Microscopes allow us to look more closely at objects, seeing beyond what is visible with the naked eye. The two major types, light and electron microscopes, are fundamentally differentiated by the type of illumination they use to produce images. Additionally, they differ in their effective magnification ranges, with a significant overlap that corresponds to most histological applications. The size of structures that can be visualized are indicated across the top of the figure.
Light microscopy >
Light microscopes have an effective range of magnification from 10x to 1000x. Tissue structure and cells are readily seen in this range and at the upper end, larger intracellular structures like mitochondria are visible.
Electron microscopy >
Electron microscopes have an effective range of magnification from 500x to 200,000x. The electron microscope reveals greater detail of cell and tissue structure as well as revealing the complex set of intracellular structures like membranes and filaments. Some high performance electron microscopes provide images at the molecular level.
Image source >
Image used by permission from the University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato, www.sciencelearn.org.nz.