What is a Digital Microscope - How to Choose the Right One for your Application

As computing technology and machine vision continue to advance, they open up numerous potential and exciting avenues for revolutionary technology to be applied, such as self-driving vehicles, automated factory lines, and digital microscopy. 

With the advent of the digital microscope, the medium has gained access to immensely powerful computing tools and resources that aid in data collection and storage and even increase the quality of that data. As you’ll see here, it is an extremely exciting time for microscopy applications, as there are more possibilities than ever, and they all drive high-value results and data collection like never before.

In this article, we’ll outline some of the reasons you might want to use a digital microscope, how they directly compare to optical microscopes, and what components make up a digital microscope. 

What Are The Parts Of a Digital Microscope?

Microscopes are complicated devices, and they come in many different configurations and form factors, so they don’t all look the same or have the same components. 

As explained by the New York Microscope Company, some of these devices even include their digital LCD screens attached to the device, which can output live results, so the researcher can make adjustments as they want on the fly. 

Here are some of the critical components that help make a digital microscope work:

  • Base: This contains some of the core electrical components and the lighting implement to help highlight samples.

  • Illumination: A light in the base aims upwards and shines through a condenser that hones the illumination directly onto the stage. This is also accompanied by a light switch and a brightness adjustment dial.

  • Adjustment Controls: Controls are available to make fine and coarse alterations to the microscope’s optics for proper focusing on the subject. In addition, there are separate controls to manipulate and move the stage as needed.

  • Mechanical Stage: This is the platform on which the sample will rest, located directly beneath the objective lenses and above the illumination. It features an aperture for the sample to be placed on and a stage clip with a screen that can be used to cover the sample as needed.

  • Objective Lenses: Some microscopes will include multiple lenses attached to a spinning nosepiece, which can move them into and out of position as needed. These multiple lenses often provide different levels of magnification to offer different perspectives on a sample. 

  • Head: Attached to the head are both the aforementioned digital LCD screen, but sometimes a set of ocular lens eyepieces as well, for those who might prefer this method of analysis. You should note that not all digital microscopes will include these as they simply have no need for them, and you’ll understand why later on. 

Be sure to find one that has the components that best reflect your specific application and will meet the needs you have for them. There are countless options to choose from, so do not feel pressured to make compromises in areas where you do not feel like you should.  

Why Should I Use A Digital Microscope?

Digital microscopes offer unique opportunities not present in similar devices. While it can be daunting to fully integrate digital technologies into any pipeline, many benefits come with it. 

As Quality Magazine explains, there are many several key reasons to consider an expansion into digital microscopy:

  • Ease of Operation: A digital microscope provides easy control and access to many microscopy functions, including magnification, positioning, and depth of field. The result is that you can get to research more quickly and navigate hardware with ease for more productive lab time.

  • Collaboration: With digital microscopy and digital imaging means that images can be presented in more ways. By providing a live microscopy view onto a large display, multiple people can examine it at once and discuss the findings together, rather than taking turns viewing the sample through a single eyepiece. 

  • Comfort: Optical microscopes can often be uncomfortable for one simple reason: they require the user to hunch forwards to look into the eyepiece. With a digital solution and greater flexibility in the display method, this means that the user can find a method that is the most comfortable to them and is not discouraged from long work sessions.

  • Image Storage: Another benefit of direct to computer connection, digital microscopes can easily capture and store images within moments, recording them onto a local hard drive or even into cloud storage. This furthers our collaborative point, as it enables many people to access the same root data without gathering it themselves, which can also be helpful in educational environments.

  • Magnification: In an optical microscope, the magnification offered is static and determined directly by the magnification of the eyepiece being utilized. In a digital application, a computer can adjust magnification with the monitor’s size to ensure that an image fits, or even allow for focusing on specific parts of the image if needed. 

  • High-Quality Images: A digital microscope projects light directly into an imaging sensor, so it can easily capture high-resolution images that can save for future use. These can include features like high contrast and color depth, angled lighting options, the creation of all-in-focus images, anti-glare, and high dynamic range for maximum visual quality. All of this is produced with the same objective lenses seen on optical microscopes but can produce better results through technological advancements and corrections. 

What’s The Difference Between an Optical and a Digital Microscope?

While optical and digital microscopes perform the same core functions, they don’t always deliver the same results, so it is important to understand the benefits moving into the digital realm offers. 

As CytoSmart points out, most digital microscopes lack an eyepiece element to directly view the sample, so you should be aware of any potential limitations of the screen you’re using to view the sample. This includes the resolution, color range, and backlighting that can all alter how visual data appears. 

That aside, here are some useful comparisons of both Optical and Digital microscopes.

Feature Digital Microscope Optical Microscope
Angle Variation A digital microscope can view the sample from many different angles, with the ability to move and reposition with ease. An optical microscope exists in a fixed position and must face directly downward to view its subject.
3D Imaging With this angle variation, digital microscopes can generate three-dimensional images of samples to measure depth and two-dimensional footprint. Optical microscopes cannot capture the depth of a subject and instead just record its two-dimensional footprint as its size.
Depth of Field Digital microscopes can achieve immense depths of field, sometimes up to 20 times more than that seen in optical microscopes. Optical microscopes struggle with depth of field, as techniques like oil immersions increase image clarity necessary on high magnification but sacrifice depth of field and are largely incompatible with live specimens.
Data Sharing Through digital technologies, microscopy images and even videos can be easily recorded and stored on a computer for archiving and sharing as needed. Optical microscopes do not function with imaging sensors, and therefore it is largely impossible to capture microscopy images with them.
Quantitative Data A digital microscope can take advantage of computer vision techniques to provide live statistics and measurements about a sample, such as to count the number of colonies in a bacteria sample or to measure a hair follicle in real-time. An optical microscope cannot offer comparable statistics, and instead, these must be captured and recorded by the researcher.

There are many unique features that a digital microscope can provide with the power of computer and machine vision that optical methods cannot easily match. These digital microscopes largely utilize the same research-grade lenses but can connect them with computing power to drive real-time results and data collection for easier research. 

These devices are also more machine accurate and do not rely on an operator, giving them greater freedom and flexibility without opening up room for potential error. 


As we’ve gone over, digital microscopes are complex but capable devices that can be expensive, drive a lot of research value, and streamline many processes. 

These helpful pieces of equipment are great for the modern lab. Information can easily be shared and communicated, and you can capture data with greater fidelity and scope than ever before. 


New York Microscope Company - What is a Digital Microscope? | Microscopeinternational.com

Quality Mag - What is a Digital Microscope? | Qualitymag.com

Cyto Smart - Optical Microscopy vs. Digital Microscopy: For cell cultures studies | Cytosmart.com

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