Epitaxial La0.7Ca0.3MnO3 (LCMO) thin films of a thickness ∼170 nm were grown on (001) LaAlO3 (LAO) and (001) SrTiO3 (STO) substrates by pulsed laser deposition. Transmission electron microscopy and associated techniques have been applied to investigate the microstructures introduced by lattice mismatch that are responsible for the observed differences in properties between these two films. Numerous secondary phase rods were observed in both films. For the LCMO/LAO film, Ca-deficient secondary-phase rods originated in the film after a thickness of about 25 nm and were found to be responsible for relieving in-plane compressive stress during the island growth. In the case of STO substrate, however, almost all of secondary-phase rods initiated at the film–substrate interface. The lattice mismatch between LCMO and STO is relaxed into regions of good coherent fit separated by such secondary phases, possibly resulting from interfacial reaction. The two types of substrates lead to the formation of two different crystallographic domain structures in the LCMO films. The film on LAO exhibits an almost pure  out-of-plane texture with 90° domains in plane. In contrast, the film grown on STO consists of mixed domains of  and  orientations and is dominated by  texture. © 2000 American Institute of Physics.