Optical fibers are used in many forms of data transfer and communications. Flaws or improper cleaving of the fibers can result in poor transmissions, however. A fiber-optic microscope is a type of microscope that is specially designed for inspecting fiber optic equipment for such irregularities.
Fiber-optic microscopes usually have three major components: an illuminator, a microscopic lens system, and a visual display. The illuminator is usually an LED or quartz halogen light source which is used to project light through the optic fibers so any debris or imperfections are visible. The microscope system magnifies the image of the optic fiber; standard magnifications are generally 100, 200, or 400 times larger, though some scopes will have variable magnification. The picture will then be sent to the display, usually an LCD screen, for inspection. Some microscope systems allow these images to be routed to a computer for archiving purposes.
A fiber-optic microscope can take one of two different forms. A desktop fiber optic microscope will have a freestanding monitor display connected to a separate microscope system. These are useful for the high-volume testing of unconnected fiber-optic products or especially detailed inspection, as the monitor and system do not need to be in the same place and the displays are relatively large.
A handheld fiber-optic microscope has to fit most of the features of a desktop model into a smaller, portable package, and that is reflected in their generally higher prices. The display, microscope, and illuminator are all included in one unit. These systems are often used for on-site inspection and in cases when testing is not regularly controlled.
Specialized handheld fiber-optic microscope units known as ferrule inspection microscopes have a camera and illuminator built into a small probe. They function mostly the same as normal scopes, but the probe allows for testing of cables that are already installed and would normally be difficult to reach. The design also allows them to work faster than the other microscopes as they connect directly to the cable.
When using a fiber-optic microscope, it is important to make sure that the connector is seated properly; otherwise, the cable may not be aligned and the image will be distorted or inaccurate. Some cables may require adapters to fit the microscope connector. Also, any lasers in the system should be turned off, as lasers that are used for data transfer can damage the ends of the cable.