Different types of microscope heads explained

Which microscope head is right for you?

The head is the top section part of your microscope – the bit that that houses the eyepieces – and there’s no shortage of choice.

Here’s a quick look at the most popular microscope heads and their advantages and disadvantages. 

Binocular head

Binocular microscope heads are the most common choice for older students and adults. They have 2 eyepieces so you can look into the microscope with both eyes at once and they are generally more comfortable for long-term viewing.

The dual eyepieces cut down on eye strain and fatigue compared to some other types of head.

Binocular heads are usually adjustable to compensate for interpupillary distance (the distance between your eyes) and uneven vision. They’re a versatile and useful choice for most people.

To adjust your eyepieces for interpupillary distance, you can choose either a sliding head or a Siedentopf head.

Sliding head

When adjusting the eyepieces on a sliding head (often found on cheaper or older microscopes), you simply slide the eyepieces further apart or slide them closer together on a horizontal axis. However, there’s a small issue with the focus.

When you physically change the length of the optical tube like this, the focus of the microscope also changes. This means that every time you adjust the eyepieces, you have to refocus on your sample.

Binocular Microscope with Sliding Head

It’s not a big concern but if you have several people trying to use the one microscope, constantly having to adjust the focus can be frustrating.

Siedentopf head

Generally considered superior, the Siedentopf head takes a different approach. With the Siedentopf, the eyepieces rotate around a central axis, similar to binoculars.

Pushing the eyepieces up or down moves them closer or further apart as they rotate around the central section.

Adjustments are easy and intuitive, but the real benefit is that the length of the optical tube on the Siedentopf head doesn’t change when you adjust the eyepieces. This means you won’t need to refocus every time your microscope changes hands.

Trinocular Microscope with Siedentopf Head

Monocular head

A popular option for schools and children, monocular microscopes tend to be a cheaper and simpler option.

As the name suggests, monocular heads have only one eyepiece. In general, children prefer a monocular head while adults prefer a binocular head. The single eyepiece suits children because their eyes are closer together and they can struggle to use dual eyepieces.

Due to the single eyepiece, monocular heads also don’t need to be adjusted for differences in interpupillary distance or vision strength between users so they’re very easy for younger students and children to share in educational settings.

Trinocular head

Trinocular microscopes have three eyepieces, with the extra eyepiece used to attach a camera so you can more easily record your microscopy adventures.

Other than the extra eyepiece, trinocular microscopes serve the same function as binocular microscopes, only they cost a bit more and tend to be bulkier, particularly if you plan to attach a hefty DSLR camera to it. 

Trinocular microscopes are the best choice for anyone looking to document, share or photograph their work.

Ergonomic heads

With the importance of ergonomics becoming more apparent in recent years, some microscope manufacturers are developing more flexible and adjustable microscope heads.

To accommodate different heights and body shapes, some headpieces can now be extended, tilted or lifted so that all users can maintain a comfortable posture while they work. This is a big help in shared workspaces where microscopes frequently change hands.

Nikon Eclipse E-200 Microscope with Ergonomic Head

Some microscope heads are also designed with multiple users in mind – rotatable headpieces allow the eyepiece to be shared without the need for a round of musical chairs.

So, before you buy a microscope, do a little research. If you know what you’ll be using it for, and who will be using it, you might save yourself some buyer’s remorse down the track.

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