Tech's Perspective: Recommended UV/Vis Spectrophotometers Available On The Used Market

Spectrophotometers are some of the most common instruments we get through here at New Life Scientific. Our technicians have disassembled, diagnosed, repaired, and tested models from all sorts of price brackets and manufacturers.

While many of them differ little in price and have nearly identical specifications, there are still other pronounced differences that can influence which would be best for your facility. Below, we’ve compared three different models -- Molecular Devices' SpectraMax Plus 384, Varian’s Cary 100, and PerkinElmer’s Lambda 35 -- to give you our perspective on which types of labs each model would best serve. Each of these models can be purchased for under $4,000, with software, on the used market and have similar specifications. You won't find many of their most significant differences on a spec sheet.

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Molecular Devices SpectraMax Plus 384: Maximize Flexibility Without Breaking the Bank

Wavelength Range: 190nm to 1000nm

Spectral Bandwidth: 2nm (fixed)

The SpectraMax Plus 384 is a bit of an oddball. It’s the only spectrophotometer in this article that has not just a plate reader, but also a sample heater and shaker built-in. As such, the SpectraMax can accommodate a wide variety of requirements and workflows.

To extend its flexibility even further, Molecular Devices engineers designed the SpectraMax to function as a standalone system -- no PC or software required. This self-containment does come with downsides, however. When operating without a PC, the SpectraMax cannot scan microplates, which of course prevents usage of the incubator and shaker. Regardless, the option to run sans software is there for any laboratory that may require it.

Cons of the SpectraMax Plus 384

Though it offers more features than the Cary 100 and the Lambda 35, the SpectraMax is held back in a few key areas. It is, for instance, a single-beam system, while the other two are dual-beam. Additionally, the SpectraMax is nowhere near as fast as the other two systems.

Ultimately, the SpectraMax is best suited for a laboratory on a tight budget with diverse spectroscopy needs. Buyers will save a hefty sum upfront since they will not need to purchase additional hardware for agitation, heating, and microplate support, but those savings will be mitigated over time since the system will process samples much more slowly than other systems.

It is also important to note that the SpectraMax is not built as well as its competition. Here at NLS, we rarely see malfunctioning Cary 100 or Lambda 35 systems -- but receiving a faulty SpectraMax is a more common occurrence.

Price Ranges

Prices can vary widely on the pre-owned market due to a host of different factors, such as the inclusion of a warranty, the length of said warranty, the seller's expertise, the results of testing, and more. Sifting through these rates and variables can be a challenge if you're not constantly keeping tabs on the market like our purchasing team here at NLS. To aid you in your hunt for a used SpectraMax, here's a rundown of what you'll encounter at different price points:

~$1,300 to ~$2,000

We'll be frank: sub-$2,000 SpectraMaxes are being peddled by vendors with no technical expertise. As such, the seller markets the systems as "for parts or repair" so that they don't need to include a warranty or handle returns.

~$2,500 to ~$4,000

This range is where tested, warranted SpectraMaxes begin cropping up. These systems typically include computers and software as well, thus rendering them fully turnkey. The majority of SpectraMaxes we sell here at NLS fall into this category.


Once you start seeing prices approach $10k, slow down -- you're going to hit diminishing returns.

Varian Cary 100: For Labs Seeking a Workhorse

Wavelength Range: 190nm to 900nm

Spectral Bandwidth: 0.2nm to 4nm, 0.1nm steps

The Cary 100 isn’t the flashiest spectrophotometer out there. It doesn’t have built-in agitation like the SpectraMax, nor has it carved a niche for itself in academic environments like the Lambda 35.

But what Varian’s Cary does offer is a robust design. In terms of build quality, this system reigns supreme. Having debuted the Cary 100 in April 1997, Varian designed the model to epitomize long-term reliability. That these systems are still commonly bought and sold on the preowned market is a testament to Varian’s success in their endeavor. In fact, among the spectrophotometers covered in this article, the Cary 100 is currently the hardest to acquire on the used market.

Longevity aside, another benefit of the Cary’s build quality is manifested in ease-of-service. Our senior technician has disassembled and serviced spectrophotometers from a variety of manufacturers. The Cary 100 continues to be his favorite because of how easy it is to repair and maintain.

If you need to stretch your budget as far as possible, the Cary 100 is an excellent choice. Its lifespan is all but guaranteed to deliver an excellent ROI, and if anyone at your facility has repair expertise you can save on service costs by working on it in-house.

Cons of the Cary 100

Given that it’s most suited for everyday, general-purpose spectroscopy, the Cary 100 is lacking in some valuable features that can only be added with additional modules. One can process microplates and heat samples with a Cary, but they have to purchase the requisite hardware separately. These modules are very rare on the used market, too, so you’ll likely have to dedicate a sizable chunk of your budget to buying them new.

Price Ranges*

Less than ~$2,500

The price range for Cary 100s is a bit narrower than that of the SpectraMax and the Lambda. Decent options generally sit at $2,500 -- meanwhile, systems only $500 less commonly require new bulbs and adapters. Solid, working options can still be found in this range but they're rarer.

~$2,500 to ~$3,000

This section is the sweet spot for the Cary 100. Here, you can find good selections that not only include a PC, software, and adapter but are also backed by warranties. A setup with a controller and peltier unit can run to $2,899, which is still an attractive price.


Given that you can find turnkey, tested, and warranted systems for only $2,500, spending anything more than $4,000 is a poor choice in most cases.

*Note: This information does not apply to Agilent Cary 100s, which are newer than the Varian Cary 100s. Acceptable prices for pre-owned Agilent units can run up to $5,000 or more.

PerkinElmer Lambda 35: Easy-To-Use & Ideal for General Use

Wavelength Range: 190 nm to 1100 nm

Spectral Bandwidth: 0.5, 1, 2, 4 nm

On paper and in usage, the Lambda 35 is in close competition with the Cary 100. Much like the Cary 100, the Lambda 35's companion software delivers satisfying ease-of-use. The WinUV program is intuitive, making it quick for novice users to pick up without sacrificing advanced functionality. Consequently, the Lambda 35 is commonplace in university classes. Thanks to PerkinElmer, students can learn how to run spectroscopy scans on a system that’s used in laboratories worldwide.

Additionally, the Lambda 35 has the widest wavelength range -- 190 to 1100 nm -- among the three spectrophotometers covered in this article. With this range, the Lambda 35 is suitable for carrying out measurements on liquids, solids, pastes, and powder samples.

Given its ease-of-use and flexibility, the Lambda 35 is an excellent option for any facility with diverse, but relatively simple, spectroscopy requirements.

Cons of the Lambda 35

Much like the Cary 100, the Lambda 35 does not have a sample shaker or heater built-in. These functions, along with microplate reading, can all be added via separate modules, but these modules will drive up the total cost considerably. The Lambda 35 is also more difficult to service than the Cary 100, so in-house repairs may not be a feasible option for your facility.

Price Ranges

~$1,000 to ~$1,500

Most untested Lambda 35 units check in at this point. Oftentimes they have bad bulbs and will require service, if not outright repair. These systems offer the most value to labs which are already equipped with a Lambda and simply need spare parts for it.

~$3,000 to ~$4,500

The majority of Lambda 35s that include software and have been successfully tested fall into this range. It should be noted, however, that sometimes warranties are not included with units priced around $3,000. We advise opting for a warranty, even if it means spending a few hundred dollars more.


In the used equipment business, there will always be vendors who err on the side of optimism. In the case of the Lambda 35, these sellers crop up around the $6,000 mark. This is significantly above the typical market price, so we advise avoiding these systems.

In Conclusion

While bearing similar specifications, differing design philosophies behind the SpectraMax 384, Lambda 35, and Cary 100 make them suited for different labs and users. Should you be in the market for a new spectrophotometer and one of these units has caught your eye, feel free to browse our current inventory. We usually have at least one of these models in stock at any given time.

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