Compare and contrast magnification and resolution

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justaguide eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Magnification and resolution are two important specifications when dealing with optical instruments like microscopes and telescopes.

Magnification refers to the ability of an optical instrument to enlarge the object being viewed. For instance, if a microscope has 50X magnification, a line that is 0.02 mm long appears as one that is 1 mm long.

Resolution on the other hand refers to amount of observable detail that is presented by the lenses. The human eye can only see two objects as separate entities if at a distance of 10 inches from the eye they are 0.1 mm apart. Objects that are closer cannot be differentiated. If an image is magnified 10 times, it would be possible to resolve two objects that are 0.01 mm apart.

Magnification in general increases resolution, though this is not always the case. If an enlarged image of an object does not allow for parts that are closer to be resolved, there is no improvement in resolution. The detail in the larger image remains the same as that in a smaller image. The increased magnification only presents a larger blurred image.