Also, I've been reading a few posts and discovered that different types of specimens require different types of microscopes -- is there a fairly economical microscope that will do both?
The LOMO P-111 may sell for less than $100, but it has absolutely nothing in common with other microscopes in its price range. It is a Russian (not Chinese) made stripped down research grade microscope without a binocular head, mechanical stage, built-in illumination, or oil objective. However, it does have dual focusing, an iris light control like an expensive model and it uses the same high quality eyepieces and objectives as much more expensive LOMO microscopes. Best of all, it can be upgraded at a later date with illumination, mechanical stage and oil objectives - something you cannot do with microscopes costing many times this price. It is priced low only because we purchased this model in bulk from LOMO in Russia. This is easily the best buy in a beginner's microscope on the market. I highly recommend it.
No, you really can't make one microscope do everything. The problem is working distance. Compound microscopes like the P-111 have a very close working distance, essentially enough to get a slide under the microscope, but not much more. If you want to observe a rock, twig, whole insect or other large specimen, there just isn't room. Even if there was room, a compound is going to be awkward to use with large specimens since images a compound produces are upside down and reversed right to left. Lastly, you really don't need the magnification provided by a compound micorscope for this kind of work.
For whole specimens such as rocks, twigs, flowers, machine parts, gems and so on, you really need a stereo microscope.
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