Reliable autofocus is required to obtain accurate measurements of fluorescent stained cellular components from a system capable of scanning multiple microscope fields. Autofocus could be performed directly with fluorescence images, but due to photobleaching and destructive fluorescence by-products, it is best to minimize fluorescence exposure for photosensitive specimens and live cells. This exposure problem could be completely avoided by using phase-contrast microscopy, implemented through the same optics as fluorescence microscopy. Functions for both phase-contrast and fluorescence autofocus were evaluated using the present invention and the suitability of phase-contrast autofocus for fluorescence microscopy was determined. The present autofocus system for scanning microscopy can be performed at least as fast as 0.25 s/field without loss of precision.