What is a Compound Microscope?

objective lenses

A compound microscope contains objective lenses.

compound microscope

Cole-Parmer Compound Microscope with LCD Tablet Display and Camera

A compound microscope consists of a group of lenses (called objective) which focuses a real image of the object inside the microscope. A second group of lenses (called eyepiece) magnifies this image and projects it on the retina of the eye. This compound optical system (objective – eyepiece) together with other mechanical components are the basics of a modern microscope. The overall resolution and image quality of a microscope is determined by the quality of the optics and the light source.

Specialty microscope types

Specialty microscopes provide options beyond what a standard microscope can offer. An inverted microscope has a long working distance suitable for use with culture vessels such as flasks and petri dishes. The light source and condenser are on the top of the inverted microscope. This placement on the inverted microscope allows for viewing living cells in a container instead of transferring the specimen to a slide. Metallurgical microscopes illuminate the specimen through the objective lens, which is ideal for specimens that don’t transmit light. This type of specialty microscope can be used for metals, plastics, ceramics, paint, glass, crystals, and semiconductor components.


This type of microscope is used to observe certain parts of living cells and tissues with the help of adding fluorophores to the specimen. When exposed to “excitation light:, the fluorophores absorb the energy and emit light in another visible wavelength. This makes it possible to distinguish different types of cells, to prove the presence or absence of antibodies, or observe submicroscopic
structures of cells and tissues.


Darkfield contrast is typically used for unstained samples. The image seen has the appearance of a dark, almost black background with highlighted bright objects on it. These objects, because they are unstained, are hard to see with brightfield contrast. The applications are mostly biological samples, smears from tissue culture, or water-borne, single-celled organisms.

Phase Contrast

Phase contrast microscopes have phase objectives. These allow the visualization of living organisms that have poor, or no contrast. With phase contrast, the specimen does not require coloring that may cause living organisms to die.


A standard optical microscope equipped with a circular 360º rotating stage, strain free objectives, a polarized light source, and a second polarizer (called the “analyzer”) to the light path between objective and eyepiece.


trinocular microscope

Cole-Parmer MSU-600 Compound Trinocular Microscope

MSU-600 (#78904-30) microscope is equipped with specific attachments and optics for this material science application.


Parts of a compound microscope

compound microscope

Need a microscope?
See our complete line of compound microscopes.

Related Articles

How Do They Rank? Simple Microscopes vs Compound Microscopes

Sign up for the blog banner

Be the first to comment on "What is a Compound Microscope?"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: