Magnifying Glass Vs. Microscope: A Straightforward Comparison

Difference between magnifying glass and microscope

We use magnifying glass and microscope to enlarge tiny objects for inspecting them clearly. Both of them use optical lenses to do so. But there is a lot of difference between a magnifying glass and a microscope. 

A magnifying glass is a pretty ancient optical instrument that is still extensively used these days. The microscope was invented at least three to four centuries later than the invention of the hand lens. A microscope can zoom in a lot more. 

We use magnifying glasses to inspect trivial objects. They are highly portable and have some common applications in our daily life. 

On the contrary, a microscope is not commonly used by everyone. For example, we do not generally carry a microscope in outdoor adventures and inspect miniature objects pickling from nature. Microscopes have some more specific applications and they are not as portable as a magnifying glass.

The difference between magnifying glasses and microscopes is highly distinguishable. In this article, I will try presenting to you the difference between these two amazing lens gadgets as simply as possible.

Magnifying Glass Vs. Microscope: at a Glance

Here is a table on the direct comparison between magnifying glass and microscopes. Give it a look:

Magnifying GlassMicroscope
MagnificationUp to 7 timesThousand times
SizeSmallMedium to large
PortabilityExtremely portableNot that portable
Application areasUsed in day to day applicationsHas specific areas of applications

Difference between working principles

Both magnifying glass and microscope use the principle of refraction to magnify objects. Both of them use biconvex lenses too. But the difference is microscopes use more than one biconvex lens to achieve a higher magnification that would not be possible using a single lens in a magnifying glass.

Working principle difference - magnifying glass vs microscope

We know a biconvex lens has two focal points placed at both sides of the lens. In a magnifying glass, the object is placed at one focus and we place our eye on the other focal point to see the image.

In a microscope, the same working principle applies but in an engineered way. For instance, a compound microscope uses two lenses of biconvex type. The first lens near the object generates a magnified image at the focal point of our side. 

The second lens is placed in such a way that the far focal point of it is just at the focal point of the first lens where the first magnified image is placed. It then magnifies the output of the first lens which was already a magnified version of the original object. 

We see the second magnified image using the compound microscope that could be a thousand times magnified version of actual size.     

A Brief Description of Magnifying Glasses

The history of the invention of magnifying glass dates back to 424 BC. In the early ages, people used it to ignite timbers. When passed through this optical instrument, lights tend to concentrate to a point due to the shape of the lens used in it. So, when the light gets focused, it concentrates a lot of energy, ultimately igniting the object it falls on. 

A magnifying glass can magnify up to 6 to 7 times the average distance. It uses the law of refraction to create a magnified image of the actual object. The convex lens used in it bends the light rays entering its surface at a right angle. When we see through the lens of the hand magnifier, the light rays converge at our eyes and form an undistorted enlarged image of what is on the other side. 

There are different types of magnifying glasses. Let’s briefly discuss some of them.

Portable Magnifiers

Portable magnifying glass

Magnifiers of this type are commonly known as hand lenses or hand magnifiers. These are mostly used by most of us to perform regular tasks. 

Some of us like to read newspapers using them. People inspect miniature objects with them that are barely not completely visible. 

The main feature of these magnifier glasses is that they are portable and can be used anywhere. The lenses used in portable magnifiers are biconvex. Meaning they don’t zoom a lot but enough to make small letters visible. Biconvex lenses are lenses that are separated by two biconvex surfaces. They have the potential to magnify 4 to 5 times the actual size.

Static Magnifiers

magnifying glass with stand light

These magnifiers are usually used to read newspapers and labels. Some of these magnifiers are mounted on a stand to place it on the table or floor. Some of them could also take the shape of a paperweight and you can slide them across the surface. 

These magnifiers are also portable and you can carry them everywhere. 

Some of the static magnifiers have built-in illumination systems. So, you can light up the subject or text you are reading. But magnifiers of this kind without an external light are also common to find. Like other magnifying glasses, static magnifiers also use biconvex lenses to see enlarged objects.


Wearable magnifying glass

Glasses and spectacles fall in this kind of magnifying glass. There are also biconvex lenses that are wearable. People with myopia commonly use them to see things clearly. 

They have some other specific applications. People also use them for soldering on electronic circuit boards, for sewing, making miniature models, miniature painting, and many more. They are also used for reading. 

Features of spectacles are that they are portable and can be used for an extended period.

A Brief Description on Microscopes

Microscopes from different angle

A microscope is a device that makes objects appear much larger and closer than they really are. Unlike magnifying glass, a microscope has a more specific area of applications. They are used to inspect elements of objects that are impossible to see with our naked eyes, like examining the texture of materials or studying the cells. 

The word “microscope” comes from two Greek words: μικρός (mikros), meaning “small,” and σκοπεῖν (skopein), meaning “to look at.” Microscopes come in many varieties and differ from one another depending on the intended applications.

Let’s now have a brief look at some of the common types of microscopes.

Simple Microscope

A simple microscope

A simple microscope is the oldest and most basic type of microscope. It was invented more than a hundred years ago. A magnifying glass can also be called a simple microscope. But the difference between a simple microscope with magnifying glass is that the biconvex lens used in a simple microscope is much more spherical and has a short focal length.  

Simple microscopes can zoom up to 300 times the original size. They were mainly used in school labs. Hobbyists and students studying science also use them for various purposes. They are used for some trivial applications like identifying cells and algae. 

Simple Microscopes are ancient. Due to the invention of microscopes with more than one lens, people shifted them off the timeline.

Compound Microscope

Microscopes from different angle

The compound microscope is better and superior to a simple microscope in terms of magnification. They can zoom a lot better than a simple microscope with a single lens. 

Compound microscopes use two lenses to produce a magnified image of the object placed on the specimen stage of it. The second lens used in it magnifies the magnified image produced by the first lens that is situated near the object under inspection. Because of the double magnification performed by this type of microscope, we get up to thousand times of overall magnification of the original size of the object.

One problem with this microscope is that the regulation breaks during magnification. Yet, compound microscopes enable us to see things like bacteria and other microscopic living or non-living things that are in no way possible to see with the naked eye, or magnifying glass at a cheaper price compared to some advanced microscope types. 

Stereo Microscope

Optical stereo microscope nikon smz10
By GcG(jawp) – Own work, Public Domain,

The stereo microscope has less magnifying properties than compound microscopes. But, they can be a lot helpful for objects that are blurred by normal eyes or cameras. They give a three-dimensional view of the object through which you can analyze the properties of the objects.

Electron Microscope

Electron Microscope
By David J Morgan from Cambridge, UK – Tecnai 12 Electron Microscope, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Electron microscopes are entirely different from regular microscopes. Electron microscopes use electrons as an alternative to light and are used in extensive laboratories. Here the object is first put in a vacuum, then coated with conductive materials, and then electrons are shot in them. After that, a computer generates a 3D black and white image of the object. Electron microscopes have the highest zoom capacity.

Wrapping it Up

The difference between magnifying glass and microscopes is enormous. But the choice is up to your usage. If you want a magnifier for regular use, you can choose a magnifying glass. But if you are looking for a magnifier for your lab or research, then go for microscopes.

We may have missed something on the go. You can tell us what you think about the difference between a magnifying glass and a microscope in the comment section below. Until then, stay happy and stay classy.

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