​What is a Dissecting Microscope?

​What is a Dissecting Microscope?

Some Things to Consider Before You Shop  

Most of us have seen them… Some of us have used them. However, the dissecting microscope (also known as a stereo microscope) is not really a popular choice. They have been around since 1903, when they were first invented by James Swift and Son for performing small manipulations (1). 

Compound microscopes are the first choice in labs because they come with a wider range of magnifications thanks to their rotating objective lenses. But are they really a laboratory essential, or are they getting more credit than they deserve?

You may not need that much power from your microscope after all!

Compound microscopes are useful for visualizing cells up but cannot show subcellular detail. The other downside to the compound microscope is its short working distance.

If you don’t need high powered magnification, consider a dissecting microscope instead.

Unique Qualities and Features

Dissecting microscopes differ from compound microscopes in the type of light system they use. They use a separate optical path for each lens that creates a 3D, steady image.

This can be preferable to having a flat projection that jumps, wiggles, or becomes unfocused easily.

Affordable Options for Your Lab

Stellar Scientific carries an entire catalog of microscopes with unique features adapted for your laboratory needs. Continue reading to learn more.

How do They Differ from Compound Microscopes?

Compound microscopes magnify specimens up to 1000x, but have a very short working distance. They can be used to visualize individual cells and other minute structures.

What Can I Use a Dissecting Microscope for?

Now that you know you don’t need to use a compound microscope for everything, when do you need something else?

The Best Microscope for C. elegans and Zebrafish Research

Developmental and toxicology research rely frequently on these two model organisms. Any lab that is planning to incorporate research using c. elegans or zebrafish can create an easier workflow using these devices.

Ideal for Tissue Dissection and Other Microdissections

They can be used to view tissue sections for research and diagnostic purposes, such as tissue biopsy and plant leaf structure.

Ideal Microscope for Topographical Study of Specimens

They are useful for viewing the surface of specimens such as rocks, insects, and small animals as they are prepared for surgery and other types of laboratory manipulation.

Key Features to Look for


Working distance

The working distance is the distance from the bottom of the lenses to the top of the specimen. Devices of this kind normally have a working distance of about 50-80mm.

Galilean optical system for steady images

A Galilean optical system has two separate optical paths that travel to the lenses. These lenses can steadily magnify three dimensional images, sometimes all the way up to 100x.

Large field of view

Because field of view is inversely related to magnification power, stereo microscopes have a much wider field of view than compound light microscopes do, which makes them useful for small animal surgery and other specimens that require topographical examination.


Any obstacle that arises for a researcher who uses them can be addressed using additional equipment. Things such as height, base size, and viewing apparatus can be customized.

Browse the Whole Catalog

Stellar Scientific carries the Motic line, which offers an extremely versatile yet affordable selection of dissecting microscopes, and we can customize a microscope to fit your needs.

Motic Dissecting Microscopes

The SMZ-140 N2GG Binocular Dissection Microscope is a simple binocular dissecting microscope with a 1:4 zoom ratio and a small base that can be adapted for darkfield and other types of contrast microscopy. 

Are you looking for a model with a larger base? Consider the Motic SMZ-143-FBGG Trinocular Stereo Microscope instead, which features all of the same customization options.

The SMZ-160 series are 1:6 zoom ratio dissecting microscopes available with and without illumination. 

Our simplest and most compact SMZ-160 is the Motic SMZ-160 Stereo (dissecting) Microscope With Compact Incident Stand And No Illumination, but we offer a number of other models from this series. 

The SMZ-160 series provide low-powered magnification (up to 4.5X) and a large field of view and working distance (100mm) for viewing your specimens.

Looking for an easier way to view your specimens? We offer the Motic SMZ-171 Stereo microscope with Tablet Moticam as an innovative way to view specimens under the lens without straining your eyes when you spend long hours at the bench.

Comparison Shopping Ideas

If you don’t see exactly what you are looking for, Stellar Scientific provides cameras, tablets, and customized ergonomic options for any microscope you choose

Contact Stellar Scientific, your trusted laboratory equipment supplier, or visit our page of dissecting microscopes for more information.

Davidson, M. W. (2022). James Swift & Son Compound Dissecting Microscope. Molecular Expressions optical microscopy primer.