Recently, I read Tektronix's Probe Bandwidth Calculations. It point out that Tektronix and Agilent have different probing philosophy:

There are two schools of thought on what an oscilloscope probe should actually display on an oscilloscope. Tektronix subscribes to the philosophy that a probe should measure the unloaded, or original, signal. Agilent subscribes to a different philosophy that says a probe should measure the loaded signal.

Because I've never used Agilent's scope, I want to know if you've noticed this. And what about other scope vendors such as LeCroy, RIGOL, etc, which philosophy they subscribe to.


4 Answers 4


It would appear that LeCroy follow Agilent/Keysight in this respect (or, at least, Tektronix's presentation of what Agilent's method is). This can be seen from their probe manuals, for example for the ZS4000 active (single-ended) probe. They provide the probe impedance as a function of frequency and advocate that the user corrects for it when interpreting the measurement, using the formula:

$$V_\mathrm{out} = Z_\mathrm{probe}/(Z_\mathrm{probe}+Z_\mathrm{source}) \times V_\mathrm{in}$$

I avoid quoting further from their manual to avoid potential copyright issues (because it would require the whole section to be quoted to reproduce it properly here), but if you follow the link and read the manual, you will find that everything is quite clearly stated.

For the differential probes operating in the 10 GHz range (for example, the WaveLink D1030), their approach is slightly different to either of the ones presented in the Tektronix technical brief. The probes measure the loaded signal, as per Agilent, but they provide equalization software (Virtual Probe) to recover the unloaded signal. One models the circuit impedances and indicates the type and location of the probe, and the de-embedding is done accordingly. They summarize it as follows (quoting from the WaveLink probe manual):

Teledyne LeCroy probes are calibrated at the factory using a Vector Network Analyzer (VNA) to measure a system (probe plus test fixture) frequency response. The test fixture is de-embedded from the measurement using Teledyne LeCroy's Eye Doctor tools so the remaining frequency response is due to the combination of the test signal and the probe loading on the test circuit. The system frequency response is then calculated for these remaining circuit elements.

If you wish to de-embed the effect of probe loading on your circuit, you can use the appropriate equivalent circuit model ... and Teledyne LeCroy's Eye Doctor tools to accomplish this.

You can also use Teledyne LeCroy’s Virtual Probe option. This option allows you to select the probe tip from a list of supported tips. Your selection applies a corresponding s-parameter file that is derived from the equivalent circuit model of the tip.

However, I haven't actually used these probes, so I can't comment on how good the software is.


I am a user of Agilent MSO oscilloscopes. I had never heard about anything like "probing philosophy" before you showed me this document. But I have heard much about "signal measurement techniques".

In short, this document is about marketing rubbish, as you (probably) know that Tektronix and Agilent compete for the market and Tek comes after Agilent here. I will not advocate any of them, they both provide good, state-of-the-art products, but the use of a "compare to the leader" method in a market competition is generally used by the one following the leader, not by the leader itself.

Look for yourself, the document discusses the "probe bandwidth", saying nothing about the components from which that bandwidth results, i.e. capacitance (I found no mention of the "pF" unit in the whole doc) in the first place. There are no physics, only claims in the doc.

The Agilent o-scopes I'm familiar with, have internal switches to select between 10 Megs and 50 Ohms input resistance while input capacitance is mostly a property of a passive probe. There are also active probes to make HF/VHF measurements better/possible.

What to use depends on the appropriate signal measuring technique which, in turn, depends on the situation you are facing. There is no instrumentation task that can be done with Tek while not with Agilent, and vice versa, of course.

Therefore, such "philosophy" is about marketing [rubbish], not electronics [truth :-].

P.S. Also, there is Agilent's answer for Tektronix's question on the philosophy.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I think this is somewhat arguable. Given that Tek is saying that their method of calibration assumes 50 Ohm sources, I would personally prefer the Agilent approach when one can expect to encounter variable source impedance. As such, I'd say it's not bullshit, but important distinction that the user needs to be aware of. Whether Agilent/Keysight agree about Tek's characterization of their philosophy is another matter. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 4, 2015 at 17:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OleksandrR. does Tek not implement such a 50R/10M switch at all? \$\endgroup\$
    – alex
    Apr 4, 2015 at 17:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have no idea. I use LeCroy oscilloscopes. But I also think it's somewhat beside the point, because Tek are talking here about high frequencies for which nobody is going to use passive probes. Even when using active probes, you still have to account for the effect of the probe loading somehow (even if it's much less than 1pF). This is where the calibration of the probe frequency response comes in. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 4, 2015 at 17:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OleksandrR. if the switch exists then i see no diff between Tek and Agi. i also know no docs where Agi calims its "philosophy" in all and "50R mandatory" in particular. generally, it discusses various approaches depending on what you want to measure, what you face with, and what you have. \$\endgroup\$
    – alex
    Apr 4, 2015 at 17:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @alex: I have read the link you gave. It conforms that Agilent does have such a philosophy as Tek mentioned. Since they have state their philosophy clearly, so l do not think it's just a 'marketing'. Unless they can make a perfect probe without loading to the circuits under test, the two philosophyies should always result different products or different methods to specify their products. \$\endgroup\$
    – diverger
    Apr 7, 2015 at 13:32

Informative only:

I think theirs philosophy (if any) is simple: "we provide solution for any your problem".

// please improve this answer by adding items with links to other vendor probes //



From Agilent's Side-by-Side Comparison of Agilent and Tektronix Probing Measurements on High-Speed Signals referenced by me earlier:


Regardless of whether you use Tektronix’ or Agilent’s measurement performance standards for characterizing the performance of high-bandwidth active probes, Agilent’s probes outperform Tektronix probes on all counts as documented in this application note. Agilent’s 1134A InfiniiMax active probes using various probe heads (browser, solder-in) demonstrate less probe loading and more accurate reproduction of the signal applied to the probe tips. Even if you apply a Tektronix standard where you ignore probe loading and compare measured signals to unloaded/unprobed signals, Agilent’s probes still out-perform Tektronix probes when you compare the same probing configurations (Tektronix browser connection versus Agilent browser connection, Tektronix solder-in connection versus Agilent solder-in connection) and when you use identical sampling techniques (real-time), as shown in this application note.

With the introduction of the new 1130 Series InfiniiMax differential active probes, Agilent adopted a new probe architecture/topology where the probe amplifier is physically displaced from the probe head using precision RF transmission line technology for high-impedance connections. This new probe technology enhances usability and measurement performance for high-bandwidth applications. In fact, Agilent’s new 1130 Series InfiniiMax active probing system was recently selected as the 2002 Test & Measurement Product-of-The-Year award sponsored by EDN magazine. To our knowledge, this is the first time EDN has selected an “accessory” for this award in the Test & Measurement category.

If it's not about marketing. What is it about?

IMO, I made a mistake in my first answer having suspected only Tektronix in marketing rubbish. It was be necessary to suspect both of them, remembering however that Agi was the defensing side. (And we need to recognize that Agi won this PR boxing round.)

I think neither Tek nor Agi but the engineer selects the method to measure and the corresponding background to interpret the result. Both Tek and Agi give the instruments for both approaches.

From the both documents I understand the one technical thing: they both beaten capacitance issues so well, they both beaten attenuation issues so well, but they beaten inductance issues not so, one did it better than another. I also assume that one patented some on this earlier and wider than another. It's very probable the philosophy (as PR base) itself and its difference (as PR task) were grown up on that.

As my conclusion, what do you prefer to buy from Tek, Agi, LeCroy, etc: a good thing you need or a puffing story about why other sucks? Tek/Agi drops its shit to the fan directed to the competitor, calling this "philosophy". Let's they taste their shit self, without us.

Good luck.

P.S. Both documents look like a WWF wrestling battle there each word and action are set up long before the battle begins :-]

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this is a little off topic as an answer. OP wants to know if different scope manufacturers adhere to different "probing philosophies". Instead of making another answer you should add this to the one you already have, or just delete this as it doesn't add anything to your previous answer. "There is not probing philosophy, it is all marketing BS" gets your point across without all that text. \$\endgroup\$
    – I. Wolfe
    Apr 7, 2015 at 18:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @alex: The two docs do have some "marketing" purpose. And I think the "philosophy" is different to "performance". Even with equal performance the two philosophy will give us different results. I think they both can produce good probes by subscribing to their own philosophies. This is not only a "marketing" problem, because their philosophy does have some impact on the users experience, that is, what you will get when you using their probes, "what was" or "what is". It's sure if they can produce perfect probes, then the two philosophies will give our same results. But for now, it won't. \$\endgroup\$
    – diverger
    Apr 8, 2015 at 1:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @alex: You've put Agi on the defence side. But in the "Probe Bandwidth Calculations", at page 12. it sates the source "Side-by-Side Comparison of Agilent and Tektronix Probing Measurements on High-Speed Signals". So if we can think it's Agi start the "war"? \$\endgroup\$
    – diverger
    Apr 8, 2015 at 2:04

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