Types of Microscopes and Their Applications [2023 Update]

If you are a first-timer looking to buy a microscope, you may be extremely overwhelmed by the many types of microscopes on the market.

Types of MicroscopeThese days, microscopes are classified according to their applications, functionalities, portabilities and many others.

For example, a light or optical microscope can be easily understood as having a microscope with lighting. Illumination helps enhance the magnification and clarity of tiny objects and specimens.

We hope that such simplistic categorization of microscopes makes it easier and quicker for you to identify the right types of microscopes in accordance with your preferences and needs.

The key is to help you better pinpoint the type of microscope you should get for personal or professional use.

If you are new to microscopes, besides reading our shopping guide for microscopes, it is highly recommended to check out the many varieties of microscopes listed below as well as their intended use. 

Microscope Types

Applications are not limited to what’s listed below

Compound microscope – allows you to check out very tiny objects that cannot be seen by our naked eye.
  • Identification of diseases and blood analysis
  • Viewing of bacteria and viruses
  • Use by Toxicologists for detection of drugs
  • forensic investigations
Stereo microscope – allows you to examine a specimen from a three-dimensional viewpoint.
  • Circuit Board Repair
  • Quality Control Checks
  • Watch-making
  • Dissections
  • Fossils examinations
Digital microscope – used for capturing images and recording video using digital software that supports various microscope functions.
  • Field Research
  • Any sort of repair works e.g. circuit boards, jewelry, etc
  • Forensic
  • Dental Studies
  • Education purposes
Monocular microscope – typically use for providing two-dimensional (flat and without depth) observation of objects
  • Study and observation of both opaque and translucent specimens
  • Use for classroom and home education – e.g. observation of slide samples
  • Home experiments by students, hobbyists, etc
  • Clinical research, biochemical and breeding tests, and so on
Binocular microscope – allows you to view an object at the same time via two eyepieces. Binocular microscopes come in two basic types, namely stereo and compound – each of them has different applications.
  • Compound binocular microscope – Ideal for homeschooling, school teaching and demonstration
  • Compound binocular microscope – for studying water samples, plants and soils, etc
  • Compound binocular microscope – Biology Major, Medical students, etc
  • Compound binocular microscope – Clinical examination
  • Stereo binocular microscope – Large object manipulation, e.g. circuit boards, dental appliances, etc
Trinocular microscope – is basically a binocular microscope with an additional port or interface for image and video recording.
  • For capturing magnified specimen images and recording live videos of live organisms
  • Measurement of angles, lengths, areas of magnified specimens
  • For academic teaching purposes
  • Health care professionals providing consultations and analysis
Optical microscope – also known as a light microscope, magnifies small specimens using both visible light sources and lenses.
  • Nanophysics
  • Biotechnology
  • Microelectronics
  • pharmaceutical research
  • medical diagnosis
Pocket microscope – similar to a handheld microscope, are compact in size and highly portable, suitable for both indoor and outdoor usage.
  • Ideal for kids, students and for teaching and learning
  • Useful for multiple hobbies like stamp and coin collections and so on
  • Outdoor learning and explorations
USB microscope – is a compact type of digital microscope with a macro lens that connects to a computer via USB port. Usually comes with a built-in webcam and LED light.
  • Field research
  • Any sort of repair works for tiny objects
  • Microscopic education
  • Forensic and criminal investigations
  • Fast and easy sharing of captured images and videos
Biological microscope – typically used for observation of tiny organisms, and cells among other microscopic life-forms.
  • Studying organisms and vital processes
  • Studying organisms, and other microscopic life forms
  • For most biology-related applications
  • Forensic medicine study
Polarizing microscope – also known as a petrographic microscope, allows you to examine birefringent materials or anisotropic objects that possess a certain amount of refracting differences.
  • Studying of birefringent materials
  • Helps determine the quality and defects of things like glass, ceramics and so on
  • Food science technology and applications
  • Anisotropic materials investigation
Metallurgical microscope – allows you to visualize and observe glossy and metallic surfaces, can be used for inspection of product defects, etc.
  • Visualization of opaque or solid specimens
  • Measurement of thin films
  • Electroplating inspection
  • Inspection for surface defects and inclusions, etc
Fluorescence microscope – allows one to study the intricate properties of organic and inorganic substances through the use of fluorescence.
  • Helps identify structures in live biological specimens
  • Life science research
  • Measurement of the physiological state of cells
  • Imaging of specific features of microscopic specimens
Confocal microscope – allows collection of high-resolution multispectral images by producing a point source of light and rejecting out-of-focus light.
  • Stem cell research
  • Lifetime imaging
  • Multiphoton microscopy
  • Various uses in biomedical science
Dissecting microscope – allows you to observe three-dimensional specimens under high magnification.
  • Quality Control
  • Biomedical studies
  • Skin Pathology
  • Small animal surgery
  • Observation of objects under low magnification
Darkfield microscope – simply put, it allows you to visualize a specimen’s contrast that cannot be seen under normal lighting.
  • Studying marine organisms
  • Live Bacterium research
  • Observation of live and unstained biological samples
  • Studying cells and tissues related to life science applications
Brightfield microscope – similar to a compound light microscope, allows you to observe and study stationary or live specimens that are naturally pigmented or artificially stained.
  • Studying and visualization of plant and animal cells
  • Observation of bacterial cells morphologies
  • Identification of microscopic live forms, e.g. parasitic protozoans
Inverted microscope – allows you to better study the living cells at the bottom of a transparent vessel since the objectives and turret are placed under the stage pointing up. It is the polar opposite of upright microscope.
  • Live cells observation and analysis
  • Viewing and studying cells from the bottom of the culture apparatus
  • Cell imaging
  • Nematology samples evaluation
Electron microscope – make use of a beam of electrons as a light source which allows the studying of the structural compositions of large molecules, biopsy samples and so on. It is also typically for quality control and failure analysis, etc.
  • Quality Control
  • Failure Analysis
  • Biomedical Research