13 Types Of Microscopes

13 Types Of Microscopes

Microscopes are powerful instruments that magnify objects and allow us to see things up close. With these instruments, we can study things we can’t see with the naked eye.

With the power of microscopy, scientists can look at cells up close, studying things such as the mitochondria of the cell. 

Since microscopes are so useful, they are quite easy to find. You will often see them in schools, research centers, universities, and even homes. 

However, when someone thinks of a microscope, they most likely picture a light or compound microscope.

While these models are indeed quite popular, there are actually many different kinds of microscopes out there. 

This guide will cover 13 types of microscopes. A few main factors differ one microscope from another, including price, size, magnification level, resolution, and technology. 

Learn how each model is different from one another and what kind of microscope is best for studying certain objects. 

If you are ready to become an expert in each type of microscope, keep on reading. 

#1 Light Microscope

Light Microscope

Light microscopes are one of the most common types of microscopes you will find. These instruments use light to illuminate the specimen and lenses to magnify the image. 

Some examples of light microscopes are simple and compound microscopes, which we will cover down below. 

Where Are They Used?

You can use light microscopes for studying a variety of different specimens. Many researchers use these models to view insects, blood and tissue samples, and living cells.

Many microbiologists use light microscopes, as well as other researchers in different biology fields. 

#2 Simple Microscope

Simple Microscope

While simple microscopes are still around these days, they are becoming less popular.

However, it is worth mentioning since the simple microscope was one of the first models that were invented in the 17th century. 

These models only use one lens compared to the two lenses that compound microscopes use. In other words, a simple microscope is a magnifying glass with one double convex lens. 

Where Are They Used?

While simple microscopes are not as popular nowadays as they used to be, you can still find them in some scientific fields. 

The main field that you may find scientists using simple microscopes is microbiology.

However, since there are many other more complex microscopes out there, you won’t find simple microscopes in many other fields.

#3 Compound Microscope

#3 Compound Microscope

The compound microscope is one of the most popular types of microscopes you will come across today. Unlike the simple microscope, compound microscopes have two lenses.

For this reason, these models offer higher magnification powers than simple microscopes do. 

Since there are two lenses, the second lens magnifies the image of the first lens. Furthermore, compound microscopes also have illuminators under the stage, which light up the specimen from underneath.

Compound microscopes have high magnification potential and can magnify an object up to 2000 times.

However, these models have low resolution, so the final image will not be as crisp as other microscopes on the market.

Where Are They Used?

You can find compound microscopes in most school classrooms and scientific laboratories. These instruments are used a lot in microbiology and play a major role in studying DNA.

Scientists have also used compound microscopes for studying how diseases interact with cells.

#4 Stereoscopic Microscope

Stereoscopic Microscope

Stereoscopic microscopes, also called stereo or dissecting microscopes, has a light illuminating the specimen from above instead of below.

The light source illuminates the specimen then reflects the image into the lens. 

These instruments have much weaker magnification power than compound microscopes do, with the max being 300x.

While this may seem like a negative attribute, the low magnification makes it easier to study larger objects. 

Another main benefit of stereo microscopes is that they can produce 3D images of the specimen you are studying.

Inside the main tube, this instrument has dual light paths, which allow the microscope to create a layered image.

Where Are They Used?

Since stereoscopic microscopes are one of the more unique types of microscopes, a few select fields of science use them for specific purposes.

You will commonly find these instruments in coin appraisal and gem and mineral research.

Furthermore, scientists also use stereo microscopes for dissection and entomology.

Finally, people will also take advantage of this instrument to make microchips or watch repairs. 

#5 Confocal Microscope

Confocal Microscope

Confocal microscopes work a bit differently than other popular types of microscopes. While most models use regular light to illuminate specimens, confocal microscopes use lasers. 

When using these models, you have to prepare the slides by dying the specimens. Then the microscope will use laser light to scan it.

Instead of projecting the image to the eyepiece lens, the microscope sends the image to a computer screen.

Another benefit of this model is that you can take multiple scans of the specimen to create a 3D image. Finally, confocal microscopes have high magnification levels as well as high resolution.

These features make confocal microscopes great for a variety of different applications.

Where Are They Used?

Since these instruments can produce high-resolution 3D images, you can commonly find them in the medical and cell biology fields.

Researchers often use confocal microscopes to study embryos and living cells. 

#6 Electron Microscopes

#6 Electron Microscopes

Electron microscopes are one of the types of microscopes that do not use light to illuminate the specimen. Instead, these models use electrons.

Electron microscopes send electrons through the specimen to gather data and create a digital image from that information. 

These models are some of the most powerful microscopes; they have the highest magnification and resolution available on the market. 

Even though these instruments have a lot of perks, there is a major downside to electron microscopes.

When the machine sends electron beams through a specimen, it kills cells and can destroy the sample. For this reason, researchers cannot use this model to study live samples. 

Where Are They Used?

Since electron microscopes have the highest magnification and resolution available, scientists use these models to study specimens at macromolecular levels and cellular levels.

Researchers can also use this instrument to study biopsy samples, large molecules, crystals, and metals. 

#7 Scanning Electron Microscope

#7 Scanning Electron Microscope

When preparing slides for a scanning electron microscope, you must dehydrate the sample first and coat it with a conductive material. The microscope then scans the sample in a vacuum.

Once the data is collected, the microscope produces a black and white 3D image and sends it to a computer screen. 

Scanning electron microscopes are very powerful. These machines can handle a magnification power of up to 30,000x and have a resolution of ten nanometers. 

The main purpose of these models is to provide information about the topography and composition of the specimen since it only scans the surface of the object.

Where Are They Used?

These machines are used in a variety of fields, including medical, biological, and physical sciences.

Researchers use scanning electron microscopes to study things like bones, insects, and other specimens. 

#8 Transmission Electron Microscope

#8 Transmission Electron Microscope

Transmission electron microscopes send electrons to pass through the specimen to receive data.

The main difference between a scanning and transmission electron microscope is that in the latter instrument, electrons pass through the specimen multiple times to create an image instead of simply reflecting off the specimen. 

These microscopes are better for studying semi-transparent specimens since it only produces a 2D image.

Finally, transmission electron microscopes offer a max resolution of one nanometer and a max magnification of 500,000x. 

Where Are They Used?

These instruments are useful in various scientific fields, including forensic analysis, metallurgy, nanotechnology, and biological and physical sciences. 

#9 Reflection Electron Microscope

Reflection Electron Microscope

Reflection electron microscopes have a very specific purpose; these instruments are solely designed to study crystals.

The microscope uses spectroscopy and electron beams to gather enough data to study crystals’ composition and surface structure.

Where Are They Used?

You can find reflection electron microscopes in any laboratory that studies the topography and surface structure of crystals.

Researchers will also use these microscopes to study phase transformation and surface reactions of crystals.

#10 Scanning Probe Microscope 

#10 Scanning Probe Microscope 

Scanning probe microscopes are one of the more specialized types of microscopes that can study cells, molecules, and other surfaces at a nanoscale level.

These machines use lasers to scan the specimen, gather data and produce high-resolution digital images.

Some scanning probe models can handle an incredibly high resolution of one nanometer; the probe tip on the instrument is the width of a single atom. 

Where Are They Used?

Many researchers in the biology field use scanning probe microscopes.

Cellular and molecular biologists take advantage of this instrument to create high-resolution images of cells and molecules to study them in-depth and up close.

#11 Scanning Acoustic Microscope

Scanning Acoustic Microscope

Scanning acoustic microscopes are one of the most helpful types of microscopes since they can scan interior structures of objects without causing damage.

To use this kind of microscope, users must submerge the specimen under study in liquid. The microscope then emits soundwaves that hit and bounce off the specimen.

With this data, the instrument then forms an image of the interior structure of the object. Scanning acoustic microscopes can support a resolution of about 100 nanometers.

Where Are They Used?

Researchers in the medical and biological field will use scanning acoustic microscopes to conduct non-destructive research.

Furthermore, these instruments can also be used to inspect electronic and optical devices.

#12 X-Ray Microscope

#12 X-Ray Microscope

Another popular kind of microscope is the x-ray microscope. This instrument is so effective because x-rays can efficiently penetrate matter of different types and consistencies, making it practical for various research.

The main benefit of x-ray microscopes is that they can scan and produce images of the internal structures of different opaque specimens.

Some objects that x-ray microscopes can scan are bones, rocks, and metal. 

Even though x-ray microscopes are not as powerful as electron microscopes, the process does not involve electrons or scanning the specimen in a vacuum tube.

For this reason, you can study a higher number of specimens using an x-ray microscope. Finally, these instruments can support resolutions of around twenty nanometers.

Where Are They Used?

X-ray microscopes have been rising in popularity in different areas of research due to their technology.

For instance, scientists can use these microscopes to study soil, polymers, biological specimens, and other geological samples.

Since these instruments can provide high-resolution images of interior structures, researchers from many scientific fields can take advantage of this technology. 

#13 Metallurgical Microscope

#13 Metallurgical Microscope

These types of microscopes are high-powered machines that allow users to study opaque specimens that light cannot pass through.

This instrument utilizes reflective light, which shines through multiple objective lenses to produce a final magnified image.

Where Are They Used?

Researchers in different fields use metallurgical microscopes to study various objects.

First of all, you can use these models to study thin layers of paint and examine small cracks in metals. Researchers also use these machines to study grain size.

Some other popular fields that utilize metallurgical microscopes are the automobile industry and the aerospace industry.

You can also use the machine to study wood, glass, polymers, ceramic, metal, and liquid crystals.


We hope that this guide has helped you learn more about the different types of microscopes.

Knowing more about the different models can help you choose the best one for your needs, whether you are getting into microscopy as a career or hobby. 

The first main category of microscopes is light microscopes. This category includes simple, compound, and stereoscopic microscopes.

These instruments use a light to illuminate the specimen, either from below or above. 

A few other kinds of microscopes use lasers to scan specimens, including confocal microscopes and scanning probe microscopes. 

Then there are electron microscopes. These machines send out electrons to gather data about the specimen and form a final image (usually a digital image) using this information.

Some popular electron microscopes are scanning electron, transmission electron, and reflection electron microscopes.

Some other microscopes that use different technology than the above models include scanning acoustic microscopes, x-ray microscopes, and metallurgical microscopes. 

You can find all of these machines in various fields of science, including the medical, biological, aerospace, nanotechnology field, and more.