Difference between a Simple and Compound Microscope

A microscope is basically used to make an object appear larger in order for us to see the details. It is essential to understand the different types of microscopes available, their specific features and uses. This way, you can easily choose which one you need when faced with a choice of two or more.


An example of a single microscope (a magnifying glass)
An example of a single microscope (a magnifying glass)

A simple microscope is a magnifying instrument that uses only one lens or a group of lenses in one unit to magnify objects. Common simple microscopes include jewelry eyepieces, pocket magnifiers, and reading glasses.

A compound microscope
A compound microscope

A compound microscope is a magnifying instrument that uses two types of lens to magnify object. The two types of lenses include the eyepiece lens and the objective lens. The objective lens creates a resolved image that is then magnified by the eyepiece lens for viewing. It also has different zoom levels of magnification; hence it is referred to as the compound microscope.

Comparison Chart

Compound Microscope Simple Microscope
Has two sets of lenses for magnifying objects: eyepiece lens and objective lenses Has only one lens for magnifying objects.
Its total magnification is the multiplication of the eyepiece and objective magnifications, hence a higher magnification. Its total magnification is limited to the magnification of the single lens used.
Has a wide range of use such as in studying the structure of different objects, e.g. details of cells is living organisms. Can only be used in simple ways such as enlarging small letters while reading.

Simple vs Compound Microscope

What is the difference between a simple microscope and a compound microscope? The difference can be established by looking at the number of lenses on each of these two microscopes and the level of magnification. Other differentiating factors include cost and portability.

  • A simple microscope is only equipped with one biconvex lens, often with a short focal length. A simple microscope is used to produce an enlarged image of an object placed within its focal length. On the other hand, a compound microscope has two sets of lenses, an ocular or eyepiece lens and the objective lenses.
  • A simple microscope has only one level of magnification, i.e. its magnification is not adjustable and is equivalent to the lens used. The compound microscope has a much higher level of magnification and is adjustable. It has a nosepiece that houses two to four objective lenses and allows rotation for convenient selection of the different objective lenses. This means that there are two to four different zoom options to choose from, unlike the simple microscope. Its total magnification is a multiplication of the eyepiece lens and the selected objective lens. For example, an eyepiece lens of 10x combined with an objective lens of 40x will give a total magnification of 400x.
  • Since a compound microscope has higher magnification capabilities, it can be used to see objects in finer detail, such as details of cells in living organisms. The simple microscope, on the other hand, can only be used to enlarge objects such as when reading small fonts.


Here is a great video on how to use a compound microscope: