Stereo Microscope vs. Compound: A Beginners Guide

Stereo microscope
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If you’re new to the world of microscopy, it can feel as though there are a lot of things to learn. For example, you may have noticed two terms used frequently: stereo and compound. Of course, they’re not new words to most readers, but they have a different meaning in the context of microscopes. Compound and stereo microscopes are two of the most common kinds of scopes. So, which one do you need? Read our purchasing guide below to find out!

What’s the difference between a compound microscope and a stereo microscope?

The main difference between a compound microscope and a stereo microscope is what they’re used to observe. A compound microscope is generally used to view very small specimens or objects that you couldn’t normally see with the naked eye. A stereo microscope on the other hand is generally used to inspect larger objects such as small mechanical pieces, minerals, insects, and more. It should be noted that both stereo and compound microscopes are optical microscopes, which means that they use visible light. One of the main differences between stereo and compound microscopes is the fact that compound microscopes have much higher optical resolution with magnification ranging from about 40x to 1,000x. Stereo microscopes have lower optical resolution power where the magnification typically ranges between 6x and 50x. Because of this difference, stereo microscopes cannot be used for viewing very small details (microscopic) of small specimens.

Who should use a compound microscope?

Generally speaking, compound microscopes are best for applications where high magnification is required, such as in biology or forensic labs. As a result, compound microscopes are best for more advanced students or working professionals. They are also a bit more complex to set up and begin working, and unlike stereo microscopes, which can be used to view things around your house or yard, a compound microscope requires more time to prepare slides for visualization.

Who should use a stereo microscope?

As stated above, stereo microscopes are best for viewing larger objects, but they’re also better for beginner or younger audiences. Typically when students are entering the world of microscopy, they tend to start with things that are familiar to them like bugs, minerals, plants, etc. Because these are all macroscopic objects, a stereo microscope is often better. They usually require minimal set up, so these can be ideal for parents or teachers who are looking for more of a “plug and play” purchase. 

If you have questions about which microscopes are best for your lab, contact our friendly sales team. We would be more than happy to assist you and your lab in finding the right microscope for the job.