Difference between Compound and Dissecting Microscope

Published on August 12, 2015

Microscopes are important tools in fields such as biology. They are used to magnify objects that are too small to be viewed by our eyes. The use of a microscope is a science referred to as microscopy. It has been around for many years now and has gone through innovations to create microscopes that meet the specific needs of various users. Two of the most commonly used microscopes are the compound and dissecting microscopes. The following is a discussion of the differences between these two microscopes.


A compound microscope
A compound microscope

A Compound Microscope uses several objective lenses with different strengths to view specimens. It uses a light that shines from under the specimen, thus requiring the specimen to be thin enough for light to pass through it. Specimen preparation involves staining, to make it easy to view distinct sections of the specimen. It has a magnification of 400X to about 1,000X and therefore shows detailed features of specimens. It has a shorter working distance of up to 4mm.

A dissecting microscope
A dissecting microscope

A Dissecting Microscope (also stereo microscope) on the other hand, has a longer working distance of up to 150mm and a lower magnification. A beam of light is projected from above the specimen.  It is commonly used to view larger specimens and even perform dissections of small specimens such as insects.

Comparison Chart

Compound MicroscopeDissecting Microscope
Multiple objective lenses, one eyepieceSingle objective lens, two eyepiece lenses
High magnification up to 1000XLow magnification of up to 70x
Small working space for viewing small and thin specimensLarge working space to view large specimens
Light source is below the specimenLight source is above the specimen

Compound Microscope vs Dissecting Microscope

What is the difference between compound and dissecting microscopes? These two categories of microscopes differ in terms of their magnification, their use, working space, as well as the type and number of lenses that each of them uses.

  • Common compound microscopes have a magnification of 400X, but there are compound microscopes that have as high as 1000X of magnification. Dissecting microscopes can only magnify an object up to 70X at the most.
  • Each of these microscopes is suited to a specific use, hence their distinctive design. A compound microscope is mainly used to view small and thin objects such as cells. They therefore have a range of objective lenses to choose from for the best magnification level, and focus their light from beneath the specimen placed on a slide within a small working space that fits typical small specimens. The light passes through the specimen revealing detailed internal sections of the specimen.
  • A dissecting microscope, on the other hand, has a large working space used to view large specimens such as pollen grains. They have a single objective lens with a designated magnification. They use a beam of light from above the object to enable easy surface observations. The larger working space allows the user to not only view larger specimens, which usually have a significant degree of depth, but also manipulate them while under view. They are also used for small dissections, hence their name.
  • In addition to the multiple objective lenses, a compound microscope is usually made with one eyepiece for viewing specimen images whereas dissecting microscopes commonly come with one objective lens accompanied with two eyepiece lenses for better viewing of the specimen while working on it.


Here is a video that describes a stereo/dissecting microscope and how it is used: