Microscopes for students and hobbyists who want to continue exploring the world around them

Collect and analyze bacteria, bugs, and even old coins.

The best part of 10th grade biology. Depositphotos

Humans are naturally curious. Toddlers will pick up a leaf or a handful of dirt like it’s a thrilling discovery—and isn’t it? Indulging our curiosity about the world around us with a microscope allows us to marvel at the magnificent architecture of organisms and matter. Collectors can solve mysteries of a coin’s age or the contents of a barely legible document. Students will gain a greater understanding of biology, forensics, and epidemiology, and artists intrigued by fractal geometry can find new shapes to inform their designs. Here are four excellent microscopes to get you started.

National Optical 40X-1000X Compound Microscope Set with Slides
Start a home laboratory.Amazon

Investigate slides at a cellular level with this sturdy monocular microscope, which comes with three objective lenses and two strengths of eyepieces that give you a range of magnification from 40X to 1000X. An LED light below the slide can be adjusted to clearly illuminate your specimen, and you’ll receive five prepared slides and five blank slides to start studying specimens right out of the box. Fly leg, anyone? It’s battery-powered, so kids can take it outside to set up an impromptu lab in your garden. You can also purchase an adapter to take photos with your smartphone through the eyepiece and send Grandma your child’s latest finding.

Plugable USB 2.0 Digital Microscope
Great for artists.Amazon

You won’t be able to see cell structure with this microscope, but you will be able to capture objects up to 250X magnification as 2MP (megapixel) digital images on your computer. Plug the microscope into your computer with the USB cable, set your sample on the included mat conveniently marked with a ruler and grid, and maneuver the bendy arm to frame the details you want. Thoughtful features like a suction-cup mount and a capacitive button sensitive to touch make it easier to shoot high-clarity photos of fiddlehead ferns and hairy beetles, and then sketch them as inspiration for characters in your sci-fi graphic novel.

Celestron 5 Megapixel Digital Microscope Pro
Inspect an insect.Amazon

If you want high-resolution 5MP images, and the power to make video and time-lapses at up to 200X magnification, this microscope is a good choice. It fits securely in its stand on an observation stage, and can be removed and used in handheld mode when you’re poring over archival materials or want to focus on one angle of a 3-D specimen. You can also use Celestron’s Micro Capture Pro software to measure your sample. Handy metal clips keep paper and stamps in place as you view.

AmScope B120C Siedentopf Binocular Compound Microscope
Professional quality at a reasonable price.Amazon

Four objective lenses and two types of eyepieces combine to offer magnification up to 2500X in this high-quality binocular microscope. Aspiring scientists can continue their exploration of algae outside of the classroom and minimize eye and neck strain with the fixed 30 degree angle of the binocular head and dioptric adjustments to account for differences in vision between your right and left eye. Bright-field and LED illumination along with an Abbe condenser give you control over how your specimen is lit for maximum clarity.