Image from digital microscope compared to image from optical microscope

Digital versus optical microscopy

Magnification and field of view: What really sets digital and optical microscopes apart

The major differences between digital and optical microscopes are very clear when we talk about magnification and field of view.

If we ask you what the difference between digital and optical microscopy (or stereo microscopy) is, you’ll probably say that there’s no eyepiece on a digital microscope. And you’d be right.

On digital microscopes, you use a monitor to display a sample instead of looking through an eyepiece.

There’s several reasons for that:

  • You don’t have to bend your neck to look through the eyepiece

    For many microscope operators, looking through an eyepiece causes work related pains and you can eliminate those by creating an ergonomically correct setup

  • It’s easy to document your work

    In general, it helps to see a digital microscope like a computer. By displaying everything on a monitor, you can use the equivalent to a “Print screen” button on your microscope control box to easily capture a photo of your work. It’s a bit more complicated than that on a traditional stereo microscope

  • You can use apps

    Okay, it’s not the monitor per se that allows operators to use apps in their inspection processes. But if we continue the computer comparison from before, the monitor can display the many capabilities of the digital microscope, including apps, in a way that’s just not possible on a stereo or optical microscope

  • It fosters collaboration between colleagues

    With a monitor, everyone can look at a sample simultaneously. There’s no need for taking turns at looking through the eye piece and trying to explain to the person currently using the microscope where to look by pointing with a pen, finger or something similar. On a digital microscope, you’re looking at the sample at the same time, making not only training of new employees easier but asking a colleague for a second opinion is also made easy


But there’s more to it than that. Using a monitor also affects the Magnification and Field of view of the microscope.

Let’s start with Field of view of a microscope.



Operator adjusting digital microscope using 1080p progressive scan
Operator adjusting digital microscope while inspecting pcb
Two operators inspecting seed using a digital microscope
By using a monitor, the operator can look straight ahead to inspect a sample instead of bending their neck to use an eyepiece.



What is Field of view of a microscope? 

Field of view, sometimes abbreviated to FOV, refers to how much you are able to see when using an inspection microscope. With a digital microscope, Field of view will be bigger than on a optical microscope even if both microscopes are at the same magnification level. This means that you’ll be able to see more of a sample om a digital microscope than on an optical microscope.

The main reason for this being the 16:9 widescreen camera aspect ratio of the monitor that’s being used with a digital microscope.



See the difference yourself with a ruler 

It’s quite easy to see this difference in Field of view:

  • Start by adjusting an optical microscope and a digital microscope to the same magnification level
  • Place a metric ruler underneath each microscope

It will quickly become apparent that despite using the same magnification level on both microscopes, you have a higher Field of view on the digital equipment, allowing you to see more your sample.


Comparison field of view digital and optical microscope



Magnification levels on a digital vs. optical microscope 

We now know that when using the same magnification levels on a digital and an optical microscope, you will have a bigger Field of view on the digital microscope.

But what happens if we adjust the microscopes to have the same level of Field of view then? Well, in order to achieve the same Field of view on the optical microscope, we need to zoom out which will prevent us from seeing the same level of detail on our sample as magnification refers to the number of times a sample if reproduced: By lowering the magnification, we’re lowering the number of times the sample is reproduced.

In this case, this means that our sample is reproduced a higher number of times on the digital microscope, allowing us to see more details at the same field of view.


Comparison fov / field of view digital and optical microscope



In summary

With this in mind, Field of view of a microscope and Magnification are two interlocked factors related to microscopy – regardless of the type of microscope we’re talking about. But because of the 16:9 widescreen camera aspect ratio of the monitor used with digital microscopes, you will either experience:

  • Higher magnification on a digital microscope at the same Field of view compared to an optical microscope


  • Bigger Field of view on a digital microscope at the same magnification level compared to an optical microscope

Get started with a digital microscope

Not sure which microscope you need? TAGARNO's digital microscopes can magnify from 4x-660x on a 24'' monitor and their field of view ranges from 409.0mm/16.10” to 0.8mm/0.03”.

What microscope you need will depend on your industry, if you want to use specialized apps to optimize your processes and if you need to document your work. Follow the link below to learn more.

Find the right microscope for you



Want to learn more about digital microscopy? 

Here’s a selection of blogposts for you to read next.

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