Editorial Feature

Digital Imaging in Optical Microscopy

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Since the first prototype of the modern microscope was developed at the end of the 16th century, an immense amount of progress in the field of microscopy has allowed this tool to play a crucial role in science. For example, the modern field of digital pathology utilizes the power of microscopy to perform clinical screening and diagnostic procedures through cellular-, molecular- and genetic-imaging. To this end, the development of the modern digital microscope imaging system has allowed for observations to be stored and processed for a number of image enhancement purposes without causing any unwanted fatigue to the viewer.

The Digital Microscope Imaging System

The three main components that comprise a traditional digital microscope imaging system include the microscopy optical module, the data acquisition system and technical software that processes digital images and provides user control of the imaging process. The microscopy optical module performs microscopic imaging function that allows the user to specifically focus on their specimen. Once the image is focused, the data acquisition module records the displayed image through a series of digital video devices that can include, but is not limited to, complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS), charge-coupled devices (CCD) or any other type of digital camera found within the optical module1. Digital images are then transferred to computer storage devices through a USB or similar interface.

Finally, specific computer software allows users to capture, process and measure their images in real-time to ensure the highest level of image quality. Many manufacturers offer highly sophisticated image processing software packages that can perform a variety of complex tasks during image analysis. These capabilities can range from simple geometric measurements to the identification of potential relationships that exist between complicated geometric structures. The advanced technologies behind commercial microscopic image processing software allow users to distinguish between overlapping objects, detect and identify the different shapes of small objects and much more1.

Advantages of the Digital Microscope

Clinicians and research scientists often utilize digital images acquired from these advanced microscopes to provide evidence for their experimental data that is often used to support revolutionary scientific discoveries. Additionally, numerous ergonomic advantages are achieved through the use of a digital microscope2. Of these include the ability of the user to sit upright and in a comfortable and relaxed position, rather than being hunched over a microscope for several hours at a time. The digital software that comes with many digital microscopes exhibits numerous features that allow users to manipulate their images to illuminate certain areas of interest for their specific application. Furthermore, software technologies often offer multiple user profiles to allow for numerous users to work with the same microscope without requiring continuous adjustments to be performed in between uses. Furthermore, most advanced digital microscopes are equipped with built-in LED illumination capabilities, snapshot/video recording functions, as well as zoom/focus controls3. Each of these added features improves the overall cost-efficiency of these systems, as they eliminate the need for users to purchase additional accessories or eyepieces to perform these functions.

New Developments in Digital Microscopic Imaging

The continuously advancing field of imaging and digital technology has allowed microscopy to increase in its flexibility, portability, and ease-of-use. For example, numerous handheld and portable visual analysis tools have allowed users to immediately capture and store images for future analysis procedures. One example of this type of microscope model is the DG-3x Portable Digital Microscope offered by Japanese company Scalar Corporation. Weighing at only 490 grams, the DG-3x allows the user to quickly identify and capture images for a wide variety of applications, some of which include:

  • Automobile inspection purposes
  • Machinery inspection
  • Medical devices
  • Electronic parts
  • Maintenance of pipes at a plant
  • Observation of equipment degradation4

Another significant advancement in this area was achieved in 2016 when researchers from the California NanoSystems Institute at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) developed wavelength scanning pixel super-resolution. This microscopy technique utilizes a device to capture a stack of digital images of the same specimen at varying light wavelengths. Then, through an algorithm developed by this group of researchers, the pixels in each captured image is divided into a smaller number of pixels to create a significantly higher-resolution digital image of the specimen. The UCLA researchers found that they were able to capture images of large samples and evaluate their characteristics at the sub-micron level5. The application of this tool in medical pathology could have transforming effects on the ability of clinicians to rapidly diagnose malignancies and other types of diseases.

Overall, digital microscopy is a reliable and highly efficient method that benefits almost every researcher looking to accurately analyze their samples.


  1. Chen, X., Zheng, B., & Liu, H. (2012). Optical and digital microscopic imaging techniques and applications in pathology. Analytical Cellular Pathology (Amsterdam) 34(1-2); 5-18. DOI: 10.3233/ACP-2011-0006.
  2. “What You Always Wanted to Know About Digital Microscopy, but Never Got Around to Asking” – Leica Microsystems
  3. “The Transformation of Digital Microscopy” – Quality Magazine
  4. “DG-3x” – Scalar Corporation
  5. “New technique greatly enhances digital microscopy images” – Phys.org

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Benedette Cuffari

Written by

Benedette Cuffari

After completing her Bachelor of Science in Toxicology with two minors in Spanish and Chemistry in 2016, Benedette continued her studies to complete her Master of Science in Toxicology in May of 2018. During graduate school, Benedette investigated the dermatotoxicity of mechlorethamine and bendamustine; two nitrogen mustard alkylating agents that are used in anticancer therapy.


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