USB microscopes take the magnification that you would typically see through the microscope’s eyepiece and shows it on your computer.
The first USB microscopes were really very little more than toys. They were interesting, but the resolution of the digital cameras was so low that practical uses were significantly limited. For many years, they were most useful for circuit board work and encouraging a child’s interest in science.
USB microscopes have come a long way since those early days. You still have to be careful to avoid cheap Chinese junk, but relatively inexpensive USB microscopes are now used in serious science and advanced laboratories.
When buying a USB microscope, avoid plastic lenses!
These are the best USB microscopes available, with high-quality glass lenses, ranging from entry level educational units to high-end laboratory grade microscopes. The best one for you will depend on your use.
Entry-Level USB Microscopes
An entry-level microscope is ideal for encouraging a child’s interest in science and should be considered to be as essential and basic as chemistry sets and kits.
Giving a child the opportunity to see the world up close, and instilling that there is more at work 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, this level of microscope is also a good choice for hobby use or electronics work.
Celestron 5 MP USB Microscope
The Celestron 5 Megapixel USB microscope is the lowest priced quality microscope available. You can use the traditional stand, for the best vibration-free images, or you can detach it and use it as a handheld magnifier.
- Resolution: – 5 Megapixels
- Magnification: – 20x to 200x
- Lens: – 5-Element Cut Glass Lens
- Shutter Speed: – 1/1000 Second to 1 Second
- Focal Distance: – Set
- Lighting: – Variable
There are several advantages to the Celestron USB microscope. Because the focal length is set, the Celestron software can actually take detailed measurements of the objects that you are viewing.
This USB microscope can also be detached from the stand and used to view hard to reach, or immovable, objects in great detail. This is an advantage that more powerful microscopes lack.
From an educational perspective, niether of the above features should be overlooked. There are many things that will not fit on a microscope slide.
However, the image quality is significantly lacking in comparison to the more expensive models below. You can only get so much build quality for under $100, and this is the biggest negative with the Celestron.
Opti-Tekscope Digital USB Microscope
The Opti-Tekscope is in the same price range and of similar quality as the Celestron above. It too is an entry-level USB microscope, but there are some key differences.
The best USB microscope within this price range will depend on what features you value most.
- Resolution: – 2 Megapixels
- Magnification: – 200x
- Lens: – Glass Lens
- Shutter Speed: – 1/30 Second
- Focal Distance: – 5 to 30 mm
- Lighting: – 8 Dimmable LED Lights
The overall build quality is much more sturdy, with aluminum construction and height adjustments.
The primary advantage that the Opti-Tekscope offers is that it can record video rather than simply displaying still pictures.
High Quality USB Microscopes
For anyone with a lasting interest in science, high quality USB microscopes are worth their higher price.
They offer significant advantages like much higher lens quality, magnification as high as 2500X, and laboratory grade construction.
Unlike the entry-level options, these are binocular microscopes that you can actually look through. You are not limited to only viewing a picture on a screen.
Because of the high magnification and lens quality, you can see truly microscopic things. 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.
AmScope B120C-E1 Compound Microscope
AmScope is a well-known name in microscopes, and the feature list makes the entry level options seem more like toys. For under $300, the AmScope is a professional quality USB microscope.
Interestingly, the camera used is only 1.3 Megapixels but you can see much finer details because the limiting factor is the glass lenses, not the resolution of the camera being used.
The AmScope is primarily intended for back-lit samples, so anything transparent or semi-transparent works best. For solid objects, be prepared to provide significant lighting due to the high magnifications.
The biggest negative with this microscope is that it came with no instructions. That’s extremely wierd for something of this quality but is not something that would keep us away.
This is an excellent compound USB microscope and is an excellent long-term instrument, regardless of experience level.
This list is short for a reason. These are the only USB microscopes that we would own.
The two entry level microscopes are the best within a pretty wide price range, but which one of the two is best for you depends on your personal needs.
The AmScope is the only high quality USB microscope currently on the market. There are microscopes that appear better at first, usually because of the camera resolution, but the problem is that they can not be used for the full magnification range. A 3 megapixel camera is not an improvement if it can only view 100x magnification.
This places the AmScope, which can image across its full range of magnification, as the best USB microscope that costs under $1,000.