A new type of polarized light microscope ('new pol-scope') for fast and orientation-independent measurement of birefringent fine structure has been developed. The design of the new pol-scope incorporates a precision universal compensator made from two liquid crystal variable retarders. A video camera and digital image processing system provide fast measurements of specimen anisotropy (retardance magnitude and azimuth) at all points of the image forming the field of view. The images document fine structural and molecular organization within a thin optical section of the specimen. The sensitivity of the current instrument is 0.1 nm of specimen retardance, measured with data gathered in 0.43 s at all 640 x 480 image points. Examples of birefringence measurements in biological (microtubule arrays) and industrial (magneto-optical disc substrate) specimens are presented.