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A reflection-mode aperture-type scanning near-field optical microscope (R-SNOM) based on the external collection of the reflected light is presented. The light detection is based on an elliptical mirror setup, with the tip and sample at one focus, and a photomultiplier tube at the other. Results are presented on the general imaging properties of this microscope. The results presented concentrate on an analysis of the gap-width dependence of the optical signal, on resolution and on the contrast mechanisms which may be used in R-SNOM imaging, including reflectivity, polarization/magneto-optics, and topographic effects. © 1998 American Institute of Physics.