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For a more in-depth article about microscope components, see the Buyer's Guide at GreatScopes.Com.

Stereo vs. Compound
From: Tina

You need to decide if you want a compound or stereo microscope. A compound is good for looking only at slides, which is kind of boring for younger students. Slides must be purchased or made and this takes time.

With a stereo microscope, bugs, moss, sand, etc. are easy to collect and view. You can just look at anything under a stereo without any preparation. It is mostly used to look at 3-D objects. Example: we just brought home some pond water to look at all the little critters living in it. You can't really use a compound for that. We have even looked at scabs on a cut....really cool !!! The stereo is also okay for limited slide use.

Whatever you decide, make sure you don't buy one of those $50.00 - $75.00 ones. They are really just toys and not worth the money. We saved for three years to be able to buy a really good microscope, and it was so worth it!!

Stereo vs. Compound
Quoted from the HTT catalog:

"There are 2 basic types of microscopes: compound and stereo. Compound microscopes highly magnify thin specimen sections mounted on microscope slides. Almost every family will need a 400x compound microscope to study biology and life science. It is ideal for observing cells and cell structure. We recommend the Advanced Microscope ($185 + $12.60 shipping) as the best choice for most families. It provides a clear, full-size image that is important for high school level work. The Homeschool ($149) and Ultimate ($399) microscopes are also alternatives, depending on your budget and needs.

"Stereo microscopes ($219), with low magnification of 20 to 40x, are designed for viewing whole objects like rocks, insects, and flowers. They are important for advanced nature studies and ideal for young children since an object can be viewed without slide preparation. Consider one of these for teaching young children or as a second microscope. The Explorer Microscope (20x, $72) is an excellent affordable alternative to a stereo microscope."

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Sonlight's Model

The best deal out there appears to be Sonlight's Ultra Microscope. It has all the features you find in the quality microscopes offered by other vendors (virtually all the features of HTT's Advanced model), plus it even comes with a mechanical stage to make slide placement tremendously easier (from other vendors, the mechanical stage is a $40 option). It costs only $197 and shipping is free, even if you order nothing else. Also, if you order a Sonlight Core package, you get 10% off the microscope and the rest of your order.

Which Model?
From: Jenny A.

I am a (gasp) "professional" teacher - trained in high school sciences. I purchase my microscopes from Home Training Tools - a science supply house that especially caters to homeschool families. They have good prices and sell in small enough quantities that homeschoolers don't have to pay for chemicals and specimens they will never use up.

Anyway, to answer you microscope question - When you get the $50 or even the $95 model from the JC Penney Toy Catalog, you are purchasing an expensive toy. They WOW you with the idea that you can magnify up to 1200 times. And you can. But you still can't see anything because the OPTICS (the quality of the lenses) are SO POOR! Besides, there is NOTHING you will study in Biology or any other High School science that you need to magnify that much. The most you will ever need is the standard 400x that comes on all of the truly scientific microscopes.

Home Training Tools has several that are perfect. Their Elementary microscope (Basic) sells for $130, and their standard High School microscope (Advanced) sells for $185 (plus $12.60 shipping). Both are solid metal frame, electric lamp, safety stop, and several other quality features. The Advanced also has both fine and course adjustment knobs. It is the same microscope that sells for $250 in the "big-name" catalogs. They also have more expensive models, 2-eyepiece and stereoscope models, but in my humble (and professional) opinion, the $185 model is THE best deal all around. It's a lot of money up front, but if you've got more kids coming up, it will be THE single best science purchase you will EVER make!!!

Home Training Tools
2827 Buffalo Horn Drive
Laurel MT 59044-8325
Fax 888-860-2344

Which Model?
From: Karen

It was a lot of money up front, but it was well worth scraping and saving the money to buy the $185 microscope. It is a full size scope and very good quality (at least as good as the $700 ones the school used to buy for my biology classes!)

When I was looking into buying a microscope, the people at Home Training Tools said the smaller scope ($130) is actually a 3/4 size scope instead of full size. It does not have the fine tuning knob which is extremely helpful on higher powers.

I had a hard time convincing my husband that there actually was a big difference even though the magnification wasn't as great as the toy microscope we already had....once he saw for himself, he was convinced. It was like comparing a Little Tykes with a Rolls Royce!

Is There an In-Between Model?
From: KC

I've been on the "Microscopes Quest" since May, and that is true...there is NOT much in between. I have found a FEW others that go to 400x only either slightly more or less expensive...they are really all in the same ballpark, unless of much lesser quality. And I have really done a lot of comparing...Sonlight's "better" one is quite good for the money.

In my case, I am hesitant to bite the bullet with the better one (which I know we will need in the future) only because I have younger children (17m, 3 and 6) and I'm afraid of purchasing the better one prematurely (lest it get broken). I did go ahead and order the $10.95 Sonlight one (actually, 2 of them so siblings can see, too) and I'm still debating about the better one. I also like the idea, while they are young, to have the option of a stereoscope (so they can grab any object out of the yard and examine it) and of course in the perfect world, that would be one scope for the 2 purposes...but the "beast" barely exists.

Affordable 3-D Microscopes
From Jenny:

For 3-D viewing and for young children, I went to Radio Shack and purchased several hand-held microscopes. The 30x is the one we use most of the time. It runs about $10, I got it on sale for $7. They also have one at 100x, more magnification than we usually need for what we use it on. It normally runs about $15. I got it on sale for $10. The elementary kids like the idea that they each can have one in class and don't have to take turns. The optics were surprisingly good. For pond water, try filling a small, plain, clear plastic rectangular container, then looking with the hand-held through the side of the container. For regular microscope viewing of pond water and other tiny 3-D objects, purchase ($5/dozen) a box of blank glass concave slides (they have a small well in them) and cover slips.

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Lab-Quality Refurbished Microscopes
From: Becky

There is a company in South Carolina that buys high school and college lab microscopes, refurbishes them, then sells them. It is called the Martin Microscope Co. Their phone number is (864) 242-3424. They are located in Easley, SC. (I don't believe they have a website. -ed.) These are quality, heavy duty microscopes, nothing like the cheap plastic ones I've seen around lately. They range in price from approx. $75.00 (no light source) to around $150.00 (with electrical light source). Hope this helps!!

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There was a discussion of whether to purchase a 1000x microscope. The following posts were in response to that discussion.

What Magnification
From: John at Sonlight

The normal most common power for day-in and day-out viewing, even in a clinical laboratory environment, is 400x. The company that supplies our microscope manufactures about 20 times as many 400x microscopes as 1000x microscopes. Why? Because that is what the market--i.e., primarily, schools and laboratories!--want.

[When it is used, the] 1000x is normally to see a specific portion of a cell. Usually the researcher wants to do a study of a specific spot over time. This is very different from what you normally want to achieve in an educational environment. In an educational environment, you want to see a) the complete cell and/or b) several cells--so you can see the "context" and you can make comparisons.

In order to achieve [1000x magnification] you must use oil. That means, you have to put a drop of oil on top of your slide, then place your objective lens in the drop of oil (having eliminated all bubbles!), so that the light from below the slide is being transmitted through the slide, through the oil, directly into the objective lens.

What this means is: a) a lot of extra set-up work; and b) you'd better be well set-up to do the appropriate cleaning of the objective lens (not to mention the slide) after every use. Mess up on cleaning, and you're talking the potential of a $100 bill for a professional job (not to mention possible replacement costs if you scratch the lens due to improper cleaning).

As a result of all this additional fuss and potential significant expense, very few professors ever want to mess with such microscopes.

And a word from Dr. Wile of Apologia

From: Dr. Jay L. Wile
To: John Holzmann
Subject: Re: Appropriate Microscope(s) for High School Students

Dear Mr. Holzmann,

Please tell your customers that I (the author) am in full agreement with your e-mail. I would never recommend a 1,000x microscope for any student. Your explanation of what's involved in oil immersion is right on target. Most people fail to realize that a 1000x lens is significantly worse than a 400x lens unless you do oil immersion. Since oil immersion is tricky and often results in broken lenses and slides, people do not do it or do not do it properly. In the end, then, they use a 1000x microscope and get significantly worse results than they would with a 400x microscope.

I tell people with whom I speak that your kit is exactly what they need. Since you can undercut us by $15, I tell people to buy from you rather than us. After all, I believe in free markets. You can do it for less, so you should get the business.

The bottom line is that the kit that the author put together for the course contains the same type (not same brand, but that's irrelevant) of microscope as the one that you have. Thus, if someone trusts the author enough to use the course, he or she should trust the author to choose the appropriate microscope. Since your microscope is essentially the same as the one I chose, it is ideal for the course.

God Bless,
Dr. Jay

Editor's note: The microscope Dr. Wile referred to is Sonlight's Ultra Microscope. Please e-mail me if this link becomes obsolete.

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