If I want to buy a microscope for my kids to be able to view single celled creatures and blood cells, about what magnification is required? A Celestron Pentaview digital scope claims up to 600×. Is that going to be sufficient? I somehow get the impression that I'd need 2000× or better, but I'm having trouble verifying any information about magnifications via my good friend Google.

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    $\begingroup$ If you know what to look for, 400x is sufficient. Anything higher is usually a marketing claim and not possible with cheap consumer microscopes. $\endgroup$ – Chris Oct 6 '15 at 7:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Chris, That's part of my question actually, as well. If I want to get a good 400× magnified image, then how much higher should the scope be rated for? $\endgroup$ – Octopus Oct 6 '15 at 7:49
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    $\begingroup$ I suggest doing a google image search for an idea of what detail you can see at a given magnification. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Oct 7 '15 at 4:13
  • $\begingroup$ @canadianer, Oh I've tried that. people are not very clear about magnification at all. sometimes, if you're lucky, they will put the power of the eyepiece, but that is not total magnification. $\endgroup$ – Octopus Oct 7 '15 at 16:48

Depending on how much detail you want to see, 400X (as Chris commented) is definitely sufficient. Remember, the lens(es) under/over the stage are labeled 10X, 20X, 40X, etc., while the eyepiece is generally 10X or perhaps 20X (multiplying the two together gives the final magnification). If your target magnification is 400X, then get a 400X scope - it doesn't need to be rated any higher than the highest magnification you want. 600X sounds nice, it's actually higher than the (non-digital) scopes I routinely use for examining mammalian cell cultures. 400-600X should give a very clear detail of both red and white blood cells.

  • $\begingroup$ Quick question. For prepared slides it should be no problem, but if the OP is planning on having their kids prepare their own slides, won't they need Hematoxylin & Eosin stain to really see anything interesting? $\endgroup$ – AMR Oct 8 '15 at 2:04
  • $\begingroup$ @AMR of course, there's a whole bunch of supplies they can/should get to create nice slides, stain various structures, preserve things, etc. That wasn't part of the question, though, so I didn't address it. However, you don't need H&E to see cells - you can see their outlines and occasionally internal structures just with bright phase. I use it to examine growing cells in culture all the time - just take the flask out of the incubator, turn on the microscope light, take a peek, focus, and you're all set. $\endgroup$ – MattDMo Oct 8 '15 at 2:09
  • $\begingroup$ Same here. I wondered why they would ask what mag they needed to see blood cells, and I thought, Okay, they are going to prick their finger and make a slide, and if they are looking at Google images (or @AliceD addendum) and think that that is what they will see right out of their finger, then they may want to know that they will need to stain the cells to see more than just the outline of the cells. Though I could still look a pond water sample and be fascinated for hours, nothing fancy required. Must have been amazing to have been Leeuwenhoek and not have taken any of this for granted. $\endgroup$ – AMR Oct 8 '15 at 2:21

Just my 2-cents worth as visual add-on to @MattDMo 's answer:

Blood smear showing red blood cells and two white blood cells at 400x. Source: Microscope Master

Human red blood cells 1000x. Source: Wikipedia

Human white blood cells 2000x. The small dots (red arrow) are Diplococcus gonorrhea bacteria (Neisseria gonorrhoeae), each ~0.5 micrometers in diameter. Some of the neutrophils have phagocytosed bacteria. Source: Waynes World

Red blood cells through scanning electron microscopy
Red blood cells visualized by scanning electron miscroscopy. Source: Pinterest.
Note: for illustrative and comparative purposes only; electron microscopy is not the most advisable method for home use.

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    $\begingroup$ C'mon Mate! They said for their Kids.... Hey mom! Joey is hogging all the SEM time again... Joey, let Sheila have her time to scan for HepB. ;-) $\endgroup$ – AMR Oct 7 '15 at 18:21
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    $\begingroup$ @AMR bwahaha, LOL, I should have pointed out the SEM was added for illustrative purposes only. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Oct 7 '15 at 21:24
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    $\begingroup$ BTW the 2kx; do you know if that is degranulation, platelets, or a bad mycoplasma contamination? It is a pretty cool image. $\endgroup$ – AMR Oct 8 '15 at 1:06
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    $\begingroup$ @AMR - It is actually closer to HepB :-) edited. Thanks again for your keen eye. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Oct 8 '15 at 1:30

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