What’s the difference between Stereo Microscopes and Compound Microscopes?


We are often asked what the difference is between Stereo Microscopes and Compound Microscopes. While similar in form, these two tools differ greatly in function. Look closely and you can spot the differences. Read more below:

Stereo Microscopes

The stereo microscope, which is also known as a zoom stereo or dissecting microscope employs two different optical paths which are offset from one another. The offsetting of the optical paths results in a specific depth perception arrangement providing a three-dimensional image to the user. Stereo microscopes offer fixed magnification length (objectives with 1x, 3x, etc. ranges) and on more expensive models, continuous zoom (similar to the zoom function of a DSLR camera). Stereo Microscopes are the preferred tool for electronic component repair and inspection, dissecting, insect observation, sodering, and more due to the increased working distance and three-dimensional imaging. 

Interested in a Stereo Microscope for your work? Check out our review of the AmScope SE400-Z, our recommendation for the best Stereo Microscope.

Best Compound Microscope
Photograph Courtesy of B & H Foto & Electronics Corp.

Compound Microscope

A compound microscope provides a single optical path divided at the observation tube to give the same image to both the left and right eye. A compound microscope is used to look at specimens under very high magnification (40x – 1000x or greater). Typical specimens would be bacteria, animal or plant cells, blood counts and chromosomes.

The Compound Microscope employs the use of a single optical path which is divided by an observation tube to project the same image to both the left and right eyes. Unlike Stereo Microscopes which are considered low-powered magnification tools, Compound Microscopes typically offer very high magnification levels (40x to 1000x and more). Compound Microscopes are excellently suited for bacteria specimens, blood samples, chromosomes, and cellular level observations.

Dissecting Microscope

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Compound Microscope