You read that right, today we are reviewing and carrying a microscope that not only has a plastic body but plastic lenses. You might wonder what has gone wrong with us, after all we’ve listed plastic bodies (and by extention plastic lenses) as one of the warning signs of a bad microscope. But bear with us:
First of all, our major concern with plastic bodies and plastic lenses is not that they are inferior by default, but rather than they often demonstrate a lack of care on the part of the microscope manufacturer. Plastic bodies are often cheaply done and have poor deign, seams, constructions. Plastic lenses are often just pressed in a mass mold with little to no quality control or concern about optical alignment. Plastic is an indicator of poor construction & optics, but it is not the cause of a poor microscope. The fact is: a well designed plastic body can work just fine if attention is paid to construction and how it will be used, and while plastic lenses may never match the quality of higher-end glass lenses, they can certainly work well as a low cost substitute that can match and defeat the quality of low end glass lenses.
The reason we bring this up is the recently released My First Lab Mini Duo Scope
Let’s start with the price: $30.00. That’s right, the Mini Duo Scope is under half the cost of the Orignal Duo Scope.
But price isn’t everything, after all you can find plenty of cheap-o microscopes for that price at CVS during the holidays, but they aren’t worth the box they come in, so how is this model?
Well, despite its candy-coated color this microscope is very good, especially for this price level. In fact we would be hard pressed to find a mciroscope at this price level that even comes close to this quality. Let’s break it down:
The body is small (the top of the head reaches just 7″, the end of the eyepiece tube reaches 9″) but well designed for young observers. The angle of the body and the eyepiece tube is set more horizontal than most microscopes so that short children can enjoy it without struggling to get their eye up to the eyepiece. The design is solid and not prone to tipping as most other plastic body microscopes will do. The battery case does require a small philips head screwdriver to open – a note is that the box states that the microscope requires 2 AA batteries to operate – it actually requires 3 AA batteries.
One minor issue with the body is the disc diaphragm dial is a bit awkward to operate and does note have any number notation to show what disc is in place and the amount of light being let through.
Being a Duo scope means that this microscope will pull double duty as both a compound as well as a (monocular) inspection microscope. This requires the Mini Duo Scope must have top-down as well as bottom-up lighting. A common failing with cheap microscopes is with the illumination. This is not the case with the Mini Duo Scope as the lighting is actually quite powerful. With fresh batteries the LED light was actually almost to bright until I set the disc diaphragm to let in less light.
The top-down inspection light has it bit more of an issue. Since it is an LED, and LEDs have a very narrow spread of light compared to bulbs there is a problem that happens due to the small size of this microscope. In a regular Duo Scope the distance between the LED lamp and the microscope stage allows the LED beam a chance to spread out and cover most of the object that will be in view at the lowest power (40X). The shorter nature of the Mini Duo Scope means the light doesn’t get enough distance to expand so the object on the stage may not be as well light as in a regular Duo Scope. The diference may ony be 1/2″-3/4″ but it makes a lot of difference.
A common issue with cheap microscopes is the focuser may not catch well, or it may drift, or is hard to handle. The “flower design” on the Mini Duo Scope may look a little odd, but it works quite well, providing a solid grip and not having any drift that plastic bodies can be prone to having.
So the big question becomes: How is the image? The answer? Pretty darn good! The 4x objective did have an issue where it could not come to sharp focus (the manufacturer has been alerted) but the 10x and 40x objectives had no trouble coming into sharp focus. Some color abberation could be noticed, but not enough to be much of a distraction. While we were limited to static prepared slides other reviews were able to test the Mini Duo Scope on live protozoa specimens and were able to see the cilia movement on the larger specimens – something a bad quality microscope would not be able to come close to.
So in summary:
PROS: Incredible price, well designed body for children, sharp optics, bright lighting, good focuser.
CONS: Fine focus issue at lower powers, color abberation, inspection light aiming issue.
In the past we would wince at seeing a price like $30.00 on a microscope, but the folks at My First Lab have done an excellent job of brining this winner to the market. It could use a couple of tweaks for its next generation but for now it is still an good microscope at an excellent price!
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