I'm going to have to more-or-less echo Tim: find someone who has
one, and try it.
I do have a couple of things to add though.
I've got four different scopes, due to the whims of the scrounging
gods. A Nikon SMZ-20, a Leica, an old Bausch+Lomb, and one of the
Otto Frei Chinese clones of the Meiji. I've also used Meijis.
The Nikon is *definitely* the best of them, but I've actually got
the Meiji-clone on my setting bench. I save the Nikon for
inspection, and really high-mag stuff. The Nikon also doesn't have
an extender (Barlowe) lens, so it's reasonably close-up. The B+L is
out at the Knew Concepts shop, and we use it for tool/part
inspection, for which it's great, but again, no barlowe, so it's
very close focused.
The Leica is a spare that hasn't found a home yet, because it just
floated home with me a few weeks ago. Oddly enough, it floated home
at about the same time as an unrelated GRS Acrobat stand was drawn
into my orbit. Funny thing. Once you get a certain critical mass of
tools, others just seem to get drawn to you. Which is great, except
that your garage ends up with it's own gravity well.
Anyway, I *DEFINITELY* recommend the GRS Acrobat stands for whatever
scope you get. They're built like tanks, and very sturdy and
supportive. I rely on the headpiece on mine, for two reasons: (A)
gives me someplace to rest my head, so I don't end up giving myself
black eyes from leaning on the scope eyepieces, and (B) it lets me
swing the scope a little side-to-side to stay with the engraving
ball as I rotate. Not much motion, but enough to make life easier
when I roll. Having someplace to rest your head makes a serious
difference in terms of stress at the end of a few hours, as well as
having a hard lock between your eyes and the scope, which means you
don't have to think about it to keep your eyes set in the sweet spot
to see through the scope.
You definitely want the extender lens. You may not always use it,
but you definitely want it around as an option. I don't always use
mine, but there are times it is really helpful.
I also use one of the GRS "Benchmate Adjustable Height Brackets"
which is just a plate that has another dovetail on it, so you can
drop your bench pin down by a few inches, to get into the field of
the scope, without making you into a giraffe. If I were buying now,
I'd definitely get Rio's Slide & Lock Height Adjustment Bracket.
Much more versatile than the plate, in terms of letting you put
whatever you're working on at whatever distance you need it to be to
get into the focus range of the scope. Remember: your eyes are at
"X" height from the floor. That won't change. The scope focuses at
distance "D" down from your eyes. X-D is unlikely to line up with
where your benchpin/engraving ball are now. So either the work needs
to go down, or your neck goes up. Yeah, the slide & lock thing is
expensive, but after a few days, ask yourself how much an un-kinked
neck is worth to you.
I've got both ringlights and fiberoptic illuminators. You definitely
want ring lights, definitely LED, and whatever you do, NOT halogen.
They're just too damned hot. Burn your hand at 6"kind of hot.
There are LED ringlights anywhere from $20 on E-Prey, to the Bonny
Doon one for $150 or whatever it is. I've used them all, and pretty
much any of them will work. I wouldn't worry about variable
brightness. Mine pretty much always run at full blast. I can't
remember the last time I thought to turn one down. The one thing I
will say about the Bonny Doon one is that they're made in the US, by
a friend's nephew. So let us say I'm not entirely unbiased. Warm or
Cool white is up to you. I prefer warm light, but apparently cool
white is better for detail. It's personal preference.
As far as the scopes themselves, the Otto Frei Meiji clone is
surprisingly good. Mine's about 7-8 years old, so I don'tknow what
the current production is like, but I'd expect it to be at least as
good or better than mine. It's not as bright as the Nikon, but then
again, it cost about 1/10th of what the Nikon went for at retail. (I
found mine at an estate sale.) You can find B+L and Leica stereo
scopes on E-Prey for $180-$250, and they're not bad. My Leica's a
GZ4, and it'd be just fine for inspection, and the B+L is an SZ4,
and we really do use that for inspection.
The only two I've looked through for *hours* are the Nikon and the
Meiji Clone, and both of them work very well for really delicate
For whatever any of that was worth.
What magnifications should one look for?
Depends on what you're doing. When I'm engraving, I normally leave
mine at it's lowest power. (All of my menagerie are zooms.) Generally
they start at about.7 to 4 or 5 x, then you add in whatever your
eyepiece lenses do, which is normally 10 or 20x. So a.7 zoom with a
10x lens is 7x, which is slightly less than a diamond loupe. Then I
can go all the way in to 50x if I need to. (which is *waaaaay* too
close up for anything useful for engraving, but it's damned handy
for inspecting cutting edges on engraving tools or other sharp
things.) Your graver sharpening will take a quantum jump as soon as
you can actually see what you're doing at that level.
One thing about microscopes: the first thing that crossed my mind
the first time I used one seriously was "I can see whole new vistas
of anal-retention opening up before me.... " Suddenly, you can see
*everything*. So make sure you find a limit with yourself on how far
you're going to chase perfect, or you'll be there all week, chasing
after things nobody else will ever see bare-eyed. On the other hand,
if it looks good at 10X, it looks *great* bare-eyed.