I'm starting to build up the gear for the kitbiz to get off the ground, and the first large investment just arrived at the shack. Thanks to some blog posts from Eldon WA0UWH, I found AmScope.com, who sells all manner of microscopes for low prices. I ended up finding a scope that was very similar to the one that I worked with at Tek; the SM-4T. It's a 7x-45x trinocular stereo zoom scope with a double-arm boom. I also ordered a 80-LED ring light with a variable brightness control. The beast barely fits on my tiny construction bench, but I'll have to deal with the cramped space for now.
Here's some of my impressions after assembling and using it. First off, the base is massively heavy; which is great for stability but no fun when transporting it. I thought the poor UPS drive was going to get a hernia getting it off of his truck. The fit-and-finish is pretty good. Not quite the same as the high-quality brand name microscope at Tek, but I felt like it was good for the price I paid. The manual is terrible. I'm still not sure that they sent me the right manual, since the diagrams in the once I received show a completely different model. But the back of the manual does show the parts for my microscope, so who knows, maybe you just get some generic manual for all of the different models. The Engrish factor is pretty high, as you might expect. Fortunately, I was still able to easily assemble the microscope by referencing the photos on the AmScope website.
The image quality is quite good, although the field of view is a bit smaller than my Tek microscope. The interpupillary distance and diopter setting is fully adjustable. Once I got them set correctly, the microscope was a pleasure to use. The 80-LED light did a good job of providing bright white illumination for the circuit boards that I examined. My first impression is that I've received a good value for my money. AmScope claims that their production line is the same one that manufactures microscope for Zeiss, Leica, Nikon, and Olympus. Based on the quality, that certainly seems like a credible claim. It's a bit spendy for the average homebrewer to purchase, but if you are serious about doing a lot of SMT work, I think that these microscopes would be an excellent choice for the shack.