Posted by Fred Koenig on May 11th 2018

What is a Stereo Microscope?

A stereo microscope is an optical microscope that provides a three-dimensional view of a specimen. It is also known by other names such as dissecting microscope and stereo zoom microscope. Dissecting microscope parts include separate objective lenses and eyepieces. As a result, you have two separate optical paths for each eye. The slightly different angling views to the left and right eyes produce a three-dimensional visual. Because it gives the three-dimensional view it is also called as the dissecting microscope.

The Characteristics of a Stereo Microscope

  • Two separate objectives
  • Two separate optical paths
  • Uses the light reflected from the object
  • Typical magnification range between 20x and 50x
  • Three-dimensional images

Parts of a Stereo Microscope

Every component of the stereo microscope has its own function. The parts included with this type of microscope can vary greatly depending on the configuration & uses it will serve. Each part of the stereo microscope is labeled in the diagram below.

Labeled Parts of a Stereo Microscope

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Stereo microscopes are typically used to view live specimens or three-dimensional objects.

  • Stereo head: This is the moveable top portion of the microscope and the stereo head holds the two adjustable eyepieces.
  • Ocular lens: These are the eyepieces through which the viewer looks at the specimen. The eyepieces are typically set at 10x magnification. It is also possible to upgrade to a higher magnification levels.
  • Diopter setting: It compensates for the focusing differences between the left and right eye. Setting it correctly prevents eye strain.
  • Objective lens: Stereo microscopes have two separate objectives, each one connecting to one of the eyepieces. The eyepiece and the objective lenses collectively determine the magnification of the microscope. They can have a fixed single objective, a rotating multiple lens turret or a zoom. It allows you to change the magnification levels depending on the applications.
  • Focus Knob: Stereo microscopes usually have one focus knob. Helps move the head of the microscope up and down to bring a sharp image of the object.  Most dissecting microscopes have standard "rack and pinion" focusing. Rack is the track with teeth and pinion is the gear that rides on the teeth. The knob helps the pinion move along the rack.
  • Lighting: Many microscopes have both top and bottom lighting, but not all. The top lighting shines down on the specimen and reflects light off them. The bottom lighting transmits light up through the stage to show translucent specimens.
  • Stage clips: Stage clips help to hold the slides or other thin objects in place on the stage.
  • Stage plate: It is located directly under the objective lens. It is where the specimen is placed for viewing. Some stereo microscopes have reversible black and white stage plates to provide appropriate contrast with the object being viewed.

How Do Stereo Microscopes Work?

A stereo or a dissecting microscope uses reflected light from the object. It magnifies at a low power hence ideal for amplifying opaque objects. Since it uses light that naturally reflects from the specimen, it is helpful to examine solid or thick samples. The magnification of a stereo microscope ranges between 20x and 50x. Opaque objects like coins, fossils, mineral specimens, insects, flowers, etc. are visible under a dissecting microscope magnification.

Dissecting vs. compound microscope

A stereo or dissecting microscope is not the same as a compound microscope. Unlike the compound microscope in a stereo microscope, the image is upright and not upside down and backward. A compound microscope yields a single optical path resulting in the same image to both the left and right eye. A stereo microscope provides two optical paths for each eye resulting in a three-dimensional view.

A compound microscope helps to look at samples under magnifications as high as 40x to 1000x or more. Examples include the viewing of animal or plant cells, blood counts, chromosomes, and bacteria. A stereo microscope also referred to as stereo zoom microscope uses low magnification and it can be either fixed magnifications (1 x and 3x or 2x and 4x) or continuous zoom magnification (0.7 x through 4.5x). It is used to view electronic components such as circuits, surface soldering, jewelry repair, fossil examination, insect or botanical dissections.

When is a Stereo Microscope Used?

A stereo microscope is called a dissecting microscope for a reason. The dissecting microscope definition stems from the fact that one can work on the specimen in real-time while it is still being observed. Unlike the typical compound microscope, a dissecting microscope has a longer working distance that allows for dissecting objects or even perform microsurgery. Dissecting microscope magnification helps sort, visualize peripheral surfaces in three-dimensions which allows for a thorough examination of specimens. It is best used by biologists to perform dissections, technicians to repair circuit boards, paleontologists to clean and examine fossils, mud logging industry, botanist to study plants, fabric, and textile analysis, pathologists for dermatological examination or anyone that works on small objects.

Find an Affordable Stereo Microscope at New York Microscope Company

If you are looking to buy high-quality stereo microscopes we offer research grade common main objective microscopes which compete against the big four; Leica, Nikon, Olympus & Zeiss. These modular stereo microscopes are based on the common main objective design. These systems are designed for critical viewing for research, medical, industry, quality control, forensic, inspection and other high-end stereo microscope applications. For specimens that require viewing at higher magnifications or with special filters, please view our Metallurgical Microscopes, which are also a type of industrial microscope.

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For inquiries, custom configurations, quantity discounts or support please contact New York Microscope Company at 877-877-7274 or We are the only microscope company to offer Free Service Protection Guarantee with the purchase of every microscope. Visit our Free Service Protection page for more details.