The Best Microscopes for Viewing Bacteria

Mark Coster, BSc(Hons) PhD

Last updated: May 28, 2020

Best Microscope for Viewing Bacteria

Many manufacturers claim to have the best microscope for viewing bacteria, but there are many factors that you should consider first before actually buying one. Which one’s the right microscope for you? What will you be looking at? How much detail would you like to observe? What is your budget?

Bacteria come in many shapes and sizes, but in general, you will need a compound microscope with a resolution of at least 1 μm to visualize a bacteria. If you’re trying to distinguish cellular morphology or track bacterial cell movement, you’ll need even more power. So below are some of our top picks. Let’s start with our best overall pick – the OMAX 40x-2500x Compound Microscope.

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1. OMAX 40x-2500x Compound Microscope

Our Rating:

  • Best for Learning: Detailed Imaging and Video

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OMAX 40X-2500X Digital Lab Trinocular Compound LED Microscope with 5MP Digital Camera and Double Layer Mechanical Stage

The OMAX 40x-2500x Compound Microscope is our top pick for a number of reasons: it provides the best imaging hardware with a built-in 5 MP digital camera, has a mechanical stage, and it comes with 2500x magnification for detailed imaging of bacterial cell morphology. 

This microscope comes equipped with two eyepieces (WF10X and WF25X) as well as 4 objectives (4X, 10X, 40X, and 100X-oil) allowing for a range of magnifications. Another big bonus for this microscope is the included software, which allows the user to take images, record video, take measurements, and so much more. The required USB is included, too.  

Note that the software is compatible with Microsoft Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. Take this into consideration since our more budget-friendly camera-equipped option is only compatible with Microsoft Windows.

2. AmScope 40X-1000X Compound Microscope

Our Rating:

  • Best for those on a budget

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AmScope M150C-I 40X-1000X All-Metal Optical Glass Lenses Cordless LED Student Biological Compound Microscope

The AmScope 40X-1000X Compound Microscope is a solid, affordable choice for a compound microscope for students and at home STEM exploration. It has a total magnification range from 40X to 1000X it has plenty of power to visualize bacteria. Another bonus for this microscope is that it can be plugged in, or powered by AA batteries, when on the go.

Some important considerations compared to the other picks in this list: users will not be able to observe the same level of detail, there are no imaging capabilities, and a fixed platform can make navigating your specimen a bit difficult.

3. OMAX 40X-2000X Binocular Microscope

Our Rating:

  • Best budget option with higher resolution

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Awarded 2018 Best Compound Microscope - OMAX 40X-2000X Lab LED Binocular Microscope with Double Layer Mechanical Stage w Blank Slides Covers and Lens Cleaning Paper

At twice the magnification of our budget pick, the OMAX 40X-2000X Binocular Microscope is also substantially more expensive. But if you’re looking to see more detail, this is a great scope. It is also equipped with a mechanical stage making it easier to navigate at higher magnification. This microscope is not equipped with imaging capabilities, and unlike our budget pick cannot be battery-operated.

4. AmScope 40X-2500X Digital Microscope

Our Rating:

  • Best for imaging on a budget

Check Price


40X-2500X LED Digital Binocular Compound Microscope with 3D Stage + USB Camera

The AmScope 40X-2500X Digital Microscope provides many of the bells and whistles of our top pick, but is significantly cheaper. Just like our top pick, it has a double-layer mechanical stage, two eyepieces, and four objectives offering a range of magnification from 40x to 2500x. However, the bu-Layer+Mechanical+Stageilt-in camera is far inferior at only 0.3 MP. This scope comes with included imaging software for image and video capture as well as taking measurements.  

Note: This is only compatible with Microsoft Windows Operating Systems. If you’re a Mac user, this is an important thing to consider. However, Mac OS users can still use the camera without the software provided that they’ll use the USB.

What to Consider When Buying a Compound Microscope for Viewing Bacteria

Total Magnification/Resolving Power

The resolving power of your microscope is probably the most important factor when deciding whether a microscope will meet your needs. At 400x you’ll be able to see bacteria. However, to visualize cellular morphology, take measurements, or see cellular morphology you will need greater magnification.  

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Image Capture

There are several options for capturing images of your samples. Built-in or detachable cameras provide imaging capabilities. Depending on your needs, the considerations for the camera may be more important than the microscope itself. Our two camera-equipped options offer two very different cameras.

Our top pick is equipped with a detachable 5 MP camera while the other option includes a built-in 0.3 MP camera. Additionally, accompanying software can expand the utility of your microscope, allowing you to take images and videos, as well as measure lengths and angles. While our top pick is compatible with all major OS (Microsoft, Mac, and Linux), our more budget-friendly option is only compatible with Microsoft Windows. Mac users need to consider this when choosing a microscope.   


A mechanical stage offers more precise movement of the slide or specimen as compared to a fixed platform. At higher magnifications, this is especially important in order to navigate through the specimen and keep track of the location or orientation. A microscope with a mechanical stage is equipped with a knob for moving the specimen forward and back as well as side to side. AmScope 40X-1000X Compound Microscope has a fixed platform with two clips for securing a slide. More importantly, there are aftermarket mechanical stages that can be added to our budget pick for future upgrades.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How big are bacteria?

Bacteria can vary in shape and size but on average are about 0.5 μm in diameter and 2-5 μm in length. E. coli are rod shaped and range from 0.2-0.5 μm in diameter and about 2 μm in length. At 400x, you’ll be able to see bacteria. But higher magnifications are necessary to observe individual bacteria, cell movement, and cell morphology.

Will a dissecting or stereo microscope work for viewing bacteria?

A compound and stereo microscope are both light microscopes. However, the stereo microscope usually provides much less magnification and would be insufficient for visualizing bacteria.

Where can I get bacteria samples?

You can buy pre-prepared slides (often stained to distinguish between gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria).  However, bacteria is everywhere so you can also prepare your own slides. Try visualizing lactobacillus in yogurt!

Mark Coster, BSc(Hons) PhD
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