Purchasing a microscope online can be a confusing process. Our experts at Microscope Central can help simplify this process and provide valuable information to help you make a wise purchase decision. Remember, the right microscope should last you 25 years.
Stereo or Compound
The first step in buying a microscope is determining which of the two main types you need – stereo or compound. Stereo microscopes are used for viewing anything you can fit under them (coins, insects, stamps, parts, etc). They offer lower magnification, typically under 100x and are used for dissecting, inspecting parts, etc. Compound microscopes are typically used for viewing slides and offer magnifications up to 1000x. There are various types of compound microscopes - routine biological, metallurgical, fluorescence, etc. Once you have identified the appropriate type of microscope, you can begin shopping for an instrument based on your specific needs and budget. Now, this is where it can get confusing. Searching online will reveal an endless number of brands that offer seemingly identical products. However, while they may look identical in a photo, often they are not. Today, most microscopes on the market are produced in China, and their factories are notorious for copying each other’s designs. The differences only become apparent once you actually begin using the microscope.
Let’s Talk About Brands
Go back 40 years and there were 4 major microscope manufacturers – Leica, Nikon, Olympus, and Zeiss. Back then, they all produced high quality instruments optically and mechanically. As with any product, quality has changed over time. Fast forward to today - many of our customers call us looking to replace an old Olympus with a new one. They cite the Olympus’ reliability and longevity (often 25 years or more). Little do they know that the new Olympus models are made with many plastic components, which means that they are not going to last as long. As stated earlier, today there is an almost endless number of microscope brands. In truth, there are really only about 13 that are worth considering. These are the brands that ONLY manufacture and sell microscopes. Why is this important? Because with these companies, you are going to get a higher quality product that is supported by the manufacturer as well as the dealer. Be sure to avoid any catalog or house brands as their products are not supported past the warranty period. This is a real problem since these brands do not sell parts to maintain, repair, or upgrade your scope. Sometimes you can get a great deal on a catalog brand, but it will not seem so great when the microscope needs to be replaced and ends up costing you more in the long run. Unfortunately, we often have to explain to customers that their microscope(s) cannot be repaired - not because we are incapable of doing the repair, but because the brand does not offer parts! But how can you tell if you are buying a house brand, or one that is not supported? A good rule of thumb is to avoid any brand that does not have a separate manufacturer website. Of course, the easiest way to be sure of a brand’s quality is to simply ASK US. At Microscope Central, we love talking to our customers and educating them about microscopes!
Pay Attention To The Details
Microscopes are highly configurable. There are different heads, objectives, stages, eyepieces, and stands. Make sure you are comparing apples to apples. This can be difficult as brands may use different terms for the quality of the objective lenses. Sometimes configurations can also be quite misleading. For example, a company may provide smaller field of view eyepieces making it appear that you are receiving Plan Achromat lenses. Look out for things like a microscope having a forward-facing nosepiece vs reversed nosepiece. In addition, the style of the mechanical stage and illumination methods are also important. A rackless mechanical stage typically adds to the cost. With illumination its not as simple as either LED or halogen! Most scopes today are LED, and in theory should last forever. However, that's not the case, so you should inquire about how easy it is to replace the LED bulb. In some cases you must send the microscope to the manufacturer to replace, and in others you need to replace the entire base - adding to the cost.
Microscopes Made In China
There are very few brands that still make microscopes in countries outside of China. In fact, Nikon, Leica, Olympus, and Zeiss all manufacture their microscopes in China today. Many brands that are not labeled “Made in China” produce the major parts in China and then ship to another country for assembly. Again, Chinese factories are known to copy each other. When they see one factory produce a model that is popular, they will knock it off. Sometimes it’s impossible to tell until you open the microscope up and find that the internal parts are completely different. In rare cases multiple brands will purchase the exact same model from a Chinese factory, with the more distinguished brands replacing the eyepieces / optics to add value to the product.
Example - Here are two microscopes that may appear to be identical at first glance, but they are from completely different factories. This is actually a fairly obvious example - others are more difficult to tell apart!
What About Reviews?
One of the great advantages to shopping online is access to reviews. They can provide valuable guidance for buyers. However, with microscopes it’s a little different. At Microscope Central, we sell professional microscopes to hospitals, colleges, industrial accounts, etc. Often the end user is not making the purchase. Rather, it is a purchasing agent completing the order online or, more often than not, issuing a purchase order. As a result, it is difficult to obtain a review for a microscope by an experienced user in a professional setting. Most of the time, reviews are written by hobbyists with little experience using an instrument. All they know is that it works and they can see their specimen, so sure “it’s great”. Additionally, people generally write reviews within a week of receiving their product – not really a good indicator of how a product holds up over time. So it’s best to take all reviews with a grain of salt, and that includes “best of” websites. These websites are often affiliates that are compensated by the manufacturer. That’s why they often have a link to purchase the product they recommend.
Most microscope manufacturers offer a 5-year mechanical and 1-year electrical warranty. You might ask, “why not just purchase the less expensive scope? If it breaks, you can just get it replaced under warranty”. However, it is important to note that a warranty only covers manufacturer defects. It does not cover repair issues caused by user neglect. For example, if you make the simple mistake of leaving oil on the 100x objective, it can leak inside and cause major problems. With a less expensive scope, where the objectives are not sealed as well, the leak can occur more quickly and easily. Unfortunately, this is not a manufacturer defect, so you will be responsible for the cost of repair. Also, consider that even in the case of an approved warranty, you are responsible for round trip shipping for the repair. Depending on the type of scope you have, it can be costly to cover shipping with insurance. Not to mention that shipping a precision instrument could result in even more damage. Bottom line, that money you saved with the less expensive option can end up costing you down the road with multiple repairs. Moreover, each time you send it in for repair, you are down a scope which only compounds the problem.
At Microscope Central, we have seen all the tricks other companies use to deceive customers. They quote lower quality objectives without the customer’s knowledge. They quote 3rd party components and pass them off as original. Or as in one instance, a competitor knowingly left out a critical component in order to lower the overall cost of his bid. That’s why we always suggest sending as much information to us as possible if you are deciding between two options. We’ll dissect the quote for you to make sure everything is included, and there are no surprises. No need to send the competitor’s pricing. We just want to make sure you have the right information to make the best purchase decision possible.
Endless brands and models, plastic components that don’t last, catalog brands that don’t support their products, confusing configurations, Chinese knock-offs, misleading reviews, unethical sales tricks…you’re probably thinking that this is quite a lot to navigate! You’re right, it is. The good news is that you have a guide – Microscope Central. We have been helping customers find the right microscope at the right price since 1936. Just give us a call at 800-219-1451. We’re happy to help and love to talk microscopes. We sell all the brands, so you’ll get sound advice and an honest recommendation.