The combination of novel optical microscopic techniques with advanced video and digital image-processing technology now permits dramatic improvements in the quality of light-microscope images. Such video-enhanced light microscopy has lead to a renaissance in the applications of the light microscope for the study of living cells in two important areas: the intensification of faint fluorescence images, permitting observation of fluorescently labelled cells under conditions of very low illuminating intensity; and the enhancement of extremely low contrast images generated by minute cellular structures, so that these may be clearly seen and their normal intracellular movements recorded. Application of both these aspects of video-enhanced light microscopy have recently led to major discoveries concerning the functioning of the living cell. In this review I discuss the equipment, procedures and image-processing principles employed in these applications, and describe and illustrate some of the spectacular results that have recently been obtained.

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