A dissecting microscope is one of the many types of optical light microscopes. Also called a stereoscopic or stereo microscope, it makes use of reflected lighting and low magnification in order to view large specimens in three dimensional detail.
It’s mainly referred to as a dissecting microscope because it’s often used to analyze and manipulate the surface of solid objects, and as such, it’s highly beneficial in medical and dental fields, such as in surgical procedures.
There are various types of stereo microscopes out there, depending on the design, magnification, stand, technological capacity, contrast and imaging functions, and of course, price range. In fact, a stereo microscope can range from under 100 to more than 2000 dollars.
A review of AmScope Dissecting Microscopes
AmScope is a leading brand of microscopes and microscopy equipment, with a sizable collection of stereo microscopes amounting to almost a hundred different models for kids, students, hobbyists, and professionals.
These microscopes vary in specifications and uses, but they showcase the quality that AmScope always guarantees for all its products. Here are the best AmScope dissecting microscopes for every category:
1. For kids: AmScope Kids SE100-ZZ portable stereo microscope
What’s great about AmScope is that they made a stereo microscope especially for kids who want to learn how to use a microscope and observe a variety of specimens and objects. Their best model is the AmScope Kids SE100-ZZ, which is a portable binocular stereo microscope.
It features a variable magnification of 20x and 50x, which is primarily provided by the 10 and 25x widefield ocular lenses, plus the low magnification 2x objective lenses that allow for a higher focal length, making this microscope great for observing larger specimens.
Moreover, it also offers a simplified viewing experience with its fixed vertical inclination. All in all, this microscope is perfect for studying biological and inorganic specimens that require a bit of manipulation and handling, such as insects, rocks, jewelry, fabrics, and more.
2. Entry level: AmScope SE120 portable stereo microscope
If you’re looking for an affordable entry level dissecting microscope, I highly recommend the AmScope SE120, since it has a decent magnification power and comes up to less than a hundred dollars, so you’re getting a good value without breaking the bank.
It’s got a 20x magnification power from the 10x widefield eyepieces that are inclined at a 45 degree angle, and the 2x objective lenses that offer a longer focal length for viewing large specimens.
This one is perfect for students and hobbyists alike who just want to learn about how plants, small animals, and various other objects look like under a microscope. Since it allows for large specimens that need to be manipulated, it’s versatile and easy to use as well.
3. Digital: AmScope SE306R-PZ-3M digital stereo microscope
AmScope also has a lot of digital dissecting microscopes with interchangeable magnifications, one of which is the AmScope SE306R-PZ-3M. It’s a nice mid range microscope that comes with a camera, reduction lens, and USB output.
This one features magnification levels of 20x, 40x, and 80x, from the interchangeable widefield ocular lenses with a fixed inclination, as well as the interchangeable objective lenses. Its design and setup makes it easy to use for even young and inexperienced users.
Plus, the microscope not only makes use of a reversible black and white stage plate, but also a frosted microscope specimen stage that enables the light from the base illuminator to pass through to the specimen.
4. Dark field: AmScope SE306-PY-DK stereo microscope
There are also dissecting microscopes that can be used for dark field applications, as long as they come with a dark field condenser. A great option for this is the AmScope SE306-PY-DK, which features a variable magnification, halogen lighting, and a pillar stand.
It can offer magnification powers of 20x, 30x, 40x, and 60x, which comes from interchangeable pairs of variable magnification widefield eyepieces, as well as interchangeable low magnification objective lenses.
With this microscope, you can easily illuminate low contrast specimens and see them in clear detail, as well as observe large and small specimens that need to be handled and manipulated during observation.
5. Shadow free: AmScope SM-1BZ-FRL stereo zoom microscope
For me, the best lighting setup you can hope for is when the specimen is supremely illuminated without shadows and dark spots, and this is achieved by using a high powered ring light. For this, the best stereo microscope is the AmScope SM-1BZ-FRL.
Its main feature is an 8 watt fluorescent light source at the top, which provides a bright and shadow free specimen illumination. It also features continuous variable zoom magnification of 3.5x to 90x, achieved by the zoom objective lenses and the ultra widefield eyepieces.
This is a professional grade stereo microscope that you can use for various medical, dental, electrical, engineering, and industrial applications. And, the binocular viewing head even has the capability to rotate 360 degrees, so it’s really easy and versatile.
6. Fine focus: SE306R-PY forward mounted stereo microscope
If you’re looking for a dissecting microscope that is designed with a pillar stand for a more precise focusing capability, the SE306R-PY is an excellent choice. It’s a stereo microscope with an adjustable pillar stand and stellar specs and features.
Its main selling point is its forward mounted viewing head featuring binocular eyepieces in interchangeable widefield 10x and 15x ocular lenses. This is coupled with interchangeable 2x and 4x objectives, creating variable magnifications of 20x, 30x, 40x, and 60x.
This microscope has a wide range of uses, a versatile setup and operation, and promises an easy and simple handling. It’s precise and fully functional, yet easy enough for beginners and hobbyists who want to learn about microscopy.
7. Large capacity: AmScope SE420Z pro stereo microscope
What’s even better than table stands and pillar stands are boom arm stands, since these have a much longer and wider working distance, allowing you to conveniently observe larger specimens. The best binocular stereo microscope in this department is the AmScope SE420Z.
This boom arm lets you manipulate various objects under the microscope, including circuit boards, dental equipment, and so on. This is because the microscope is designed to be adjustable on X and Y axes through the boom arm and stand.
Moreover, its 20x and 40x magnification is provided by its binocular eyepieces, interchangeable ocular lenses, and low magnification objective lenses, all to make it as easy and comfortable as possible to study a variety of large and small specimens.
8. Trinocular: AmScope high speed digital stereo zoom microscope
For a more professional dissecting microscope that is suitable for commercial and industrial applications, there are plenty of trinocular stereo microscopes by AmScope, with perhaps the most high end one being the AmScope high speed digital stereo zoom microscope.
It features a trinocular viewing head with an ultra wide field optical system and a continuous magnification of 2x to as high as 225x, allowing you to observe and study various small and large specimens in crystal clear detail.
Plus, it is also equipped with a high speed 20 megapixel camera to capture and record the specimen in real time, and you can save, share, and edit these images and videos through the included imaging and measurement software.
9. Monocular: AmScope K102 elementary stereo microscope
An excellent and affordable dissecting microscope with a monocular eyepiece is the AmScope K102 elementary dissecting microscope, which is a simple yet highly functional microscope for various medical and industrial applications.
It has a decent magnification of 20x provided by a 10x widefield ocular lens with a fixed vertical inclination and a full 360 degree rotating capacity for a better shared viewing experience, and a 2x objective lens that makes for a much needed long focal length.
One arguably good thing about this is that you don’t even need to buy batteries or plug it in, since it makes use of incidental lighting rather than built in lights to illuminate the specimen, so it’s definitely an energy efficient option.
How to choose the best dissecting microscope
As you have seen from the dozens of stereo microscopes I mentioned above, as well as the various categories they fall under, there really are lots of different dissecting microscopes out there, and as such, it can be quite difficult to pick the right one for you.
To help you make the best decision, here are the things you need to consider when choosing a dissecting or stereo microscope:
What is a dissecting microscope?
A dissecting microscope or stereo microscope is essentially a type of light microscope with a lower magnification, and makes use of reflected light to produce a three dimensional image of large and opaque specimens.
Given this definition, the most important factors that need to be taken into account are the microscope’s magnification, light source, viewing system, and capacity to handle large objects.
What are the factors you need to consider?
Below is a list and guide of what you need to look for when buying a stereo microscope, to make sure that it’s one that will meet your needs and requirements in whatever purpose you will be using the microscope for.
Dissecting microscopes all generally have low magnification levels, with a maximum of perhaps less than 300x. That said, there is still a wide range of magnification powers that a dissecting microscope can have, which can be as low as 3.5x. The average magnification is at 20x.
This magnification is delivered through various strategies. Fixed magnification microscopes have fixed lenses, while variable magnifications may either make use of interchangeable lenses for the eyepiece or objectives, or continuous zoom lenses.
Any light microscope’s light source is of utmost importance, since this is what makes it possible to see the specimen. For stereo microscopes, some feature top and bottom illumination, sole top illumination, incidental illumination from the side, or simply ambient lighting.
If you need a well distributed, shadow free lighting, ring lights are the best choice. Moreover, some may add in dark field condensers for special uses, giving you a versatile stereo microscope that can be used not only for light microscopy, but also for dark field microscopy.
Most stereo microscopes are designed with binocular eyepieces. These are often set on a fixed vertical incline, and have adjustable interpupillary distances to make viewing as comfortable as possible. That said, the viewing head can also be monocular or trinocular.
Monocular eyepieces are rare, and in these cases, the eyepiece can usually be rotated for maximum versatility. Trinocular eyepieces, on the other hand, are more common, and the eyepieces are often significantly adjustable.
What really determines how large of a specimen you can view conveniently under a microscope is the adjustability of the position of the lenses in relation to the specimen, which can be achieved by manipulating the microscope’s arm or stand.
Generic stands are table stands that are track controlled, and give you limited motion. Pillar stands are easier to adjust and give you better range, making for a more refined focusing of the specimen. The best, however, are boom arm and double boom arm stands.
Another thing that affects what kinds of specimens you can study through the microscope, aside from the illumination, magnification, and microscope arm, is the specimen stage plate that’s attached to the microscope.
This is because different specimens have different image contrasts, and therefore need to be imaged under different settings. The good thing is, most stereo microscopes come with reversible black and white stage plates, as well as frosted stage plates.
Analog vs digital
Of course, there is also the consideration of whether you’re fine with a typical analog microscope, or you would prefer something more advanced, such as a digital model, which has a camera attached and a built in software with it.
This allows you to record and capture the specimen in real time, then save, share, edit, measure, file, and do other things with the recorded specimen. It’s certainly convenient, but costs more, and requires more energy to operate, since it needs electricity and a computer.
Finally, there is always the cost of the microscope. If you are a casual hobbyist, or buying a microscope for a kid who wants to learn about microscopy, there is no need to invest in a high end microscope that costs thousands of dollars.
There are plenty of affordable but good quality stereo microscopes that are highly useful yet won’t break the bank. But for professional, commercial, and industrial uses, an advanced and multifunctional dissecting microscope is often a must.
Looking for the best stereo microscope is easy in a way that there really is only one good brand you can trust, but at the same time, it’s difficult and overwhelming since AmScope offers dozens if not hundreds of options.
Picking the best dissecting microscope depends on the specifications and features you are looking for, as well as your price range.
Entry level microscopes like the AmScope 8x binocular stereo microscope are affordable, but advanced microscopes like AmScope SM-4B which has a double boom arm are significantly more expensive, but are also better performing.