Tabletop SEM – EM-30 Series Scanning Electron Microscopes

Our SEM Buying Guide can help reveal the most important factors that will guide you in your search for a Tabletop SEM.

The EM-30 Series SEM with EDS Elemental X-Ray Micro-Analysis

EM-30 Series with EDS

The EM-30 Series is a high-resolution Tabletop Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) with specifications and capabilities not matched by any other SEM in its price range. After evaluating the EM-30 Series your search will be over to find the best compact SEM available.  The EM-30 Series can be combined with integrated EDS elemental micro-analysis from any of the major EDS (EDX) suppliers.

The EM-30 Series is offered in 3 different models (see table below for more specific configuration information):

  • EM-30T – a lower priced and less featured SEM for high vacuum analysis
  • EM-30N – with integrated NavCam, Low Vac mode and NEW DSP Imaging Electronics
  • EM-30C – same as the EM-30N but with Cerium Hexaboride filament (CeB6 or CeBix)

The EM-30 series Desktop Scanning Electron Microscope is the only Desktop SEM available with either Tungsten or CeB6 (CeBix) electron sources. No other supplier can guide you as to which solution is best suited for your applications and laboratory situation.  Tungsten filament sources have lower operating costs and are simple to exchange by the user in under 10 minutes.  Tungsten filaments last around 100 “beam on” hours whereas CeB6 or Cerium Hexaboride sources last around 1500 hours or more depending on how they are used.  Hourly operating cost of CeB6 systems is higher than Tungsten based systems, mostly due to more expensive filaments (around $900 compared to $50 for Tungsten) and higher vacuum requirements.  Tungsten sources are very simple to replace in under 10 minutes.  Whereas, CeB6 sources are typically exchanged by a factory-trained service technician due to the higher vacuum requirements imposing a more careful approach to sealing surface cleanliness.  Our technicians can train operators willing to exchange their own CeB6 electron sources if desired.

With the ability to use multiple final objective apertures, the EM-30 series of SEM are able to acquire good images even at low kV settings.  The EM-30N is even able to acquire high vacuum SE images of un-coated non-conductive polymers at beam energies of 1 to 3 kV – not possible with any other Desktop SEM on the market. See examples of these type images at this Blog article.

Advanced options available:
EDS Elemental Analysis – STEM Detector Cooling StageAnti-Vibration table


Imaging Capabilities

5 nm




1 – 30 kV

Beam Energy

Auto XYT

Sample Positioning


Imaging Detectors

SE (Secondary Electron) and BSE (Backscatter Electron) Imaging

Comparing SE and BSE images for Desktop SEM

Capture images with surface and topographic details (SE) or Atomic Weight contrast (BSE)

Composite SEM image of SE and BSE detectors

Combine both imaging detector signals for a composite image representing both Topography and Atomic Weight variation

Configurations and Available OPTIONS for the EM-30 Series 

EM-30 Series Tabletop SEM configurations

Functional Ease-of-Use Features


The NanoStation software offers the novice user a simple and clean interface free of clutter while the more advanced user can easily access features allowing further control of the microscope functions. With the intuitive software, users are able to view and save images quickly and easily with great detail.

With the release of the NEW DSP Imaging Electronics, the Auto-Brightness/Contrast tools is blinding fast and accurate.  This allows the user to easily change Beam kV, Spot Size or final Objective Aperture (all of which cause a change in signal-to-noise) and immediately get the image back to proper contrast.  This allow imaging to remain much more consistent from user-to-user, or sample-to-sample and is critical when using SEM images for further analytical processing such as automatic particle and fiber analysis  Further refinement can be accomplished using the unique video line scan tool showing a graph of brightness values that can be used to maximize image contrast if desired.

Focusing of images is easily done using the Coarse and Fine focus tools.  A very advanced Auto-Focus tool will be available to users in the near future that is currently being refined.  The new AF tool uses artificial intelligence or machine learning concepts that promise to provide almost real-time focus.  This work is being undertake with a large research university and was recently published.  Ask us for more information if you are interested.

All of the various functional control groups are intelligently organized on the software interface while less common settings that are typically fixed for user preference are located out of view on secondary windows.

NanoStation Software User Interface for EM-30 Desktop Scanning Electron Microscope

(click for enlarged view)

NanoStation Software Interface for EM-30 Desktop Scanning Electron Microscope

DUPLEX NAVIGATION:  Macro ⇒ Micro ⇒ Nano

The EM-30 series Tabletop SEM with NanoStation software offers the ultimate in ease-of-use for navigation to different samples or within a sample.

The MACRO level navigation allows the user to move from sample to sample using one of the numerous sample holder maps that match various types of provided samples holders.  New maps can be easily created to match any commercially acquired holder or custom designed holders. A digital “NavCam” an be utilized to capture an image of a large sample or the sample holder itself which can be toggled to either the holder schematic or optical image. The current location of the beam and scan area is shown in the MACRO view to assist with navigation.  The user can click anywhere within the MACRO image to make instant large movements around the available stage area.

The MICRO navigation is accomplished using either the stage coordinates or by acquiring a “Mini-Map” that is a low magnification view of the sample at the current beam location.  This low mag image is placed automatically in the upper left and displays a synchronized field of view (FOV) indicator box for the current image displayed in the main image display.  The user is able to click anywhere in the MICRO Mini-Map view to make quick movements to various parts of the sample.

The NANO navigation is easily done to center features of interest in the sample by using any of 3 techniques provided by the NanoStation software:

  • Double Clicking inside the main image will center that point in the current field of view.  A variety of cross-hair center indicators can be over layed onto the main image display as a centering assist.
  • The IMAGE SHIFT sliders allow very precise shifting of the scan area up to 50 microns movement for perfect centering of features that are smaller than the precision of the mechanical stage gearing.  Image Shift also provides a convenient scan rotation to align features horizontally or vertically.
  • A Joystick is also available to allow the user to “drive” the stage in X or Y directions.
Sample Holder Map for Desktop SEM

Sample Holder Map

NavCam navigation for Desktop SEM

Optical NavCam

EDS READY – Now or Future

The EM-30 Series Desktop Scanning Electron Microscopes are delivered ready to add EDS elemental x-ray micro-analysis.  3 choices for EDS are available from Bruker Nano, Oxford Instruments or EDAX.  Other Tabletop SEM manufacturers typically offer only their own proprietary EDS that has limited capabilities, often poor performance and usually very slow mapping.

By using one of these preferred EDS brands, the EM-30AX Series insures that you will produce compatible data to full-size SEM’s.  The data files are portable between platforms.  The learning curve is also minimized as the software is often the same or very similar to that used on full-size SEM systems.

EM-30AX Series with EDS
Oxford AZtecOne

Oxford Xplore EDS with AZtec Software


The EM-30 Series Tabletop Scanning Electron Microscopes are delivered with a standard motorized 3-axis stage for X/Y and Tilt.  Working Distance or “Z” is very easy to set prior to closing the chamber and prevents accidental collisions by not having an external Z axis control.

The Tilt function is useful for examining topography of flat samples.  The Tilt function is compucentric such that the X axis is adjusted during tilt to maintain the specimen region of interest (ROI) in the field of view. The compucentric tilt function provides more versatility and time savings with its easier use especially for inexperienced users.

Do you need a larger stage or chamber? Our CX-200plus Floor Model is almost the same footprint as a Tabletop SEM as offers a 150mm wide chamber with 5-axis XYZRT stage.

CX-200plus Floor Model SEM
Tabletop Scanning Electron Microscope with Chamber Open


Mounting samples is easily done using a variety of supplied sample holders that allow use of standard Pin Stubs of various sizes.  Customized and standard sample holders from the various microscopy supply outlets can easily be adapted to the EM-30 Series stage.

Several type of Multi-Pin holders allow convenient mounting of up to (9) stubs of 12.7mm.  The holders can be easily adjusted for Z-height using their locknut  thumbscrew to accommodate taller samples.  Other sample holders such as small Vise Clamps or pre-tilt holders from various suppliers can easily be mounted, a few examples are shown to the right – LINK.

Sample holder type is selected in the software which presents a Sample Map in the lower left of the interface making it very simple to change to different samples without losing track of which sample is being imaged.  Alternately, the digital “NavCam” can be used to capture an image of the sample and/or holder to insert into this location.

Adapters are also provided to allow attachment of any of your existing holders that have an M4 thread.  If you have a preference for something other than pin stubs such as Hitachi M4 style mounts or Jeol style cylinder mounts, then our staff has in-depth experience with adapting many types of mounting systems for SEM systems, so please ask for our assistance.

PANORAMA MODE – Large Area Montage Image Capture

The NanoStation software offers the ability to capture high resolution images of a larger area by automatically moving the stage to capture anywhere from a few images to thousands of individual images in a checkerboard tile pattern that are then automatically stitched together to form one large giga-pixel size image.  Or the individual images can be saved for batch upload to image processing software like MIPAR, ImagePro or ImageJ to quantify particle sizes, cells, fibers, morphology and more.

The process of large image capture is quite simple and driven by a single menu for setup.  The progress of image captures is shown in the upper left mini-map area along with a calculated time for completion.  This feature can be used for long overnight image collection runs with automatic beam turn-off if desired.

The larger giga-pixel image can be used for a variety of purposes such as printing a high resolution wall size image for instance.  For semi-conductor circuitry, a single image allows the analyst to pan and zoom in a single image in an inspection role such as failure analysis.

Panorama Mode Image Example - Desktop SEM

(click for enlarged view)


The EM-30 Plus series Desktop Scanning Electron Microscopes (SEM) are delivered with a 4 quadrant backscatter electron detector that can be operated in either COMPOSITION mode or TOPO mode.  Composition mode is standard for atomic weight contrasted images, useful for both metrology measurements and for EDS.  The Topo mode is a synthetic image created by alternating the quadrants of the detector.  It can be useful for topographic appearing images on flat samples with tilting the sample.

The BSE detector is also retractable without disconnection — a unique feature not found in other Tabletop or Desktop SEM. The BSE detector can be pivoted away from the SEM pole piece to a parking position.  This allows unobstructed access to shorter working distances using the SE detector and for other purposes.

The 4 quadrants of the BSE detector can also be utilized with software such as DigitalSurf MountainsMap SEM TOPO in order to create very detailed and accurate 3D reconstructions of surfaces, further enhancing the utility of the SEM providing micro accurate profilometer information about surface roughness.

Retractable BSE detector for EM-30 Series Tabletop SEM


Image Metrology or Measurements are extremely flexible and accurate with the EM-30 series of SEM.  Extensive calibration is factory performed at multiple magnifications, working distances, beam energies and more that results in measurement errors of less than 1%.  Detailed calibration reports come with each system’s documentation making the EM-30 Series a valuable tool that can be easily certified and accepted in your workflow.

The software provides quick access to all of the common measure tools such as:

  • Length
  • Diameter
  • Area (rectangle, circle, polygon)
  • Angles
  • Annotation

In addition, a Line Scan function (pictured at right) can be used for very detailed and precise measurements using the variation in each pixels brightness to accurately determine the true location of edges and features.

NanoStation software Metrology tools for measuring sample features with Linescan function

(click for enlarged view)


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Cold Stage

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Anti-Vibration Supports for Tabletop Scanning Electron Microscope

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Specifications for EM-30 Series Tabletop Scanning Electron Microscopes

    5nm (30kV, SE Image)
    8nm (30kV, BSE Image)
Accelerating Voltage
    1~30kV (in 1kV steps)
    Variable - 30 / 50 / 100 / 200 micron (T and N models)
    Variable - 15 / 20 / 30 / 50 micron (C models)
    Variable e-Beam Spot Size
    Secondary Electron Imaging (SE)
    Backscattered Electron Imaging (BSE)
    Scanning Transmission Electron detector (STEM) - optional
Electron Source
    Pre-centered Tungsten Filament Cartridge (T and N models)
    -- (supplied with 8 Wehnelt/Filament sets)
    Pre-centered Cerium Hexaboride (CeBix) Cartridge (C model)
Automatic Functions
    Auto Start, Auto Focus
    Auto Contrast & Brightness
    Auto Electron Gun Alignment
Magnification (Live)
    15X~200,000X (LIVE Display)
    up to 500,000X (Saved Image)
Live Focus Image Sizes
    RED: 320 x 240 (30 frames/sec)
    TV: 640 x 480 (10 frames/sec)
    SLOW: 800 x 600 (2 frames/sec)
Image Capture Sizes
    1280 x 960
    2560 x 1920
    5120 x 3840
Image Formats
Image Annotation
    2-point length
    multi-point length
    angle measurement
    diameter measurement
    area measurements
    arrow/rectangle marking
    text annotations
Stage Traverse
    Automatic 3-axis System (X, Y, T)
    X-axis : 35mm
    Y-axis : 35mm
    Z-axis : 5~50mm (manual)
    R-axis : 360° (manual)
    Tilt-axis : 0~45°
Navigation Modes
    Optical NavCam
    Sample Holder Map
    e-Beam Position Indicator
    Tilt Assist Mode
Maximum Sample Size
    70mm in Diameter or XY
    50mm in Height
Vacuum Modes
    High Vacuum (Conductive)
    Low Vacuum Charge Reduction (optional - T and N models)
    Manual Variable Pressure Option
Roughing Vacuum Pump
    Rotary Vane Pump
    Diaphragm Pump (optional)
High Vacuum Pumps
    Pfeiffer HiPace Turbo Molecular Pump
    Ion Pump (C model)
Main Unit
    400(W) x 600(D) x 550(H)mm, 85kg

Why Tabletop SEM?

Since their re-introduction to the microscopy market around 2005, Tabletop SEM’s as they have come to be known, are now widely considered a highly useful microscopic analytical tool.  They are utilized by many research and quality assurance laboratories.  Companies and research groups that previously never thought to acquire an SEM due to the cost, infrastructure and specially trained personnel required to operate them, are now finding Desktop SEM systems to be a cost effective solution capable of providing the imaging, morphological and elemental analysis capabilities they require while simultaneously being very easy to use by multiple members of their technical staff.

In fact, these Tabletop SEM’s have even found their way into many STEM outreach programs around the country for the valuable educational awareness they offer.  Being easy to use, even middle school children with supervision are now operating electron microscopes in science programs across the country thanks to the admirable efforts of electron microscope suppliers.

Buyers of Scanning Electron Microscopes are faced with many decisions regarding microscope capabilities as they relate to the eventual cost of the system.  Beyond the initial acquisition cost depending on the type of microscope, there may also be significant on-going costs for maintenance, service costs for the tool, the cost of facilities and even specially trained operation personnel.

Entry Level Tabletop BSE only XY Only under 60,000X $50K to $60K
Intermediate Tabletop BSE XY Only 100,000X $60K to $70K
High End Tabletop BSE and SE XYT or more 150,000X $70K to $80K
Tabletop with EDS BSE, SE and EDS XYT or more 150,000X $100K to $125K
Entry Level Floor Model BSE and SE XYZRT 300,000X $95K to $120K
Entry Floor Model + EDS BSE, SE and EDS XYZRT 300,000X $130K to $160K

The original Tabletop SEM’s introduced around 2005 like the Hitachi TM-1000 or the original FEI Phenom G1 were not viewed with much respect by experienced electron microscopists due to their limited capabilities.  Today, current Tabletop SEM offerings have closed this gap with higher beam energies and resolutions approaching those of full-size tungsten filament systems.

The gap between capabilities of these compact, personal Tabletop SEM’s and full-size SEM systems has grown much smaller.  For example, our EM-30 Plus with its 5nm resolution, variable apertures, motorized X-Y-Tilt stage, 30kV beam energy and full-featured EDS has practically equivalent capabilities to several full-size SEM’s, especially older model systems that are becoming obsolete or are not supported such as Amray, Cambridge, ISI, Topcon, Leo, Philips/FEI – as well as older models from Hitachi and JEOL.

It is generally accepted that around 80-90% of scanning electron microscopy imaging work is done at magnifications less than 10,000X.  This is easily within the range of any SEM on the market today.  All of these systems are practical for many industrial quality analysis and many research efforts with each system possessing their own unique capabilities. The challenge facing you the buyer, is determining which system best suits your needs for the sample types and method of utilization you will undertake.  We recommend you request our article “10 Points to Consider when Buying an SEM” that you can locate from this BLOG POST.

Likewise, when high magnification is necessary, the buyer must be cautious regarding the marketing claims as pertains to the SEM’s ability to see nano-sized features of samples. The sample itself and how it can be prepared are often the limiting factor in what ultimate magnification is possible regardless of the microscope.  The SEM resolution, spot size and scanned image capture size will most often be a more important specification to compare as these play a direct role in what effective magnification is possible.  The prospective buyer is encouraged to witness the magnification of “live” images as well as “captured” images as the resolution and size of display monitors factor into the true capabilities.  Some Tabletop SEM’s are marketed with a magnification claim that does not equate to a resolution necessary to achieve such a magnification.  Pay close attention to this combination of resolution and magnification. All SEM systems reach a level of “hollow” magnification where further detail present in a sample cannot be observed due to the limitation of the microscope’s resolution.  Resolution of the microscope and its ability to provide imaging showing detail at the smallest scale is usually much more important than ultimate magnification.

A Tabletop SEM (scanning electron microscope) can be used for imaging and microscopic analysis of biological, inorganic and man-made materials.  All Scanning Electron Microscopes utilize a focused beam of electrons to scan the surface of a sample to collect a 3-dimensional image. Imaging detectors allow surface or topographical analysis (SE – secondary electrons) as well as composition analysis (BSE – backscatter electrons) and elemental chemistry analysis (EDS – energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy).

Unlike conventional, full-size scanning electron microscopes with large chambers, critical vacuum requirements and stringent ambient requirements, a Tabletop SEM can easily sit on a desktop or lab bench in a standard lab or industrial environment right beside other analytical instruments with no special requirements.  The only utilities required are standard AC power and a small, quiet roughing vacuum pump.  No special cooling, air conditioning, or foundation is necessary.  When users wish to reach the highest magnifications, a vibration isolation table or support might be advisable due to ambient conditions in some environments.

Applications for SEM include Life Science (Biology, Forensics, Pharmaceuticals, Medical) and Material Science (Semiconductors, Geology, Metallurgy, Nanotechnology). These compact Tabletop SEM’s are also used when portability is required to take the analytical tool to the sample and obtain reliable imaging and other analysis on-site.  Many labs using full-size SEM systems and busy core electron microscopy centers, are finding these small Tabletop SEM’s very useful for reducing backlog or for pre-checking a sample to locate features of interest prior to using valuable time on much more expensive systems.

Contact Us for more information or to arrange a demonstration.