Lab Manager Magazine's Independent Guide to Purchasing an Optical Laboratory Microscope

By Lab Manager

Microscopes have been used by scientists for centuries, and are now more widely relied upon than ever. Optical microscopes are the most common type of microscope found in a standard laboratory. They use optical lenses in order to magnify the image generated by the passage of a wave through the sample or reflected by the sample.

The typical magnification that can be achieved by a standard optical microscope in the visible light range is up to 1500x, with a resolution limit of around 0.2 μm. Resolution is limited by the wavelength of the radiation used. the spatial resolution of an optical microscope can be improved by using shorter wavelengths of light, including ultraviolet radiation. Once you're finished reading this guide check out the latest microscope models that meet your requirements at


Modern microscopes are available in two basic frame types: the upright and the inverted, with the upright microscope being the most common type. An upright microscope has the illumination system below the stage and the lens system above the stage.

Benchtop compound: Benchtop microscopes are the work horses of laboratory microscopes. They have an enormous range of applications in biomedicine, metallurgy and industrial sciences.

A. Polarizing

A polarizing microscope uses polarized light for investigating the optical properties of specimens. It was originally used in petrographic and mineralogical research, although it has now come to be used in such diverse fields as biology, medicine, polymer chemistry, liquid crystals, magnetic memory and state-of-the-art materials.

  • Basic: The basic, standard polarizing upright microscope is a cost-effective option and is suitable for many basic applications including optoelectronics, developmental biology, marine biology, forensic science, medical devices, microelectronics and rocks/minerals. Basic microscopes tend to offer magnification within the range 5x to 400x.
  • Advanced: Advanced polarizing microscopes are suitable for digital imaging, including options for fluorescence and darkfield. They tend to offer magnification in the range 40x to 5000x for observational applications in cell biology, molecular pathology, cytology, pathology, genetics and neurobiology.

B. Non-polarizing

Non-polarizing microscopes are the most common type of upright microscope, and have many clinical and biological applications, including cell biology, molecular pathology, immunology, veterinary, formulation science, cytology, histology, microbiology, pathology and genetics.

  • Basic: The basic non-polarizing microscope offers lower magnification useful for many applications, including situations in which a greater area of the sample must be viewed simultaneously.
  • Advanced: These microscopes are suitable for digital imaging, including options for fluorescence and darkfield. They tend to offer magnification in the range 40x to 5000x, which is suitable for most laboratory purposes.
  • Advanced Motorized: Motorized upright microscopes can be equipped with a motorized objective nosepiece, motorized fluorescence filter cube turret, motorized transmitted light condenser, or a motorized attenuation wheel for fluorescence excitation, or any combination of these. A digital controller allows the synchronous operation of the motorized accessories for improved accuracy and ease of use.


Modern microscopes are available in two basic frame types: the upright and the inverted. An inverted microscope has the illumination system above the stage and the lens system below the stage. Inverted microscopes are suitable for looking through thick specimens, such as dishes of cultured cells, because the lenses can approach closer to the bottom of the dish where the cells grow.

  • Motorized: The motorized inverted microscope provides options such as a motorized condenser, fluorescence filter turret, transmitted and reflected light shutters, and filter wheels.
  • Non-Motorized: Non-motorized inverted microscopes can be a cost-effective solution for routine use in many fields including tissue culture, embryology, immunology and pharmacology.
Categories: Purchasing Guides

Published In

Maximizing ROI Magazine Issue Cover
Maximizing ROI

Published: January 1, 2011

Cover Story

Maximizing ROI

By using metrics effectively, laboratory managers can better focus their R&D efforts and be more effective in improving their firms' sales and profitability. This is essential, now more than ever, given the slow recovery from the "Great Recession."