Spatially resolved optical emission spectroscopy (OES) has been used to investigate the gas phase chemistry and composition in a microwave activated CH4/Ar/H2 plasma operating at moderate power densities (∼30 W cm-3) and pressures (≤175 Torr) during chemical vapor deposition of polycrystalline diamond. Several tracer species are monitored in order to gain information about the plasma. Relative concentrations of ground state H (n=1) atoms have been determined by actinometry, and the validity of this method have been demonstrated for the present experimental conditions. Electronically excited H (n=3 and 4) atoms, Ar (4p) atoms, and C2 and CH radicals have been studied also, by monitoring their emissions as functions of process parameters (Ar and CH4 flow rates, input power, and pressure) and of distance above the substrate. These various species exhibit distinctive behaviors, reflecting their different formation mechanisms. Relative trends identified by OES are found to be in very good agreement with those revealed by complementary absolute absorption measurements (using cavity ring down spectroscopy) and with the results of complementary two-dimensional modeling of the plasma chemistry prevailing within this reactor.