A New Stereomicroscope for $440?

Can you smell that?  Despite being spring it smells just a little less green.  Indeed, there is a little less green around me.  Sure the plants around me in North Carolina are in full emerald plumage.  However the green that really matters—dollars, money, cash, currency, dough, bread, Benjamins, dough, bank, cabbage, chedda, dead presidents, folding stuff, scratch—is nowhere around. The sequester reduced the National Science Foundation’s budget meaning 1,000 fewer funded grants in 2013.  Of course, with funding rates at 5-10% before the sequester with essentially NSF’s decade long frozen budget in the face of rising costs of salaries and supplies did not exactly mean that NSF was raining money on scientists before.

So I’m looking for a deal and if Fisher Scientific or VWR did double coupon Tuesdays I wouldn’t have time to write this article.  Stealing a research ship doesn’t seem to be a totally terrible idea.  If I could afford a graduate student and could convince them to swim to the depths, my ROV problem would be solved.  However, I still need a stereomicroscope (my undergraduate’s arms eventually get tired of holding multiple magnifying glasses).

Why won't you let me afford you?

Why won’t you let me afford you, Zeiss?

What I really want is a Zeiss Stemi 2000C.  The optics are the Bentley of microscopes.  The smooth sliding action on the magnification and focus knobs is butter, no eating butter inside of Bentley.  But the $5,640 pricetag is 10x my current budget.  But, this is the kind of scope that causes a nerdgasm just from touching it. And I do want a nerdgasm. Unfortunately there is no thriftshop for used Zeiss, or any other, microscopes.  Off to search the might Internet!

In searching, I came across Amscope.com where I found an equivalent model for $439.38.

Wait what?

That’s right $440.

So how equivalent is it?  Well, the Amscope website is not nearly as polished as the Zeiss website.  This gave me pause.  On the other hand maybe they don’t pay some web developer and pass those savings along to the customers!  The Amscope SM-1TZ appears to have everything I need.  What is the quality of a $440 scope? Do I order it?

I ordered it.

At $440, I had exceedingly low expectations.  I agonized that I might get exactly what I paid for. The day the box arrived with scope, I thought I had made a tragic mistake.  The shipping box was that cheap, thin cardboard that you typically find containing ceramic coffee mugs made in China.  This did not instill hope.  I opened the box carefully worried that even the slightest movement would break this cheap piece of shit.

I was surprised.

yhst-3262099438073_1934_1225987

My new friend

What I found inside was not a cheap piece of shit stereomicroscope.  I found a solidly built instrument.  The parts are all metal and fit together well.  The optics, while not the magical quality of a Zeiss, produce a nice magnification and image.  The plane of focus is amazingly broad.  The 0.5x wide magnification len is perfect for sorting bulk sediment samples.  My only complaint after two solid weeks of working with the scope is 1) the focus knob’s motion is a little rough (TWSS) and 2) adjustment of the width of the eyepieces is awkward.  With regard to the eyepieces the width is adjusted through rotating them on their pivot point which occurs at their bottom.  This is reverse most scopes that swivel on their uppers.  Not necessarily a problem but it will require some behavior modification on my part.  Given the price and sturdiness of the Amscope it would be a great purchase for a field or vessel operations.

So yes you can buy a decent scope for $440.

This sequester can f’ off!

UPDATE: Note my new baby has a nice camera tube. Assuming I don’t have a digital camera, do you have recommendations on the best budget camera and/or adapter?

Dr. M (1628 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, created to facilitate research to address fundamental questions in evolutionary science. He has conducted deep-sea research for 11 years and published over 40 papers in the area. He has participated in dozens of expeditions taking him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses mainly on marine systems and particularly the biology of body size, biodiversity, and energy flow. He focuses often on deep-sea systems as a natural test of the consequences of energy limitation on biological systems. He is the author and chief editor of Deep-Sea News, a popular deep-sea themed blog, rated the number one ocean blog on the web and winner of numerous awards. Craig’s popular writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.





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8 comments on “A New Stereomicroscope for $440?
  1. I’ve been using AmScope’s compound and dissecting scopes for years. I do video microscopy in the field to study sperm motility, and I don’t have the budget to take an expensive scope into conditions that might wreck it. I’ve been extremely pleased with the quality, durability, and features. For the money, it’s a frickin’ insane deal.

  2. Oh, and since you’ve got the trinocular – if you want to do any video or photography, there are people on Ebay who sell cheap aftermarket scope adapters for Canon AF/EF mount cameras that work well with the Amscopes. The one I got cost about $80, and it’s done a great job for me through years of fieldwork.

  3. I’ve gotten decent iPhone photos from my Leica light microscope using a mount on my ocular from a company that sells primarily for field spotting scopes. Meopta is the one I’ve got, but there are others…most are $50-60.

  4. How appropriate – I was _just_ looking at the exact same model. Many people in our department have bought scopes from AmScope, and while they don’t get excessive praise, they do the job just as well as a $2k scope. I would be hard-pressed to justify not recommending AmScope to anyone looking for a microscope, especially in education where you need to buy in ‘bulk’. My experience is that the greatest danger in the classroom is scopes being dropped, and the expensive ones aren’t going to fare any better than these ones.

  5. Wow, sounds like an excellent deal you got there, Dr.M!
    I’m pretty amazed by the specs of this and other stereomicroscopes of AmScope.
    I mean… less than $500 for a 3.5-180(!) X mag AND a working distance of 100 and even 200 mm?
    Sounds to good to be true?

    How do the optics hold up? Chromatic aberration? Is the stereomicroscope par focal? Do you notice a deterioration when zooming in (near its max magnification?).
    I got a Leica M205 at work (beastly good), but I’m looking out for a good stereomicroscope to use at home. I need at least 80X (good qual.) and preferably >120X, while maintaining a minimal working distance of 50 mm.
    Do you think these Amscope stereomicroscopes will live up to the challenge?

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