The Different Types of Microscopes

There are several different types of microscopes used in light microscopy, and the four most popular types are Compound, Stereo, Digital and the Pocket or handheld microscopes.

Some types are best suited for biological applications, where others are best for classroom or personal hobby use.

Below is a brief introduction of the different types available.

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The Compound/Biological Microscope

Commonly single eyepiece or advanced and professional will have binocular (two eyepieces), the Compound/ Biological microscope, combines the power of lenses and light to enlarge the subject being viewed.

Typically, the eyepiece itself allows for 10X or 15X magnification and when combined with the three or four objective lenses, which can be rotated into the field of view, produce higher magnification to a maximum of around 1000X generally.

The compound light microscope is popular among botanists for studying plant cells, in biology to view bacteria and parasites as well as a variety of human/animal cells.

It is a useful microscope in forensic labs for identifying drug structures.

Compound light microscopes are one of the most familiar of the different types of microscopes as they are most often found in science and biology classrooms.

For this reason, simple models are readily available and are inexpensive.

As well, several microscopy imaging techniques benefit scientists and researchers using the compound microscope and are worth exploring. 

The Stereo Microscope

The Stereo microscope, also called a dissecting microscope, has two optical paths at slightly different angles allowing the image to be viewed three-dimensionally under the lenses.

Stereo microscopes magnify at low power, typically between 10X and 40X, Zoom models can take you up to 100x.

With this type of microscope you generally have the choice of the fixed or zoom variety and are relatively inexpensive.

Uses for this type of microscope include looking at surfaces, microsurgery, Geology, watch making plus building and inspecting circuit boards.

Stereo microscopes allow students to observe plant photosynthesis in action. 

The Digital Microscope

Step into the future with a digital microscope and enter a world of amazing detail.

The digital microscope, invented in Japan in 1986, uses the power of the computer to view objects not visible to the naked eye.

Among the different types of microscopes, this kind can be found with or without eyepieces to peer into.

It connects to a computer monitor via a USB cable, much like connecting a printer or mouse. The computer software allows the monitor to display the magnified specimen. Moving images can be recorded or single images captured in the computer’s memory.

An advantage of digital microscopes is the ability to email images, as well as comfortably watch moving images for long periods.

The popularity of the digital microscope has increased at schools and among hobbyists. 

The USB Computer Microscope

Although not well suited to the same scientific applications as other light microscopes, the USB Computer microscope, among the different types of microscopes, can be used on almost any object and requires no preparation of the specimen.

It is essentially a macro lens used to examine images on a computer screen plugged into its USB port.

However, the magnification is restricted and is not comparable to your standard compound light microscope at only up to 200X with a relatively small depth of field.

Great for hobbyists and kids