I. Digital Microscopes: An Overview
From full-size units to pocket models, microscopes are complex tools that facilitate the analysis of small objects and structures across various settings, such as medicine, education, engineering, and manufacturing. Microscopes are based on the phenomenon of magnification, highly valued in the ancient world. Note that it was in the 13th century when the first pair of corrective eyeglasses were invented. Three centuries later, the interest in lens technology and the remarkable work of spectacle-makers Hans Jansen, Zacharias Jansen, and Hans Lippershey led to the development of the first compound microscope. Microscopy was slowly launched as a separate field of research followed by the inventions of notable scientists, such as Robert Hooke, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, and Robert Brown.
With the advancements in digital technology, microscopes have evolved remarkably, and digital microscopes have become essential tools in research and practice. Interestingly, the first digital model was created in 1986 by the Japanese company Hirox Co. Ltd. The original model was a simple control unit connected to a computer via an S-video connection, which was later changed to a Firewire 800 connector. In the early 2000s, the company released innovative units with build-in monitors. In 2015, Hirox Co. Ltd. introduced another digital model connected to a computer by USB 3.0, taking advantage of the benefits of USB connectivity.
II. Purchasing a Microscope: How to Choose a Digital Unit
Given the increasing interest in lens technology and scientific research, reputable vendors, such as OMAX, AmScope, Zeiss, Celestron, and Leica, offer a wide variety of advanced digital units. Note that both hobbyists and microscopists should consider three major factors when purchasing a digital microscope:
- Research requirements
- Total cost
Research requirements: Different research objectives require different types of microscopes. For example, compound microscopes are optical microscopes that can be used for the analysis of small and transparent specimens, while stereo units can facilitate the examination of opaque objects. Digital microscopes, on the other hand, can be used to capture, modify, and store images (including videos and measurements) on a computer or another external device. As digital units display the image on a screen, the ergonomics of using digital microscopes are highly beneficial, eliminating eye and neck strain. Moreover, digital tools are highly recommended for audience and conference viewing.
Given the benefits of digital microscopes, it’s no surprise there’s a wide range of models, such as biological, polarizing, stereo, compound, phase, inverted, USB, handheld, and portable digital models. Handheld digital microscopes, in particular, are popular tools as they are easy to use and hold, which makes them ideal for fieldwork and forensics.
Specifications: Magnification and resolution are two of the main specifications that users should consider before purchasing a microscope. Note that in optical microscopy, magnification is determined by multiplying the eyepiece magnification by the lens magnification. When it comes to digital units, additional factors to consider are the camera’s memory, connectivity, and resolution.
Here we should note that digital microscopes are defined as optical microscopes with a connected camera, allowing images to be displayed either on an LCD screen or a monitor (computer monitor, HDMI monitor). Some models are equipped with a camera; others come with a detachable camera.
Total cost: Depending on the optical and digital quality of the units, total costs can vary significantly. Interestingly, top-notch companies, such as AmScope, OMAX, Zeiss, and Celestron, may offer better quality, shipping, and return policies.
Note that most digital models include software that runs on a computer (allowing video recording, measuring, and photo editing), which can increase the price of the unit. Additionally, software updates should be considered.
III. Best Digital Microscopes
Digital microscopes are popular tools for inspection, documentation, and analyses in production, quality control, failure analysis, teaching, research and development, as well as forensics. Digital microscopes are also valued in the field of life sciences; for example, earscopes are popular units in the field of otology. Based on different specifications and user reviews, here’s a list of the best digital microscopes on the market:
- Best Full-size Digital Microscopes:
Given the wide variety of models, vendors, and applications, choosing a digital microscope can be challenging. The full-size units provide high magnification, resolution, and advanced settings.
1.1. Digital Compound Microscope: Compound microscopes are ideal for the analysis of small specimens with some degree of transparency. Note that compound microscopes provide high magnification by utilizing two sets of lenses. Such microscopes allow users to study both stained slides (e.g., negative stained bacteria, blood) and unstained wet mounts (e.g., pond water, metazoans). Some of the best digital compound units include:
1.1.1. AmScope M158C-SP14-E 40X-1000X Biology Science Metal Glass Student Microscope with USB Digital Camera and Slide Preparation Kit
AmScope M158C-SP14-E 40X-1000X Biology Science Metal Glass Student Microscope with USB Digital Camera and Slide Preparation Kit is an advanced compound microscope equipped with five magnification settings, a LED illumination system, and a digital camera. The unit comes with biological-specimen slides, slide-preparation kit, and various tools, which makes AmScope M158C-SP14-E 40X-1000X Microscope an ideal digital unit for both academics and hobbyists.
1.1.2. AmScope T690C-PL-10M 40X-2500X Achromatic Microscope
AmScope T690C-PL-10M 40X-2500X Achromatic Microscope offers magnification of 40X-2500X, a Kohler halogen illumination system, and a 10MP digital camera. With numerous sophisticated features, AmScope T690C-PL-10M 40X-2500X is a superb compound microscope, which can be used in research and clinical settings.
1.1.3. OMAX 40X-2500X Full-Size Lab Digital Trinocular Compound LED Microscope
OMAX 40X-2500X Full-Size Lab Digital Trinocular Compound LED Microscope is one of the most powerful compound microscopes on the market. With magnification levels from 40X to 2500X and a 14MP USB digital imaging system, the unit facilitates image capturing, video recording, as well as specimen analysis. Note that the software is compatible with Windows XP/Vista/7/8/10, Mac OS, and Linux operating system. OMAX 40X-2500X Full-Size Lab Digital Trinocular Compound LED Microscope is an ideal instrument for examination, research, and teaching.
- 2. Digital Stereo Microscopes: Stereo microscopes, also known as stereoscopic or dissecting microscopes, are often used for dissection, fractography, manufacturing, forensics, and watch-making. Note that stereo microscopes are ideal for the analysis of solid and opaque objects or specimens too big for a compound microscope. Popular digital stereo units include:
1.2.1. OMAX 20X-40X-80X Cordless Binocular Microscope
OMAX 20X-40X-80X Cordless Dual LED Lights Stereo Binocular Microscope with USB Digital Camera (OMAX CS-G223E) is a sophisticated binocular LED unit. It can be powered by 110V power supplies or batteries, which makes the microscope usable in outdoor settings. The unit comes with a USB digital imaging system on one of the eyepieces; the included software is compatible with Windows XP/Vista/7/8/10 and Mac OS. OMAX 20X-40X-80X Cordless Binocular Microscope is ideal for analyzing coins, stamps, rocks, insects, and plants.
1.2.2. OMAX 3.5X-90X USB3 18MP Digital Trinocular Zoom Stereo Microscope
OMAX 3.5X-90X USB3 18MP Digital Trinocular Zoom Stereo Microscope is equipped with a rotatable trinocular head, a stable desk stand, and an 18MP USB 3.0 camera. Note that the software is compatible with Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux operating systems. OMAX 3.5X-90X USB3 Digital Trinocular Zoom Stereo Microscope is on