* Prices may differ from that shown
I had found myself with a balance of £5 in my Amazon account, and with no intended purchases foreseen decided to have a little browse to see if anything interesting could be had for my fiver. Coincidently previously I had been trying to read the writing on something, but it was way too small print for my old eyes. So when I pondered upon this knacky little thing I thought what the heck it's only a fiver.
National Museum Pocket Microscope
My first impression on opening the arrived package was that it was smaller than I had envisaged. With peacock plumage emblazoned all over the box it look very blue and green. A small white area had a picture f the contents, which made it more appealing...............it did look rather nifty.
On removing the pocket scope from the box I discovered two specimen slides, which can be used to place intended objects for viewing, particularly handy for liquids. The fact there were two meant that you could place something between and hold it firmly so as to be able to focus properly, not that I have found focusing a problem in normal circumstances. The eyepiece contains the focusing wheel, which is quite stiff, but I find that a big plus since some such wheels are just too free to enable getting a good setting.
A few inches below this wheel is a lever, which moves the lens to determine how much magnification you wish to achieve. The magnification is it the range of 0 to about 40X. I say about forty since the size of the object being magnified can limit the amount of focus thus reducing the magnification since both are related. It doesn't take very long to figure out the best settings and there is no real need for the slides unless you are using liquid.
For small solid objects such as dust, hair, nail clippings there is a small chamber beneath the lens where you can place objects, this area has a slightly mirrored surface which helps reflect the light from the small LED light provided. This light is very useful and makes the object very much more clear once focused. The unit is plastic and predominantly silver in colour with the structural supports being of quite hard black plastic. It's really quite a sturdy piece of kit for a fiver.
Once you get the hang of the lens and focus relationship you can get some really surprising results as with the nail clippings I mentioned before. They were quite eerie and non-worldly under the tiny scope. I think this would be great for kinds to experiment and find out what things look like very close up. I was fascinated by some of the stuff I placed under its reasonably powerful little lens. Worth a fiver no doubt.
I have fond memories of using my dad's childhood microscope when I was little, ancient and beautifully fashioned and all packed up in a beautiful wooden box. My brother and I would compete to find the most interesting things to look at through the lens, from blood drops to tiny insects from the garden and yes occasionally things like bogies (what can I say-we were typical kids!). When I had my little girl I bought a similar microscope, but it was a little bit trickier to work than I remembered. So when I spotted this one I bought it as part of her fifth birthday present.
**What you get**
You get a small handheld microscope with a small detachable black stand which slips on the bottom. This means that you can hold the microscope over the object that you want to examine or slip a smaller object under the lens on a slide and study it at your leisure. The microscope has a 20-40x zoom and you can adjust it easily using the large wheel at the top of the microscope. At the other end of the microscope is a little black button - push it and a powerful little light comes on which illuminates the specimen on the slide. It is so powerful that on occasion during powercuts it becomes a handy little torch. For the same reason it is confiscated at bedtime!
Also included are two of the little specimen slides (the rectangular pieces of Perspex which you slide under the microscope for the non-scientists) and two things called cover slips, which are little extra pieces of plastic. If you have a delicate thing on the slide or liquid then you put a cover slip over the top to hold it in place. I'm afraid these cover slips were almost instantly lost so I can't account for how useful the ones that came with the microscope were! The microscope light is powered with a little watch type battery which comes with the microscope-no installation required, you simply remove the piece of plastic inside and you are ready to go.
**How much does it cost**
I got mine for £4.99 from Amazon, but it seems that they are now only available from Marketplace at a vastly inflated price (£20!). The Natural History Museum website has them for £8 or you can try Play.com at £11.21. Lots of other shops have them for a whole slew of prices so its worth shopping around to get the best price on this one.
A mature 4 year old would probably be the youngest I think, my daughter is quite sensible but I don't think she would have been ready for it before then. Of course you may have a little prodigy on your hands, in which case just ignore me.
I don't think that there is an upper age limit. I like using it, my mum has been known to use it, it doesn't look like a children's microscope so I wouldn't be ashamed to take it out and about on my own.
This has been one of the most used toys I have bought my daughter. When she first opened it, she went around our lounge and examined everything from the wood grain on the fireplace surround to the fabric of my skirt to her own skin. It is incredibly easy to use, just look through the lens and twist the wheel to focus, something a five year old can do without any problems at all. Minute adjustments are very easy to make and the picture/zoom is astonishing. The image is crystal clear and you can pick out minute little details on insects, hairs and fibres. It has a quality of image that I would expect from a £50-£100 microscope and my scientist husband was also impressed by its clarity.
But it has an advantage over the traditional fixed microscope in that it can be taken off its stand and held against something, as well as being on a stand. And astonishingly it gives the same quality of image when used like this as it does when its upright on its stand. This extra ability makes it so much more appealing and interesting to children, you can look at things right there and then without having to fiddle with a slide, you can look at the underside of something whilst lying on your back underneath it and you can idly examine body parts when you are bored (none of these are limited to children only of course!)
The microscope is very sturdy, its been slung in a handbag, dropped repeatedly, carried round woods and beaches, left in the garden overnight by accident and generally treated to over a year of everything my daughter and son could throw at it. Yet it still works as well as it did when we first got it out of its box and frankly I am astonished. I was expecting for the price to get more of a toy really than an actual microscope, never mind one of this quality and clarity of image. It does have lots of small bits to potentially lose and the box is not very well designed to store them, but I think that this is an absolutely superb bit of kit and one I can heartily recommend.
I bought this toy microscope as a stocking filler for my daughter for Christmas 2010. I think it was on offer for £5.99 on Amazon UK, I used a lot of Amazon vouchers pre Christmas so I would have got free delivery on the super saver deal. I wasn't particularly looking for a microscope, just browsing, I think I was looking at the HotUKDeals website when I noticed this, saw it had some decent reviews and thought it sounded good value. The price on Amazon seems quite variable, I've seen it change from £7.49 to £6.16 whilst writing this review. It's also available on the Natural History Museum website for £8.00, sales of this product support the Natural History Museum.
I like the fact that it looks just as a microscope should; no tv characters, no bright colours or big buttons, just an unadorned pocket microscope. I've seen some toy microscope abominations - talking, flashing, day-glo obscenities. In my opinion too many manufacturer's think children need toys to be like that when in fact, children like to imitate adults and a plain microscope such as this is is all that is needed. The design is simple, it's plastic, the colours are silver and black. There's a little button on the side to switch on the LED light, below the eyepiece is a zoom lever to adjust the level of magnification, (from 20x to 40x), and just above the lens is the focusing wheel. The base, (or 'specimen stage'), detaches so that the microscope can be carried around and objects viewed directly.
It comes in an attractive thin cardboard box into which it is packaged in a plastic mould, ours still gets packed away in this in the box. There's also a lens cloth and a couple of plastic slides. Batteries are included, there's a small screw down compartment and a battery insulation tab to be pulled out. The batteries are the little silver button types; three x LR44, ours have yet to need replacing and I should think they'll last ages as they are just for a single LED light.
Although I knew it would be small, I was still surprised by how small and light it actually is. It weighs just 132g and is, literally, a pocket microscope. If you remove the base it's less than 4 inches long, 4.5 with the base), and 2-3 inches wide, (depending on whether you keep the base on), so it fits easily into a pocket or small bag. This means it's no problem to take out for explorations on day trips, as well as coming in handy for keeping children amused at times when you'd like them to be well behaved, (such as getting them to examine crumbs from restaurant tables while waiting for meals - keeps the staff on their toes too).
There is an instructions leaflet in the box which also includes information about the Natural History Museum and has suggestions for objects to view and how best to view them. The leaflet appears to be aimed at older children; "Take notes on what you observe and make drawings of what you discover. Scientists always date their observations..." Obviously all this is well beyond the capabilities of a three year old, but although I was aware that this might be too old a toy for my daughter, she still likes it and is keen to be hands on with it, despite not necessarily grasping concepts such as focusing and magnification.
Taking the lead from the instructions we began our explorations by looking at sugar granules followed by various other kitchen grains, soil, leaves and newspaper print. The sugar was the first thing we looked at and the most impressive that morning. I have to say my daughter wasn't immediately fascinated by her new microscope and I think the adults actually had more fun with it, but to be fair this is probably down to the fact that: a) it was Christmas day so lots of other distractions and b) it's probably more suited to a child at least couple of years older.
We followed most of the suggestions in the leaflet and came up with more ideas of our own, but being uncreative dullards we soon struggled to think of suitable things to look at. While you can look at almost anything I have found it's much easier on the eye to stick to specimens that can be placed on slides. That way the microscope stays steady and items are easier to bring into focus. Once you've managed to focus it, which is easy enough, the quality of the images is superb. The instructions suggest sellotaping specimens to the slides but we tend not to do this as it seems too time consuming when examing several things in a row.
After an initial flurry of interest I'm afraid this got stuck in the cupboard for a few weeks until inspiration struck. One day when I was doing something completely different it suddenly occurred to me that the peacock feather I have in a plant pot in my living room would be interesting to look at, so out came the microscope and we examined it. This led to a renewed interest on the part of my daughter to find other interesting things to examine. She's had fun searching for things small enough to put under it but is yet to grasp what will magnify well and so insists on examining innumerable dull bits of fluff, paper and cardboard.
My daughter was very interested in just some plain paper on which you could see nothing, but under the microscope there were lots of little specs and tiny hairs, talking about this may have helped her understanding of germs and other things you can't see with the naked eye. We've also looked at details on coins and stamps that are difficult or impossible to see otherwise.
We haven't taken ours outside much, but probably will do now that we're beginning to have some nice weather. We have had it in the garden where we studied various greenery, feathers and so on. We haven't looked at any small creatures yet so that's something to look forward to. I've seen some excellent images taken from this microscope on Amazon, from reviewers who have taken pictures of lavae and other things photographed via the eyepiece. The peacocks feather is probably the most striking item I personally have viewed, although that's also the most unusual of all the objects we've looked at but photographs taken via the eyepiece don't show the image quite as clearly as you would see it in real life.
I read several reviews of this product on Amazon and many of them commented on the fact that they had used much more expensive microscopes with lesser results. In fact, several reviews were by adults who used this a functioning microscope for studies and not as a toy at all.
~Durability and Other Issues~
It's hard to say how robust this is, as it hasn't been subjected to any particularly rough treatment, being so small and light makes it seem fragile so I have always advised my daughter to be very careful with it, and tend to supervise her use of it. It's certainly in as good a condition now as it was at Christmas, although the slides have received a few scratches. It would be better if there were more slides, or at least an obvious way to order replacement slides as the two supplied have small scratches on already and will probably need to be replaced at some point.
Upon writing this review I've had a chat with my little one who has told me that she thinks her microscope is fabulous but that I don't let her play with it. This has made me realise how I have tended to hover over her with it, so I've decided to give her free reign, after all it's hardly an expensive piece of equipment. As a result she is now covering the specimen stage with shiny stickers - they look nice though. She does need a little guidance with positioning things under the lens as she tends to position something and then move the microscope. Obviously a three year old's attempts at being careful differ somewhat to an adults, and I have perhaps been a little over careful with it. (If it suddenly falls to pieces I will return and update).
A quote on the box reads; "There are more living, tiny organisms in a tablespoon of soil than there are people on earth," but I have to say you won't see them through this microscope as the magnification levels are too low. Nonetheless although the magnification may be low, the optics are high quality and produce crisp clear detailed images. This toy has actually whetted my own appetite for a high powered microscope. Because it's a single lens, looking through the eyepiece the image is reversed which means that if you move an object one way, it appears to go the other. This isn't much of an issue, but I thought it worth noting as it can sometimes be a bit frustrating.
The two wheels, (for focusing and zoom levels), can take a bit of fine tuning and fiddling, beyond the scope of a three year old, but instructive for older children. My eyes get tired after looking through it a lot, although this doesn't seem to bother my little one who, it should perhaps be pointed out, will 'wow' in an awestruck manner at blurred fluff as well as at amazing sparkling feather threads.
It's not just children who will enjoy playing with this. In fact it's feasible that I've had more fun with this than my daughter and I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I have found myself squabbling over the eyepiece with her on occasion. My daughter has probably played with this more at my instigation than through choosing it herself. That said, she is a bit young for it and she's always enthusiastic when I suggest using it to look at something.
As you can probably tell, I am impressed with this microscope. The images it produces are top quality. I think it's an excellent introduction to scientific exploration for children. Great fun and educational too, it's an item that should encourage an interest in science and the natural world. It won't leave you out of pocket and if it proves to be a big hit you may choose to buy a higher powered microscope at a later date. My only niggle concerns the slides, but overall I'd say this is an excellent toy that should bring fun and interest for a long time to come.
At school recently I was given the task of spending some of the Science budget. Now if the word "Science" hadn't preceded the word "budget" I doubt I would have had a problem spending a bit of money on things I could class as being "school related!" After a bit of searching in the Science cupboard I realised the school only had four microscopes that I could find... hardly enough to use in a classroom with a class full of children. Therefore the first thing I decided to purchase was some more microscopes to enable them to be used more often in the classroom.
After having a hunt online for microscopes I realised that a lot of the ones on offer were extremely hi tech and had far more features that we would ever need in school. I settled on buying twenty of the Natural History Museum Pocket Microscopes as they had a fairly simple design, were reasonably priced and had a fairly good write up. When it arrived I was surprised by how small it was, it measures just 5.1cm by 4.1cm by 2.8cm and is only 699g in weight. It didn't require any assembly and was ready to use as soon as it was taken out the box... simple!
Other features include the fact that it's got 20 to 40 times zoom magnification with an ultra bright LED illuminator that is controlled by a simple touch button making it really easy to alter the light. There's also a small focus wheel which can be adjusted to ensure the image is as clear as possible and is shown in the best detail it can be, merely turning it gently will refocus the microscope. As I've had relatively little experience with microscopes I can't comment on whether these features are particularly amazing or not but they certainly seem to do the job.
It took me a few minutes to work out how to adjust the light and the magnification but once I'd done that it was really straightforward, children as young as seven have since worked with this microscopes and found them easy to use! Once you've mounted your object on the slides and put a cover slip over it simply place it under the microscope in the little holder then fiddle with the LED illuminator and the focus wheel. The images are really crystal clear (as long as the lens is free from dust) and the definition is excellent, I couldn't have asked for a clearer image at all.
So what else do you need to know? Well the box also contained some slides, cover slips and a lens cloth to keep the lens clean so there's really no need to buy anything extra to use with this microscope. As long as you wash or wipe the slides and cover slips after use there's no reason why they wouldn't last for an extremely long time. The other feature that I really like is that you can take the microscope out of its stand and use it to look at pretty much anything, even things that won't fit in a slide. All in all it's been an excellent addition in our science cupboard.
I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Natural History Museum Pocket Microscope, it works well with children but judging from some of the reviews I've read online it's also a firm favourite with adults too. It's currently priced at £7.49 on Amazon which was the cheapest I could find it for online and I've not seen it in any high street stores. It's superb value for money and it really does do its job in an easy and straightforward manner. It also seems quite robust which is an absolute must when it's being handled by children day in day out! A full five stars from me!
Thanks for reading.