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What's the highest magnification you use on a microscope and why?

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badrequest400:
Someone on a different forum was asking for soldering microscope advice. I only ever use my 10x lenses since 20x is unnecessary to me and has too limited a field of view. The person on the other forum ignored this advice and went for a model offering up to ~700x magnification! It made me wonder what that's even useful for. What is the highest magnification people here use [for electronics] and specifically what for?

jpanhalt:
The resolving power of a light microscope is limited by the wavelength of light used and the optics.  The highest practical resolution of a light microscope used in pathology is about 100X with oil immersion objective, which has a much higher refractive index than air, followed by a 10X eyepiece to give about 1000X magnification.  Many pathologists go no higher than 63X (X10). PS: The shortest wavelength of visible light is about 400 nm = 0.4 micron.  Some bacteria push that limit.  A red blood cell is about 7 micron in diameter.

The magnification can be virtually any claimed number, but that doesn't mean better resolution.  It's like magnifying a bit-mapped image until you are looking at a single pixel.  In my experience, cheap video microscopes (eBay and Amazon) are like pinhole cameras.  They give a lot of distortion and way too much magnification without raising the camera to a height much higher the the tiny stand allows.

I agree with your lower estimate.  With my Nikon dissecting microscope (I prefer light to video), I have 10X eyepieces and usually use 0.9X to 1X for the objective, rarely going above 2X.  The maximum is about 4X.

thm_w:
700x is usually for biology as mentioned above. I don't even know how you'd use that for soldering.
The most for soldering I'd go to is around 30x for really close inspection (zoom range 3-30x). As you say 10x eyepiece is the one to use.

But if we are talking bare dies, Shariar has some good demos of what is possible. I think he was in the 100x range?

magic:
Is it a purely optical microscope (you look into a tube with glass in it) or some digital gadget with a screen or USB/HDMI output?

The latter may boast crazy magnification numbers which are not necessarily comparable with traditional magnification specs of optical microscopes. OTOH a conventional microscope with 700x mag is too much for wirebonding, let alone soldering :P And you likely won't find a stereoscopic microscopes with such magnification, and working distance will be for all practical purposes zero.

BTW, the magnification of optical microscopes (and magnifying glasses) is defined as approximately how larger the object appears to be compared to viewing it with naked eye from 25cm distance.

joeqsmith:
About 2.5x to 50x depending what I am working on.  There have been times I would have liked to go up higher but not 700x.   

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