Has anyone else noticed the increasing number of microscope websites that advertise compound microscopes with mechanical stages….when in reality they are selling them with inferior mechanical slide holders? We think you should know the difference.
Mechanical Stage: A mechanical stage is integrated to any professional microscope. In other words, it is standard operating equipment for any regular microscope user – which in itself speaks volumes. Typically, double-layered, a mechanical stage provides a stable slide platform and provides more precise movement of the microscope slide without the need to raise your eyes from viewing the specimen. This is important for any type of regular user since it makes for a significantly more seamless user experience. Less hassle = more productive and enjoyable experience.
The structure of a mechanical stage includes a large hole to enable light from the condenser to pass through and includes drop down, right-hand coaxial controls. It is these coaxial controls that enable the ‘eyes-down’ operation. Often left-handed controls are also available. Standard mechanical stages include a spring loaded slide holder integrated into the design and XY axis that include graduated locator markings for precise movement of the slide.
Mechanical Slide Holder: A mechanical slide holder is a small and simple, spring loaded slide holder that can be attached by screws on to a plain microscope stage. While strictly speaking, it might be referred to as a microscope stage, microscopy professionals commonly differentiate it by calling it a mechanical slide holder. A good analogy is a motorcycle. Strictly speaking it is a motor vehicle, but no one thinks of it as such and it would be misleading to sell it as such.
Anyway, a mechanical slide holder includes two small knobs that enable X/Y movement with limited graduated locator markings. These control knobs are separate for X and Y motion, are a fraction of the size of a mechanical stage and require you to look up from the specimen. They are, in other words, somewhat awkward to use. They can also work loose over time.
As a result, these slide holders are designed for younger microscopists or where budget is limited. Budgetary constraints are understandable but we are not convinced about the argument around kids. In our opinion, kids needs to be engaged as easily as possible with a microscope – as with nay new learning experience. This includes engaging subject matter and a hassle free environment. Otherwise, they are less likely to continue their interest.
The problem with a compound microscope is that young children often find slide specimens somewhat abstract (ie less engaging). When you layer on more hassle in using a cheaper microscope, in this case with a mechanical slide holder, you are decreasing the chance of sustaining their interest and attention.