Microscope stands and legacy products - confusing naming conventions

Hi all,

I’m in the process of buying a new microscope/imaging system (new to this process btw). To lower budgets I’m trying to look at second-hand microscopes when possible, as I think at least last-gen systems should perform well enough for our purposes. Things we might miss we can then optionally buy later. However since I am not familiar with all of the Big4 and all of their product lines, it’s hard for me to judge which systems are still worth considering, and which ones are definitively too old. Some help with creating an overview would be greatly appreciated.

To narrow it down a bit, I’m only looking at inverted microscope stands capable of doing widefield fluorescence with a motorized stage. We’re not doing any complex imaging techniques, so I assume general performance for all of the Big4 are ok for us. Upgrades to do live-cell imaging are in the plans. Attaching a confocal unit to it in the future would be even better, but not required (if at all possible anyways).

I am mostly familiar with Zeiss but already there I get confused. I know that the Observer 7 is the newest, with the Z1 as a predecessor. But I have seen old Axiovert 200M microscopes outfitted with a motorized stage. What would be a functional difference between that and a Z1?

For Nikon I have used an Eclipse-Ti-E, so I know that one should be sufficient. Also there I have seen Ti-U units outfitted with motorized stages (while the modern ones are not). What would be a functional difference there? The other brands I’m less familiar with. For Olympus I can find IX81s as the previous model. Also there, if I outift a IX71 with a motorized stage, what would I be missing compared to an IX81?

If any of you know of any EU-based second-hand websites that would also be great. Currently browsing profcontrol.de.



I have several 10-15-year-old systems and love using them. However, there are several downsides. The biggest challenges may be software integration, if you are also using Big 4 software. They don’t always play nice with older equipment. Micro-Manager or 3rd-party commercial software might be a better bet.

Availability of parts is also a potential problem. When things break (fortunately rarely) it is always a difficult job for the vendor to find spare parts for us. If one crucial electronic board goes, the whole system could become unusable. So, I would consider this contingency when planning your budget.

For live-cell work, the stage-top incubators and focus stabilization systems (PFS, Definite Focus, ZDC) also may have compatibility issues with older systems.

Sorry I don’t have specific info about your specific comparative questions. I can say I’ve used both 200M and Z1 systems with motorized stages and they feel functionally similar for things like multi-point time-lapse.

Hope this helps, and happy shopping!

Thanks a lot for the info. Great comment about the spare parts thing, I will certainly take that into consideration.

Since you plan to upgrade the system in the future, I would think a lot about exactly what you would need. Just about every system can accept a spinning disk (Yokogawa, Crest, etc.) and stage top environmental chambers can also be added with zero issues.

To touch on software, Micro-Manager can run most legacy frames…IX81 to IX83, Zeiss 200m to Observer, Nikon TE2000 to Ti2 and Leica (I’m not very familiar as I hardly EVER work on Leica frames). Most of these frames communicate fairly well through Micro-Manager and you can run almost any camera or spinning disk, etc. If you want a more streamlined software, MetaMorph has drivers for a lot of the legacy frames and cameras. The interface is a little dated, but it is more reliable and user friendly than Micro-Manager. VisiView is a very nice modern software, but I do not believe they have drivers for the 200m, IX81, etc. Most of the drivers are for current and one generation old frames.

Parts can be an issue with older frames. For example, the 200m has a display on the illumination pillar that is notorious for going bad. It is very difficult to find the screen a la carte, but a bare frame can be purchased for little money as a backup. This is true for most legacy frames. You can find bare frames for little money and there’s not exactly a shortage. BUT, there are certain things that can happen that would require service or time spent to find replacement parts. For example, the TE2000 had an issue with the focus escape and focusing beyond the sensor limits (there was no hard stop installed). There is a fix where a set screw is installed in the focus to prevent it going past it’s limits, but the entire scope has to be taken about and re-calibrated. It’s a huge repair and costs somewhere around $2,500-$3,000. This can also be the case with newer frames.

You will get almost the exact same functionality from a Zeiss 200m compared to an Observer 7. The frames themselves are very similar. Here is what I would consider regarding functionality:

  1. Will you ever have a need for something like perfect focus, definite focus, etc.? Only certain frames accept this component.

  2. Are you fine with imaging through Micro-Manager? If you have a preferred software, check to see what frames are compatible.

  3. What is your budget? This is a big one! If you only have $15,000 to spend now, you will have to pick the best frame from an older generation.

I still (routinely) sell and work on older inverted microscopes. I have installed over 15 used Zeiss Axiovert 200m’s alone running through micromanager for multi-channel and multi-position imaging. Spinning disks are completely independent add-ons, so as long as there is a physical adapter available (including the correct lens), it doesn’t matter which frame you have. If speed needs to be a consideration regarding focus or filter wheels, there are add-on’s that bypass the frame entirely (piezo Z insert, multiband filter with individual LED illuminator, etc.).

I apologize for the lengthy post, but there are a lot of things to consider. In most cases, you will get the functionality you need from almost any frame. If you do have more specific requirements, let me know and I will give you my opinion. I have serviced and repaired every make/model/generation inverted microscope for the last 12 years and have upgraded legacy systems to more efficient widefield, spinning disk/TIRF and everything in-between.



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Wow Tom, what a great post. No need to apologize for it being long, I’ve learned a lot from it and I’m sure others as well.

I guess I am mostly just afraid of making decisions and not having certain functionalities later down the line that would cost more money to rectify. I’ve been in the luxury position of always having worked with well outfitted modern microscopes, so I have no practical experience with shortcomings of the “lower end” so to speak. It’s therefore hard for me to imagine NOT having a motorized xy and z for example, but I’m sure there are many applications that are fine without it.

Regarding perfect focus or definite focus, how are the upgrade paths and do you need the brand-specific software to use it? For example, let’s say I have a Z1 without definite focus. Can I outfit it with the latest definite focus, or am I stuck with the unit from that generation? (Personal bad experience with definite focus 1st gen so I’m trying to avoid that) Does Micromanager know how to interface with it? Are there even Ti-E units without perfect focus installed? Are there third-party auto-focus systems available?

Thanks a lot for your help

There’s no need to worry about a motorized XY, there are a TON of options for 3rd party stages that can run on almost any software platform. Although you can add an external Z drive, I would find a frame with an integrated Z. External Z drives rotate the fine focus. Unless you have an encoder, the Z position can be easily changed by rotating the coarse focus. And there is always the option to add a piezo Z stage insert, depending on the focus range you need (Prior now has an 800um range piezo Z).

You can add a Zeiss Definite Focus 2 to any Z1 frame, but I believe a specific nosepiece is required for it to fit. I would say that most Ti-E units were installed without perfect focus. Both the Zeiss Definite Focus and Nikon Perfect Focus are supported in MicroManager. They are also supported by MetaMorph and VisiView.

There are a few 3rd party auto-focus systems (Prior, Mad City Labs). I have not used any of them so I can’t speak on their accuracy or reliability.