I would think decent quality in the range from 25x to 400x is much more useful than higher magnifications.
My kids have an up to x900 microscope. But mostly use it in x50- x200 range. Higher zooms are too limited utility for (temperamental) kids - because time-consuming light setup and speciment preparation (flattening) is necessary.

hutchphd, Asymptotic, fluidistic and 1 other person
Andy Resnick
I spent most of yesterday and part of today testing this "maximum usable magnification" thing.
It appears to be true!
[...]
One consolation though, is that the 5.0 megapixel camera fits my camera-less telescope!
I tested it the other day on a tree across the street, and it looks as though Saturn will be about 39 pixels across, rings not included.

In microscopy, the camera pixel size is a critical metric. For example, it may be surprising that imaging with a 10x/0.3 lens requires a smaller sensor pixel size as compared to imaging with a 100x immersion lens in order to match the pixel size to the size of the point spread function.

Dale
Mentor
2021 Award
You are correct- the advertised giant magnification is mostly empty magnification. But look at all them zeros!
What is "empty magnification"

PAllen
What is "empty magnification"
Image remains blurred irrespective of focus, because no extra information is available compared to a smaller, sharp image. For ordinary optics, the limit is around 600-800x without use of oil immersion.

Dale
DEvens
Gold Member
The USB attachment is cool. Especially if you have a "honking big" monitor. At the lab I occasional work at, they have a 40 inch monitor for doing examinations. Put the sample under the scope and the image on the screen. You can sit up comfortably and have the image wide-screen in HD. Get something you like and BLIP capture it. Probably a high quality USB is the choice for home labs.

Also interesting is the mount that allows you to put your phone on the eye piece. It converts the scope into a projection scope. The camera on many cell phones these days is quite good. That might be interesting for the kind of person who wants to carry the scope out to the woods or the pond or whatever.

BillTre
Gold Member
I have tried several optical attachments for smart phones so they can function as microscopes.
They have generally been disappointing.

Recently, I got my daughter a digital microscope that can either plug into a computer via a cable or connect wirelessly (bluetooth) to a computer or smart phone.
This worked well, was easy to use, and was of a similar quality to that of a corded consumer digital scope.
It is pretty handy (my daughter is doing some work as a field biologist) and portable.
She showed her boss the scope who then decided to get one.
Here is a link to it on Amazon.

DrDu
Lately, I am more active in a german group on microscopy than in PF. There are also lots of people present who are active in education. The general consensus there is that for children up to maybe 10 years it is better to start with a binocular lens instead of a real microscope. The reasons given are the following ones:
1. For children, it is difficult to relate images of high magnification to the objects they were taken from.
2. The objects they are interested in, like plants or insects from the garden, can be viewed without having to kill them or without needing involved sample preparation.
3. In higher magnification, the field depth is very small so that you need to change the focus constantly to get an impression of the 3d structure of an object. This is difficult for children, or given a reduced span of attention as compared to an adult, they may loose interest, before dominating the technique.

Concerning the choice of a microscope, nowadays there are second hand microscopes from top enterprises on the market, like from Zeiss, Leica or Olympus, for a price you would have to pay for a new toy microscope of low quality produced by a noname company in India or China. I would always prefer these to a fashy looking USB microscope. If you really want to watch things on screen, get a cheap adaptor for the smartphone. Children tend to have less problems using a smartphone than a microscope, these days.

Andy Resnick and Merlin3189
For young kids especially, I would recommend a different (and free) approach. Some years back, I started a program to collect and donate old microfiche machines (if you're old enough to recall those) to local schools, to be used as "projection-style microscopes." Magnification is typically around 50X, very useful for group viewing, and inserting stuff to view (e.g. algae, onion skin, salt, etc.) is fast and easy. So is moving the area of viewing. I did find an archive of the web site with images I had set up for this. You may still be able to find companies that have a few old microfiches in storage, which they should be happy to give away for education.
Image Gallery: https://web.archive.org/web/20050411050643/http://gemini.oscs.montana.edu/~rayf/photos.htm
Main Page: https://web.archive.org/web/20050405210039/http://gemini.oscs.montana.edu/~rayf/micro.htm

sophiecentaur, Andy Resnick and BillTre
sophiecentaur