A digital microscope uses a camera to take an image that you would normally see through the eyepiece and show it on your Windows or Mac computer.
The first digital microscope products were very little more than toys. They were interesting, but the pictures were grainy and barely acceptable for personal use. For many years, they were most useful for circuit board work and encouraging a child’s interest in science.
Technology has come a long way since those early days. You still have to be careful to avoid cheap Chinese junk, but relatively inexpensive options are now used for education and lab work. Of course, devices compatible with Windows, Mac, and Android will be our focus.
Top 4 Best Digital USB Microscopes
These are the best digital USB microscopes of 2019, with high-precision optics, ranging from binocular laboratory grade models to cheap educational options. Selecting the right microscope for you will depend on your budget and how important being handheld is for your use. Everything you need to know is in the reviews below.
When buying any kind of microscope, avoid plastic optics! As with camera lenses, glass costs more but the clarity of the image is signficantly better. It is also a sign the manufaturer was not trying to save money on construction.
1. Andonstar USB Digital Microscope
The Andonstar AD207 is the best digital microscope available in 2019. This product does not have the look of a typical microscope, but it is the unusual design that sets it apart functionally.
This microscope is designed to be ideal for soldering or working on electronics. But, this very open and flexible design also makes it the best educational microscope on this list.
The open design, and 2 independently flexible lights, will allow the microscope to focus clearly on nearly any object you want to examine.
This has always been my complaint with other higher-end microscopes like AmScope’s compound microscope below. The magnification and focus resolution may be incredible, but you will only get a clear picture under ideal or “slide” conditions.
- 7 inch LCD screen
- Remote control to record videos to SD card, take pictures, and zoom in/out
- Adjustable distance between the camera and the object
- UV filter to reduce reflections and stray light
- 8 LED lights with adjustable intensity
2. AmScope 40x-2500x Compound USB Microscope
AmScope is a well-known name, with a feature list that makes the budget options seem like toys. It is a professional digital microscope at a hobbyist price point.
- Eyepiece: Siedentopf Binocular Head
- Resolution: 1.3 MP
- Magnification: 40X, 100X, 250X, 400X, 1000X, and 2500X
- Lens: Glass Elements
- Focal Distance: Adjustable
- Light: Adjustable Brightness Single LED Light
- Software: Windows and Mac
Interestingly, it is limited to only 1.3 Megapixels but you can see much finer details because the limiting factor for the technology is the lenses, not the camera being used. The camera can also be removed, allowing precision focusing and observation with both eyepieces.
Being primarily intended for back-lit samples, anything transparent or semi-transparent gives the most detailed results with the camera. For solid objects, be prepared to provide significant illumination in addition to its built-in LED due to the high magnifications.
Software is included for Windows or Mac operating systems, which will support recording video or images from your computer to the web. Different resolutions for images and video can be set simultaneously with the software.
This is an excellent compound microscope, with eyepiece, making it perfect for personal or lab use, regardless of experience.
3. Opti-Tekscope Handheld Digital Endoscope
The Opti-Tekscope is in the same price range and has similar features. It too is more basic, but there are some things that are different.
The key advantage is that it is more flexible, so it can be used as a handheld endoscope or digital magnifier.
- Resolution: 2 Megapixels
- Magnification: 200x
- Lens: Glass
- Shutter Speed: 1/30 Second
- Focal Distance: 5 to 30 mm
- Light: Adjustable LED Lights
- Software: Windows and Mac
This new microscope can be used as a handheld, and it is a much more sturdy product, with aluminum construction and height adjustments.
The other advantage of the Opti-Tekscope offers is it can record video rather than simply taking still pictures.
4. Celestron Microscope with 5 MP Camera
With a 5 megapixel sensor, this is one of the easier to use starter microscope. You can use the traditional stand, for a vibration-free image, or you can detach the stand and use it as a magnifier.
- Resolution: 5 MP
- Magnification: 20x to 200x
- Lens: 5-Element Cut Glass
- Shutter Speed: 1/1000 Second to 1 Second
- Focal Distance: Set
- Light: Variable
- Compatible with: Windows and Mac
Because the focal length is set, the software can actually take detailed measurements of the objects that you are viewing.
The Celestron can also be handheld and portable, which can be detached from the stand to make it easy to view hard to reach, or immovable, objects in great detail. This is an advantage that more expensive models lack.
From an educational perspective, neither of the above benefits should be overlooked. There are many things that will not fit on a microscope slide.
However, image details are significantly lacking in comparison to the more expensive models above. You can only get so much at such a low price, and this is our only real complaint.
When to Choose Budget USB 2.0 Microscopes
An entry level microscope is ideal for encouraging a child’s interest in science and should be considered to be essential for a proper science education.
Giving a child the opportunity to see the world up close, to learn, and instilling that there is more going on than just what can be seen with the naked eye, can fuel a love for science that will last a lifetime.
Though perfect for young scientists, each device is also a good choice for personal use and allows you to magnify the details of electronics.
Advantages of a High Quality Digital Microscope
For anyone with a lasting interest in science, a binocular eyepiece offers better results and enough features to justify a higher price.
These products offer significant advantages like much better construction of optical components, a powerful magnifier, and laboratory grade construction.
Unlike the lower priced options, with a binocular USB microscope you can actually look through in addition to having a camera. You are not limited to viewing a picture on your screen.
Because of the high magnification, you can see truly microscopic details. For example, you can clearly see bacteria and watch them swim in a drop of tap water, or view cells in plant samples in incredible detail. In a blood sample, you can actually see red blood cells in the image.
Other Science Tools
If you are assembling a home lab or homeschooling your child, you should read our guide to help you find the best chemistry set.
This list is short for a reason. These are the only USB microscopes we would own.
The two entry level models on our list are the best options within a pretty wide price range, but which one of the two is right for you depends on your personal needs, and how important an endoscope is for you.
The AmScope is the only high-quality USB 2.0 digital microscope currently on the market. Some products appear better at first, usually because of the cameras, but the problem is that the details of the images are inferior because they can not be used for the full magnification range. A 3 megapixel USB camera is not an improvement if it can only image at 100x magnification power on your computer.
This places the AmScope, which can image across its full range of magnification, as the best USB digital microscope.