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Magnetic force microscopy (MFM) has been shown to give high-resolution imaging of magnetic domain structures in a variety of high-coercivity permanent magnets [Folks etal, J. Magn. Magn. Mater. (in press)]. We show that this technique can be extended by the application of external fields during imaging, thus allowing direct observation of submicron microstructural evolution as a function of field. Electromagnets mounted on the MFM supplied fields up to 7 kOe laterally and 3 kOe vertically. In sintered materials, submicron processes such as depinning of domain walls at grain boundaries, domain fragmentation, and hysteresis were observed. MFM tips having very low coercivity highlighted domain walls, whereas higher-coercivity tips suffered unpredictable rotation of their magnetic moment due to both the sample and applied fields, leading to images which are difficult to interpret. For imaging of the finer-grained melt-quenched magnets, however, relatively high-coercivity tips were superior. These results show promise for the direct observation of the submicron-scale processes that dictate bulk magnetic properties, and the quantification of their field dependence. © 1997 American Institute of Physics.