Information For the First time Microscope Buyer
Edited by Gordon Couger
up dated 04/28/2008

In my opinion when buying inexpensive new microscopes the support and reputation of the dealer is as important as the name on the scope. It is the dealer that in the end will support you and take care of any problems with the microscope. To a lesser degree the same is true for a used microscope. Buying from a reputable seller that offers return privileges should be the minimum requirement unless there is a substantial discount in price. Microscope parts and repairs can quickly cost more than the same working microscope.  -Gordon Couger

If you have children that will be using the microscope please  read the last piece on the page. This is written for the serious adult amateur. Special Consideration for Children covers most of the special problems children face using a microscope.

Some of these links contain personal opinions and some commercial sites for their information content. The inclusion of commercial sites in this page is not a recommendation of them in any way.


If anyone has any information on homeschool resources for science that are not purely commercial operations selling microscopes please contact me at gordon<dot>couger<at>gmail<dot>com. With few exceptions I am not interested in helping anyone sell new microscopes. I believe they are a poor value for the money. I believe you get more for you money from a brand name used scope that is more durable, has better performance, is better constructed and greater resale value.

While I don't necessarily support home schooling there is a growing need for lesson plans, experiments and resources for homeschooling. I believe the kids should have the best resources their parents will allow. I am not sure they get a very good science background through many homeschool networks. Especially the ones scrubbed clean of all taint of evolution. I anyone has good science resources that don't touch on evolution there is a big need for them so the kids get a good background in the rest of science.

Various Views on Choosing and Buying microscopes

From a number of sources

Choosing and buying a microscope by Dave Walker. An excellent discussion on buying your first microscope.

β€œUsed Microscopes for the Amateur” by J. G. McHone. A clear discussion on why older scopes are better tools for the amateur than new ones.

Micscape's page on Buying A Microscope and How To Use it from their An Introduction to Microscopy by Wim van Egmond.

Buying at eBay A basic guide for the newcomer by Paul James for Micscape .

 How I Choose and Buy Microscopes by Gordon Couger for Micscape . My thoughts on why I choose to buy used microscopes and the methods I use.

My Opinion of he Role of New Microscopes for the Serious Amateur - Gordon Couger 8/18/2006

Buying a Microscope and how to use it” form Micscape's An Introduction to Microscopy

(Microscopic Explorations) MSA Project Micro
The Microscope Socity of America's projectict for Pre-college . education.

HOW TO BUY SCHOOL MICROSCOPES Caroline Schooley's page for MSA 's MICRO project on buying microscopes. Most of it  applies to anyone buying a microscope.

EBay's Buying Microscopes page by James McHone who's web site is

Ebay''s Using Microscopes page by James McHone who's web site is


From Penn State Veterinary Medical Department their requirements for veterinary microscope for students. This is an extent resource for anyone considering buying a microscope new or used. It is of course written from the point of view of a medical students needs and  their prejudiced against research scopes make good sense for beginners that are not very serious about devoting a lot of time leaning to use their microscopes.

Used Microscopes for the Amateur
J. Gregory McHone, PhD, CPG
9 Dexters Lane
Grand Manan, NB E5G 3A6, Canada

How long might a microscope remain in good condition, ready for use, and desired by its owner? We microscope fans are luckier than hobby or vocation users of some other technical instruments. We don't have something "better" coming out every few months to covet or make what we have obsolete (unlike cameras, or computers, or cell phones etc.). A good microscope made in the latter part of the last century is about as satisfying and useful as a good new one, at least for simple observations, and a good microscope will never become obsolete.


A very fine used microscope can now be had for a tiny fraction of its new price, and at less cost than a lower quality new scope that will never be as satisfying to use or last as long. Even if an older scope needs to be cleaned up and some parts replaced, the huge assortment of major-brand used microscope accessories, parts, and pieces now available will only be getting greater, cheaper, and more accessible with time (and not just on eBay but also from dealers). Assuming normal, gentle use of a good microscope with an honored name, its lenses will not delaminate, connections will not become loose, gears will not break, and relatively few surfaces will show wear (which is only its badge of honor anyway). And if someday you want a different lens or part, most likely you can find it and even afford it.


Far into the future, the same will be true for most examples of the well known brands that populated our schools and labs in past decades. I certainly foresee no end to this good luck in my lifetime, and I plan to be using my scopes another 40 years, at least!  But -- I have an Olympus BH-2 and a Wild M5, both models high in quality, made in large numbers, and then surplussed by many (not all) of their original company owners. I know an owner of a Leitz Dialux who has used it regularly for 38 years, yet it continues to give him the same fine views and smooth operation as when it was new. And, parts for it remain relatively abundant. What might be the long term prospects for smaller volume brands? Rule #1 is there is no substitute for quality, and #2 might be that the bigger the brand, the easier it will be for your grandchildren to add accessories! The long term prospects for unknown name scopes? There aren't any.


People new to microscopy might not realize that this situation is quite different from many other hobbies that need technical instruments. So we will need to repeat this same advice, and also that it is a great time it is to start or renew this avocation!

 - J. G. McHone

*Message #43757 "Second tier" brands (was: Advice on buying a microscope) Apr 27, 2008

The tread splits off the thread Re: Advice on buying a microscope with

Message #43735 That starts with Message 43643 Advice on buying a microscope April 21, 2008

Basic Information

Micrographia's page on how to use a microscope. 2/1/2004

The Microscope on a Budget A Complete Guide to the Low Cost Light Microscope for the Laboratory, Photographers, and Hobbyists copyright © M. Brian Stevens. An online book on microscopy

Microscope Basics A PDF file by The Olympus Microscope Resource Center.

Paul James on eyepieces and achromatic objectives.

Testing the performance of a microscope with diatoms by Dave Walker.

Lens Cleaning by Robert Monaghan

Cleaning and Servicing Microscopes by the Department of Zoology at the University of Toronto

Southern Microscope Service's Home Page has an very good explanation in detail of how microscopes work.

Special Consideration for Children
Gordon Couger

Microscopes for children present special considerations. First it is important that the microscope be an instrument that they use and not play with a few days and discard. In these days of the Internet and instant gratification holding my interested is difficult holding a a child's is a real challenge. Getting a scope too complex for them to use on their own is a sure way to put most kids off. I know it did me over 50 years ago and many complex procedures still do. 

Another problem is young children's eyes are closer together than most binocular tubes will close up and their binocular vision not as well developed so binocular heads may pose a problem for them well into their teens. Even if the scope will close down enough to accommodate their eyes the muscular coordination of their eyes may not work with the binocular head pieces. Having multiple sclerosis I have experienced this and it quickly causes eyestrain if the eyes do not comfortably lock in on the image.

Of course having eyepieces and other parts that are attached so that they are difficult to remove and lose or injure the child are important.

It is difficult to find this qualities in a used microscopes so you are left with little choice but to buy from a dealer in new microscopes. I hesitate to recommend particular dealer. I don't hesitate to strongly recommend that you by from someone that has been a microscope dealer for some years and has a good reputation for marinating the equipment they sell. Buying from retail stores that have no microscope service department is no different than buying from eBay except it is easy to find the person to complain to when things don't work. It is not much easier to get them fixed in most cases.

For their fist scope a low power 10 to 30 power scope that requires little or no surface preparation may well hold their interest much longer than a height power compound scope that require specimen preparation, careful lighting and scope adjustment to get a decent image. All this is speaking in generalities there are 6 year old kids that can master a complex scope just as there are grown men than can work a magnifying glass.

While I don't recommend any particular seller I use this scope as an example of a good low power scope for the beginner as illustrated by David Walker in
Getting started with a low power microscope it is a 20x scope that has all pieces attached so they aren't remove by curious hands and the monocular set up allow easy use with out constant readjustment among users and children that have problems with binocular vision have no problems.

 Scopes these or these ones like them are very good choice for youngsters. I allows you to work with them and the light and condenser actual adjustable stops are simple enough children can use them unaided. Less expensive used scopes can be purchased with better lenses but you will be hard pressed to find a simpler scope than some of these. Defused light and simple stop system is more that adequate and much less frustrating than an adjustable condenser and iris 40x and lower powered objectives. The contrast suffers a little at 40x but it is still good enough for very good viewing. Actual test surprised me.

If the child has a real interest in science I would let him try some more complex scopes and see what he can handle and try to come to a realistic conclusion of his desires, abilities and drive to complete projects before getting a complex microscope

.If you are considering a microscope for a gift to a child consider the level of complexity the child can deal with. Condensers can give them a hard time so get one with a simple condenser system or be prepared to spend a lot of time with them if you get a complex one. Also binocular heads are a problem. They may not close to  the point that they can use them and until their middle teens there binocular vision may not develop to be able to use them very well.


I  use AO Spencer 160 with very good results. They are selling for 50 to 75 US dollars on eBay.

Occasionally a monocular dissection scope comes up on eBay but not often. These scopes take little or no preparation of specials and are less likely to end up in the closet if the child finds things to complex. For a binocular scope AO Spencer Cycloptics sell for $ 50 and up on eBay and has some serviced and rebuilt ones that have the prisms attached with modern cement that he sells for a reasonable price with a guarantee. These old Cycloptics are ideal for children because they are so sturdy and almost any one can clean sand dirt  out of them if they children get  careless. and they offer 7 to 25x  or 14 to 50x with a 2x lens.

Gordon Couger gordon<dot>couger<at>gmail<dot>com

I collect links on information related to light microscopes.
Please forward any links or information you think might be useful to
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*Message #43757 "Second tier" brands (was: Advice on buying a microscope) Apr 27, 2008

The tread splits off the thread Re: Advice on buying a microscope with
Message #43735 That starts with
Message 43643 Advice on buying a microscope April 21, 2008

. -G. Couger 11/25/2004

Updated by Gordon Couger January 28, 2004
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