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Compound Microscope Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How do I calculate microscope magnification

To calculate the power of magnification of a compound microscope you will need to multiply the magnification of the ocular lens (eyepiece/eyepieces) and the magnification of the objective lens.

Q. What type of electric lighting system is best for my microscope needs?

There are four basic types of electrical lighting systems for compound microscopes:

  • Tungsten
  • LED
  • Fluorescent
  • Halogen


The tungsten light  is a very low cost microscope bulb. The typical home has many incandescent lights in it already. They light up when an electrical charge is put through tungsten filaments. These lights are inexpensive, but also have their disadvantages.

A tungsten bulb is inexpensive, and a steady source of light, but it is does have some disadvantages.

Compound Microscopes with tungsten lights usually have an on/off switch with no dimmer, which creates a low budget compound microscope.

The light it produces is yellowish, which may affect the color of the specimen being viewed. For student microscopes this is usually not a problem as their microscope work is not color accurate.

A huge disadvantage is that the tungsten bulb generates quite a bit of heat. This heat can dry out microscope specimens, and can even kill some live specimens. Be careful if your working with biological specimens to not use tungsten lighting for very long. We recommend halogen, LED, or fluorescent lighting for this application.

Another disadvantage is that there is no standard size for these microscope bulbs, so finding an exact match may become quite difficult.


LED’s are a great “new” technology for the microscopist. It has many advantages for the hobbyist, or more technical microscope user. LED’s (Light Emitting Diode) consume very low amounts of power, last much longer, and work great for battery operated microscopes. They are frequently found with a rechargeable battery system which makes these microscopes great for travel and field work.

Recent technology advances have made these bulbs brighter, and allow them to be very reliable. These microscopes are great for the low budget student, or the professional microscopist.

If you do decide to go with an LED microscope, we recommend making sure it dims, otherwise hours of use may leave the user with a glaring headache!!

These microscopes are convenient for students and many types of users.


Many people use fluorescent lights in their home already. The light consists of a gas filled tube, which when electrified, lights up.

A fluorescent light is generally less expensive to operate, but more expensive to purchase.

It’s popular in microscopes for many reasons.

Fluorescent microscope lights appear to the eyes as brighter light. This helps for a more accurate reproduction of the microscope specimen as it appears in nature.

Fluorescent bulbs also produce less heat than tungsten bulbs. This makes them a great alternative for viewing some live biological specimens.

For most hobby, student, and amateur microscopists fluorescent light is a great alternative. It provides a cooler sharper view to the microscopist.


Halogen based microscopes are often found in high quality research and medical microscopes.

They are found occasionally on lower student grade models, but they are mainly used for microscopes that need very bright consistent lighting systems.

The light is very concentrated and usually come with a dimmer for better lighting control. This also helps decrease heat.

Q. What is the difference between a monocular microscope, and a binocular microscope?

Monocular microscopes are single eyepiece microscopes, while binocular microscopes have two eye pieces.

Professional microscopes that are used everyday should be binocular microscopes. This keeps the eye from having to adjust and ignore the information from your second eye. Professionals generally need this for every day use.

If the microscope is for a student or young child, a monocular compound microscope may work best.

Children can have a difficult time with the interpupillary adjustment between both eyes, so  a monocular microscope may be easier for their eyes to adjust to.


Q. Which components make my compound microscopes resolution?

Microscope resolution comes from the objective lenses, not the eyepieces. An eyepiece simply magnifies the resolution that is already provided by the objective lens.

If you take a picture of a specimen, the resolution will not increase by a higher magnified eyepiece. This will simply enlarge the picture that is already taken. In order to adjust the resolution and detail of the picture taken you will need to adjust the objective lenses.

A higher power objective lens collects more detail than a lower magnification. A 40x objective will be much clearer than a 20x objective. Total magnification is found by multiplying the eyepiece and the objective lens magnifications together. Generally, the higher the objective lenses the better resolution you will receive.

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