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Advice on Microscope for Copepods

Mon Feb 18, 2019 4:41 am

I want to get a microscope to identify the microscopic living things in my aquarium, which is a brackish aquarium that simulates the environment of the canal that I live next to in Southwest Florida. So I want something one could use to identify things like copepods, microscopic algae, etc.

This is my first microscope. The array of choices is bewildering. Monocular, stereo, triocular; digital or old fashioned; if digital, built in camera or iPhone attachment; 400X; 1,000X; 2,500X I tried to quickly get up to speed on the fluorescing type, darkfield, and phase contrast, but don't really understand them well. The digital things that allow you to take pictures and video look sort of cool. But then if it is not simple plug and play, I'd rather just get the old fashioned kind. I don't want another toy that takes me weeks to deal with compatibility issues. I read in one place that if you want to take pictures, you should buy a microscope without a built-in camera, because microscope technology has not changed in 50 years and camera quality changes every 3 years. But I don't actually see any trinocular microscopes that that don't come with a camera built in. I also read that you need USB 3.0 to do good video, but lots of digital microscopes just say they have USB, which I assume means 2.0.

If it's relevant - 1. monocular is the same to me as stereo, because I have an eye condition (strabismus?) which makes me look with only one eye at a time - no stereo vision. 2. I have an iPhone, I think a 7; and 3. I have both a MacBook Pro and a windows computer, but use the Mac more

Suggestions of specific models would be helpful. Tentative budget $500 but tell me if that's too much or too little for my needs.
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Re: Advice on Microscope for Copepods

Mon Feb 18, 2019 7:05 am

I'm not an expert, but I've played with a few different digital microscopes over the years. My advice is to start cheap and see what you learn from using it, rather than try to tackle making the best possible decision up front.

Something like this is just $20. The focus is going to be fiddly, but you will see cool stuff one way or the other and it will help you decide if you want to invest into better stuff or not.
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Re: Advice on Microscope for Copepods

Mon Feb 18, 2019 8:52 am

I have less microscope experience than drfish, but I have a few suggestions.

1. Go digital. If you're trying to identify microscopic creatures, having the option to snap a picture/screenshot gives you the sharing option.
2. Check magnification. You want to make sure that the image has enough resolution to ID what you're looking at, and Google is suggesting that x100 or x400 is good enough to see single-cell organisms in pond water.
3. Lighting. In my experience, microscope use is greatly affected by the non-optics parts (like getting the right focus distance), and if your subject isn't properly lit, you're not going to see anything (also beware of reflection if glass is involved).
4. Talk to a local school. Microscopes as a hobby is one thing, but if your focus is identifying something specific, there might be a university nearby that can help. If they have a proper biology department, they would definitely have setups for this kind of thing, and the worst thing they say is "no" (or that you'd have to pay a ton of $$$ for access, which is basically "no").
On second thought, let's not go to TechReport. Tis a silly place.
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Re: Advice on Microscope for Copepods

Mon Feb 18, 2019 3:36 pm

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Re: Advice on Microscope for Copepods

Thu Feb 21, 2019 11:16 am

As a person who mostly uses very expensive scopes, I second the recommendation for "try something cheap first." :) What you're trying to do isn't very hard if you read up and copy what others in hobbyist communities are doing. As other have said, looks like 200-400x total mag is enough. On a microscope you'd be looking for 20x and 40x objectives. There's also a 10x lens in the eyepiece, so you multiply the two together to get total magnification.

Biggest problem cellphones have is them always trying to autofocus, so that $20 camera sounds great, I'd couple it to a simple holder like the one Amazon autosuggests so you can have a cheap "stage" to adjust focus while your critters are moving.

There are also lots of scope eyepiece adapters on thingiverse that allow you hook your cellphone up to a cheap scope. But you can easily take a cellphone pic through any eyepiece, it just takes a sec to get the focus right. We do that all the time in teaching labs.

Let me think a bit more, my old dept used to do K-12 outreach with a cheapo microscope that was basically a webcam and they actually worked surprisingly well, but I'm forgetting the brand right now. There are a couple guides to hacking a cheap webcam to do this too.

Also check out Manu Prahash's Foldoscope project: 140x and you can easily take pics with a smartphone, and you're supporting a cool project.

If you wanna buy a cheap "real" microscope, I have friends who've had good results with the Amscope brand. But also I'd strongly consider buying used, labs are constantly throwing out old dissecting scopes and inverted light scopes. I've bought some things on Dovebid before, kinda like ebay for industrial/scientific stuff. Trinocular (or a side-port on the scope) lets you permanently mount a camera, usually via C-mount (the adapter has the 10x lens in it). If you can get a used "tissue culture" inverted light microscope that can do phase contrast, that would be nice for transparent organisms. Most of those would accommodate camera that has a c-mount adapter. megapixels doesn't matter much.
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Re: Advice on Microscope for Copepods

Thu Feb 21, 2019 1:41 pm

I came across this a while back on SISweb. Its a $70 Celestron microscope. It features among other things.
1.3 mp digital camera for snapshots and video
10x to 40x and 150x Digital power
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