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Starter microscopes -- feedback please

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#1 RocketScientist

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Posted 05 November 2020 - 10:10 AM

I was planning to get an AR102 refractor for Christmas, but after a brief observing session in the cold last night, I am thinking that adding a fifth telescope may not be the best investment of $400-500.  (This scope is normally $550, but we'll probably see discounting for the holidays soon.)

 

(I already own a Z10 dob, C5 on a CG-4 mount, ETX-80, and ETX-125.)

 

So I'm thinking of having Santa bring microscopes instead and going into that world to have a second hobby, something I can do during the day and on those cloudy nights.

 

I already have an old Sears kids' microscope from, well, when I was a kid, plus a good set of prepared mouse organ slides and a poor set of prepared "water bloom and aquatic life' slides that I don't think were prepared properly.

 

I was planning to take a course in macroinvertebrates at a local nature center this summer, but COVID intervened and the class was cancelled.

 

Now I am thinking about getting a couple of microscopes for Christmas and doing my own exploration. "A couple" because the combination of a stereo microscope for low power and a good-quality compound microscope for middle powers seems like the way to go.

 

I'm currently thinking of these two:

 

-- AmScope T490B compound trinocular 40X-2000X, halogen, Abbe condenser, 2-Layer mechanical stage (about $335)

-- AmScope SE306R-PZ-LED binocular stereo, 10x and 20x eyepieces, 2X and 4X objectives, upper and lower LED lighting, reversible black/white stage plate, frosted stage plate (about $190)

 

So for about $525, I could get what looks like a pretty solid starter set of microscopes.  I'd also need to get a basic blank slide + cover set soon, and probably a video camera for the trinocular eventually (but no rush on that).

 

Does this seem like a reasonable starting point?  I don't want to invest too much until I see how much I use them, but would like to do some deep exploration of pond water/mud puddle/garden plants this winter and on into spring, when insects start to be more available.  (Here in Vermont, we're rapidly sliding from fall into winter.)

 

I know that posters here like to recommend used professional equipment, but I'm not eager to go poking around eBay or do a lot of research into what local colleges use, resellers of used professional equipment, etc.  I may do that as step #2 *if* I find this becoming a major interest and want better equipment.  However, I think the two scopes listed above would carry me a long way.

 

Thoughts welcome!


Edited by RocketScientist, 05 November 2020 - 11:21 AM.


#2 ShortLobster

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Posted 05 November 2020 - 10:21 AM

I have that binocular scope AmScope SE306R, and use it extensively for minerals and invertebrates. I also have a different version of the Amscope compound scope. For my purposes the binocular scope is better, and I use it 90% of the time. 

 

One thing to keep in mind: if you will be using it for larger specimens (thicker than about 2 - 3 cms) such as rocks, you will need one of the binocular scopes that allow for longer travel, such as this one: 

 

https://www.amazon.c...ctronics&sr=1-8

 

I've had a good experience with Amscope, and believe it would be a great way to get into microscopes without spending too much. 



#3 Rapidray

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Posted 05 November 2020 - 11:24 AM

I would say you are off to a good start on your selection of microscopes. Looking forward to seeing your photos and finds!



#4 RocketScientist

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Posted 05 November 2020 - 01:00 PM

Some addition thoughts here, self-learning and questions.

 

I pulled out my old kids' microscope today, set it up, and gave it a whirl.  It was obvious that I have far more floaters in my 50s than I did when younger.  This reinforces my plan to buy binocular microscopes.

 

Also, the light weight of the little Sears microscope meant that when I wanted to focus, the whole thing moved. Just as a telescope needs a solid mount, a microscope is going to work much better if it's heavy enough to stay in place.

 

Dark field microscopy look interesting, but I'm not sure I want to spend the additional $60 for the T490B-DK right now. I have seen some claims that you can put together a simple dark field setup at home for less $$$. 

 

Question 1: If needed, can I buy a commercial dark field condenser at a later time and retrofit it on the T490B?

 

Question 2:  How important is an adjustable iris? This seems like a nice-to-have, but not essential.



#5 RocketScientist

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Posted 05 November 2020 - 01:04 PM

If you will be using it for larger specimens (thicker than about 2 - 3 cms) such as rocks, you will need one of the binocular scopes that allow for longer travel.

I wondered what those layouts were for.  But 2-3 cm is pretty thick, considering that I plan to focus on pond water, soil, plant parts, and insects, so I don't think it's necessary. Less expensive and more compact are both good things here.

 

These days, when I ask my hubby to let me buy something new, he is more worried about the storage space it will require than about a reasonable cost.


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#6 RocketScientist

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Posted 06 November 2020 - 09:01 AM

I just ordered the T490B-DK with dark field and the SE306R-PZ-LED stereo.  Fingers crossed that they will get here in good condition!

 

I've been watching videos on microbehunter.com.  That is a fantastic site.


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#7 ShortLobster

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Posted 06 November 2020 - 02:59 PM

That looks like a great choice, hope you enjoy it!

 

I've never seen that site before, but it's great. I needed an indoor winter hobby. 



#8 mich_al

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Posted 06 November 2020 - 08:32 PM

Some addition thoughts here, self-learning and questions.

 

I pulled out my old kids' microscope today, set it up, and gave it a whirl.  It was obvious that I have far more floaters in my 50s than I did when younger.  This reinforces my plan to buy binocular microscopes.

 

Also, the light weight of the little Sears microscope meant that when I wanted to focus, the whole thing moved. Just as a telescope needs a solid mount, a microscope is going to work much better if it's heavy enough to stay in place.

 

Dark field microscopy look interesting, but I'm not sure I want to spend the additional $60 for the T490B-DK right now. I have seen some claims that you can put together a simple dark field setup at home for less $$$. 

 

Question 1: If needed, can I buy a commercial dark field condenser at a later time and retrofit it on the T490B?

 

Question 2:  How important is an adjustable iris? This seems like a nice-to-have, but not essential.

I have the amscope t490 & have been pretty happy with it.  I think the adjustable iris is a plus.  Unless the $60 goes against your decided budget  I'd go for it.

Think twice about stereo scope over compound scope.  I don't yet have a stereo scope but beleive I'd get more use out of one .



#9 RocketScientist

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Posted 07 November 2020 - 02:05 PM

I ended up buying a stereo microscope with 20/40x and top and bottom lighting, *and* a trinocular compound microscope with the usual stuff, including Abbe brightfield condenser and a separate darkfield condenser.

This should be plenty to get me started.

When more budget and experience are available, I may get a 60x dry objective and a 20x objective for the compound and 5x eyepieces for the stereo (to get 10/20x instead of 20/40x) but I'm out of budget for now! :-)

#10 Binojunky

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Posted 19 November 2020 - 01:22 PM

I just picked up a Swift, its clearly made in the same Chinese factory as Amscope, Celestron and a load more names, works very well for a hobbyist like myself, Dave



#11 RocketScientist

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Posted 19 November 2020 - 01:52 PM

There seem to be some pretty good microscopes available at reasonable prices from AmScope, Omax, and others, as well as the used options.

I'm slowly learning how to use it effectively. It's not a good time of year to do pond water, but I've collected samples that show nematodes, ciliates, and algae colonies.

Hooke's book Micrographia (1665) and Evenings at the Microscope (19th century) are giving me more ideas on microscope subjects.

#12 camvan

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Posted 21 November 2020 - 07:33 PM

There seem to be some pretty good microscopes available at reasonable prices from AmScope, Omax, and others, as well as the used options.

I'm slowly learning how to use it effectively. It's not a good time of year to do pond water, but I've collected samples that show nematodes, ciliates, and algae colonies.

Hooke's book Micrographia (1665) and Evenings at the Microscope (19th century) are giving me more ideas on microscope subjects.

I know AmScope and Omax...but who are the 'others' you made reference to?



#13 RocketScientist

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Posted 28 November 2020 - 10:29 PM

I know AmScope and Omax...but who are the 'others' you made reference to?

National Optical, Swift, Euromex, Motic, etc. AmScope and Omax are probably the best known.


Edited by RocketScientist, 28 November 2020 - 11:07 PM.

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#14 RocketScientist

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Posted 21 May 2021 - 05:12 PM

Both of these microscopes continue to do a good job for me. And the darkfield condenser was *well* worth the $60 additional. I probably do darkfield as much as 50% of my compound microscope observing time.

I also printed some Rheinberg illumination filters on transparency material, which has been an interesting experiment in its own right.

I bought another objective, a 20X. It gets used a lot, while the 200X oil immersion languishes in the box.

I find that 100x - 200x is where most of my compound observing is done. For stereo work, I go back and forth between 20x and 40x.

Sometimes it be useful to have a 5x eyepiece for the stereo microscope that would let me go down to 10x total magnification. Unfortunately reviews of the standard 5x Amscope 30mm barrel be eyepiece suggest that it has a very narrow AFOV, which would defeat the entire purpose.

Next step is to research inexpensive imaging options that include a focal reducer.
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