Difference between a Microscope and a Telescope

Updated on July 17, 2015

There are two very similar yet different scientific tools that are used by students, scientists and laymen. These are the microscope and the telescope. While their construction is slightly similar, they are two very different instruments.



A microscope is a scientific tool that allows you to see things close up. The purpose is to be able to see minute details that are imperceptible to the naked eye. It is small, and usually sits upon a table top. Many microscopes do not use any electrical parts, while more advanced microscopes used by scientists may be very mechanical or even computerized. There is a small type of light at the focal point of the microscope, which illuminates the subject. It may be electric artificial light, or in some cases it is natural light reflected off of a mirror.


A telescope is a scientific tool that allows you to see things closely that are actually far away. The idea is to be able to see specific details of something that is extremely distant. Telescopes were used by seafarers to determine where the coastline was or what type of ship was coming toward them. Most often today telescopes are used to see into outer space. Most telescopes used by laymen are not electronic at all and will sit easily on a table top or other surface, like a roof. Telescopes used by professionals are almost always quite large, resting on the ground and being extremely tall, and are often computerized or connected to a computer.

Comparison Table

Sees detail in things that are very smallSees detail in things that are very large
Sees things that are close to the lensSees things that are extremely far from the lens
Typically uses artificial light at focal pointTypically uses natural light at focal point
Small enough to rest on a tableVery large, sometimes many feet tall
Small apertureLarge aperture
Change view by changing lensChange view by changing eye piece

Microscope vs Telescope

What is the difference between a microscope and a telescope? Let’s compare them by appearance and function.

  • Microscopes are used to see things that are very small, while telescopes usually see things that are actually fairly large.
  • Telescopes are designed to see things that are far away and undefined, while microscopes are used to see things that are close up yet undefined due to how very small the subject is.
  • Telescopes only use natural light at the focal point while microscopes often use artificial light.
  • Microscopes are typically small enough to sit on a table. Telescopes, used by professionals, are often very large, resting on the ground and reaching up many feet.
  • The diameter of the lens, or aperture, is very different, with that of a microscope being very small, and that of a telescope very large.
  • When you want to change your view, you change lenses on a microscope, but on a telescope you change eye pieces.


Below is a short and clear video that explains what a microscope and a telescope is.