Stereo microscopes provide lower magnification than compound microscopes. Stereo microscope magnification typically ranges from 5x-80x and the images seen are three-dimensional images rather than flat images. A stereo microscope may also be referred to as a dissecting microscope. Typically using light reflected from the surface of an object rather than transmitted through it. The instrument uses two separate optical paths with two objectives and eyepieces to provide slightly different viewing angles to the left and right eyes.

The stereo microscope is often used to study the surfaces of solid specimens or to carry out close work such as dissection, microsurgery, watch-making, circuit board manufacture or inspection, and fracture surfaces as in fractography and forensic engineering. They are thus widely used in the manufacturing industry for manufacture, inspection, and quality control. Stereo microscopes are also essential tools in entomology.