Some time ago, I had sent out a mail to the geo-metamorphism list asking for comments on student polarizing microscopes. A few list members asked me to make the results available to the list. I had hoped that I would have been able to put my hands on a few new microscopes in the meantime. We have been in contact with various microscope agents in South Africa in order to have demonstrations of their latest/current equipment. This has been a slow process, insofar as none of the microscopes we are primarily interested in are presently available for demonstration purposes in this country. However, things are on the move now as we have turned on the heat. Perhaps by the end of April, we may be wiser as to what the market has to offer.
Nevertheless, one of the main points in the original "poll" was durability which only becomes apparent after microscopes have had their proper share of student abuse (Have you ever witnessed a microscope being dropped from a table to the floor? Nothing is impossible, it seems. The microscope survived miraculously. Perhaps it's the way Leitz manufactured microscopes in the old days. I wouldn t like to see this type of crash test happening to any of the modern microscopes). Anyway, I thought I might as well provide a short summary of the responses I had received. Once I know more after the demonstrations, I will send out another comment.
Although this is not a scientific communication, I hope that less interested members of the list realize the importance of distributing this type of information. In the course of this exercise, it has become quite clear that many departments are not particularly happy with their previous microscope purchases. However, the budgets of most departments prohibit a replacement of such items every few years. Thus, an exchange of information can provide us with those important facts that we do not get from the selling agents. In this respect, we as the clients can exercise a little bit of power on the market using internet facilities, much in the same way as anybody considering the purchase of a book or CD at Amazon (or any other company that provides such a service) can check the customer comments beforehand.
All right, here it is:
Note that most people commented on microscopes of a certain manufacturer, but did not specify the model. Nevertheless, my original request primarily addressed those departments having acquired student microscopes in recent years. Even if models changed in the meantime, the overall quality probably won't have changed dramatically, except that more metal parts have been replaced by plastic.
These are considered as good microscopes, but not suitable for use in student labs. They have various plastic parts and are worn out after a few years of use in classes. The mechanical stability of the stage could be better: if the stage is touched while looking down the microscope, the field of view moves slightly. I have been told by colleagues that student microscopes are no longer available, but haven't checked that with Olympus. Perhaps they have come up with a new model in the meantime.
Budget-priced microscope with optics that are not as good as those of Olympus, Nikon, Zeiss, or Leica. "Sound, but not brilliantly engineered". Bulbs and fuses have to be replaced regularly. Weak points include thin metal eyepiece tubes with very minimal thread. There are departments which are content in using these microscopes extensively, whereas others seem to regret the purchase thoroughly.
Low-priced microscope. Comments range from good to pretty bad. One weak point is apparently the lack of a depolariser in the binocular tube. The optics and the handling of the microscope is in the lower quality range of the types discussed here.
Generally considered as being good microscopes and good value for money, but at the same time not particularly suited for student labs. There are too many plastic parts that can break (and do break), screws that fall off, and the plastic bearings of the microscope stage are wearing out with time. Changing between objectives may require condensor re-centering.
Leica and Zeiss are reported as being more stable and having better optics than the others, but they are also rather expensive. Leica microscopes are judged as being good value in the long run; "can be taken apart and repaired very easily" (this refers to the Laborlux 11/12 which is no longer their current student microscope). A remark on the side: Leica seems a bit disorganised lately. I heard of problems with Leica supplying research microscopes with parts missing or parts that do not fit together. Doesn't do much good for their reputation.
Generally considered as a good choice (see above), but there were no detailed reports by anybody who uses these microscopes in student labs. Perhaps it is the price tag. I noted, however, that the current Zeiss Axiolab Pol is no more expensive than the Leica equivalent. I got the impression from conversations with Zeiss in Germany that the lowest-priced Axiolab A is too basic for the needs of a pol-microscope course. We should have a demonstration soon. Apparently, the Zeiss service in the US leaves a lot to be desired. So far, I cannot complain about our Zeiss guy in S.A.
If this blurb on microscopes sparks off any more comments, all the better, but I suggest to send them to the list directly.
Dept. of Geology
University of Natal