What are the Different Microscope Types and Their Uses?
There are a number of different types of microscopes and each of them solves unique problems. Below you will find information on the five different microscope types along with the applications for each microscope and just who might use each instrument. Below each description of the microscope and its use is an image that was captured using that particular microscope.

5 Different Types of Microscopes:

  1. Stereo Microscope
  2. Compound Microscope
  3. Inverted Microscope
  4. Metallurgical Microscope
  5. Polarizing Microscope

Stereo Microscopes

Stereo microscopes are used to look at a variety of samples that you would be able to hold in your hand. A stereo microscope provides a 3D image or “stereo” image and typically will provide magnification between 10x – 40x. The stereo microscope is used in manufacturing, quality control, coin collecting, science, for high school dissection projects, and botany. A stereo microscope typically provides both transmitted and reflected illumination and can be used to view a sample that will not allow light to pass through it.

The following are samples often viewed under a stereo microscope: coins, flowers, insects, plastic or metal parts, printed circuit boards, fabric weaves, frog anatomy, and wires.

This image of a penny was captured under the a coin collecting stereo zoom microscope at 20x magnification.

Compound Microscopes

A compound microscope may also be referred to as a biological microscope. Compound microscopes are used in laboratories, schools, wastewater treatment plants, veterinary offices, and for histology and pathology. The samples viewed under a compound microscope must be prepared on a microscope slide using a cover slip to flatten the sample. Students will often view prepared slides under the microscope to save time by eliminating the slide preparation process.

The compound microscope can be used to view a variety of samples, some of which include: blood cells, cheek cells, parasites, bacteria, algae, tissue, and thin sections of organs. Compound microscopes are used to view samples that can not be seen with the naked eye. The magnification of a compound microscope is most commonly 40x, 100x, 400x, and sometimes 1000x. Microscopes that advertise magnification above 1000x should not be purchased as they are offering empty magnification with low resolution.

This image of mushroom spores was captured under a compound biological microscope at 400x magnification.

Inverted Microscopes

Inverted microscopes are available as biological inverted microscopes or metallurgical inverted microscopes. Biological inverted microscopes provide magnification of 40x, 100x and sometimes 200x and 400x. These biological inverted microscopes are used to view living samples that are in a petri dish. An inverted microscope allows the user to place the petri dish on a flat stage, with the objective lenses housed beneath the stage. Inverted microscopes are used for in-vitro fertilization, live cell imaging, developmental biology, cell biology, neuroscience, and microbiology. Inverted microscopes are often used in research to analyze and study tissues and cells, and in particular living cells.

Metallurgical inverted microscopes are used to examine large parts at high magnification for fractures or faults. They are similar to biological inverted microscope in the magnification provided, but one primary difference is that the samples are not placed in a petri dish, but rather a smooth side of the sample must be prepared so it can lay flat on the stage. This smooth sample is polished and is sometimes referred to as a puck.

Metallurgical Microscopes

Metallurgical microscopes are high power microscopes designed to view samples that do not allow light to pass through them. Reflected light shines down through the objective lenses providing magnification of 50x, 100x, 200x, and sometimes 500x. Metallurgical microscopes are utilized to examine micron level cracks in metals, very thin layers of coatings such as paint, and grain sizing.

Metallurgical microscopes are utilized in the aerospace industry, the automobile manufacturing industry, and by companies analyzing metallic structures, composites, glass, wood, ceramics, polymers, and liquid crystals.

This image of a piece of metal with scratches on it was captured under a metallurgical microscope at 100x magnification.

Polarizing Microscopes

Polarizing microscopes use polarized light along with transmitted and, or reflected illumination to examine chemicals, rocks, and minerals. Polarizing microscopes are utilized by geologists, petrologists, chemists, and the pharmaceutical industry on a daily basis.

All polarizing microscopes have both a polarizer and an analyzer. The polarizer will only allow certain light waves to pass through it. The analyzer determines the amount of light and direction of light that will illuminate the sample. The polarizer basically focuses different wavelengths of light onto a single plane. This function makes the microscope perfect for viewing birefringent materials.

This is Vitamin C captured under a polarizing microscope at 200x magnification.


Information Required to quote on a Stereo Microscope

  1. What is the application?
    Does it involve screening and sorting?
    Is any sample manipulation needed?
    Is documentation necessary?
  2. What Magnification do you require
  3. Which structures need to be observed, documented, or visualized?
    Is high resolution more important than long working distance or the other way around?
  4. Is your specimen transparent or opaque?
  5. Please describe your container. Slide with coverglass or No container no cover glass?
  6. Please describe your observation method? Brightfield or Darkfield?
  7. How many different people need to use the microscope? How many hours will they work at the microscope?
    When it comes to using the microscope for many hours, it is important to consider ergonomic accessories as they can prevent repetitive strain injuries.
    Depending on the number of different users, it is advisable to have a microscope which can be adjusted to the preference of each user.
  8. What is the available budget for the microscope?
    Modular solutions may look like a higher investment, but in the long run they will save money thanks to their versatility, ability to accommodate different users, and large variety of add-ons and accessories.
  9. Do you need a camera?



Microscope Selector Brochures

Rules for Choosing Microscope Cameras

  1. Whenever a digital camera is requested, it’s always better to select the trinocular version of the microscopes ; in this way you can mount the camera on the third exit , leaving the two eyepieces free to be used. Otherwise, if you have the binocular version of the microscope, the connection with camera must be done through one of the eyepices tube; i.e. you will have to take off one of the eyepieces from its tube and insert the camera into it
  2. The price of cameras includes one of the Software packages ( indicated on the Specifications of the camera) ; no CDs , only downloadable version. Only exception are cameras Educams ( see first section of attached brochure)
  3. Most of time you will also need to buy an extra adapter to connect the camera to the microscope. Please have a look at attached Brochure: at pages 366-367, pages 392-393, and pagws 414-415   you can find the scheme that explains when you need the extra adapter and which adapter to use
  4. On the specification sheet of the cameras ( that you can download from Optika website ) you can find a very detailed description, including number of Mpx , the type of port ( USB, USB 3.0, HDMI, etc . etc) , which OS are compatible with the camera, and much other info that may help you to understand which camera is more similar to your customers ‘requests
  5. For Fluorescence application it’s better to use only the cameras especially designed for fluorescence application ( see attached brochure , from page 395 to page 415)
  6. For research microscopes ( all models from series B-380, B-510, B-800/1000, SZ and SZP ) , we avoid offering C-B cameras , as their qualiry is inferior …so for reseach microscopes we prefer to offer C-P models
Camera Brochure