Choosing the best microscope for a veterinary practice
Every vet practice should be equipped with a microscope and upgrades to the technology have made it easier for every vet and vet nurse to become competent with its use. If used regularly, a good microscope may pay for itself in 3 to 4 weeks. Improved case investigation. Immediate results. Increased revenue.
Know your purpose
Most common uses of the practice microscope are for parasitology (including faecal flotation tests), sediment examination and cytology. It’s usually better to have 2 practice microscopes – a less sophisticated one for parasitical studies and a better one for cytology and histology. Some excellent veterinary microscopes have been ruined by the corrosive materials used for faecal worm egg counts and heartworm testing.
More sophisticated makes and modern standardisation means the old lack of enthusiasm for microscopy in vet practices should be a thing of the past. For high-quality work especially, there’s no need to settle for anything less than the microscope that fits your exact needs.
While vet microscopy needs can vary, a reputable microscope with the following features will serve most practices well.
- Sturdy compound microscope
- Binocular or trinocular head
- Semi Plan objectives (4x, 10x, 40x, 100x)
- 100X Semi Plan DRY Objective - NEVER use oil again
- Mechanical stage
- Abbe condenser
A binocular head (2 eyepieces) is standard. They are comfortable, usually adjustable, and good for reducing eyestrain and fatigue in longer sessions. But a microscope with a trinocular head with its extra camera eyepiece is increasingly popular, even in small practices. It allows the capture and export of digital images and videos of your specimens via USB to your computer.
This camera attachment has many valuable uses. It can greatly enhance your own specimen analysis, staff training, consultation with colleagues, and record keeping, including documenting specific patient conditions and providing visual evidence of treatment.
Objectives are by far the most important decision in choosing a microscope. There are 4 basic types of objectives, so named because of their degree of correction of image quality. They are Achromatic, Semi Plan, Plan & Infinity Plan.
Many vets are now using our NEW 100X Semi Plan DRY Objective - NEVER use oil again you can read more about this new objective on our recent blog post.
The least expensive are the achromats and not recommended for professional use. These produce a clear image but have a limited colour palette. They are adequate for most needs. In the past few years, most manufacturers have begun providing flat-field corrections for achromat objectives and have given these corrected objectives the name of plan achromats. This functionally increases the visible area from 65% to up to 100%, but at a greater cost.
Semi-Plan and Plan are the next higher level of quality and the type recommended for a vet practice. They produce a more colour-rich image, at not a greater expense.
After using the 100x objective lens it is of the utmost importance to ensure you clean the immersion oil off your 100x objective lens at the end of each day.
By having a condenser on your microscope, the image of your observation is sharper compared to those without a condenser. This is useful when you are using 400x magnification and above.The condenser concentrates and controls the light that passes through the specimen prior to entering the objective lens. It is important to check the numerical aperture (NA) of your condenser, as it should be equal to or greater than the NA of your objectives. A lower NA will limit your resolving power.
All microscopes are designed to include a stage where the specimen (usually mounted onto a glass slide) is placed for observation. Ensure you stage is equipped with a mechanical device that holds the specimen slide in place and can smoothly translate the slide back and forth as well as from side to side.
For people who were glasses, eyepieces that feature a high-eyepoint are a good choice. They allow the image to be viewed further from the eyepiece and the field of view is also usually wider.
6 tips for microscope owners
- Know your microscope – learn how to set it up correctly to get the most from it.
- Do not hide the microscope away in a cupboard; keep it ready for use in a clean, dry place.
- Always keep your microscope covered when not in use.
- Ensure the microscope is kept clean so as not to discourage others from using it.
- Have a professional service every 6–12 months to maintain the microscope in good working order.
- Practice — if you have spare time, practice, it will get easier!