- CRIRES (CRyogenic high-resolution InfraRed Echelle Spectrograph) provides a resolving power of up to 100 000 in the spectral range from 1 to 5 μm.
- FLAMES (Fibre Large Array Multi-Element Spectrograph) offers the unique capability to study simultaneously and at high spectral resolution hundreds of individual stars in nearby galaxies. It is also equipped for integral field spectroscopy.
- FORS2 (FOcal Reducer and Spectrograph) is a multi-mode instrument that can be used for imaging in the visible and for low-resolution spectroscopy.
- HAWK-I (High Acuity Wide field K-band Imager) is a near-infrared imager with a relatively large field of view.
- KMOS (K-band Multi Object Spectrograph) is a near-infrared spectrograph equipped with 24 positionable integral-field units.
- MUSE (Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer) is a giant integral-field spectrograph, that can take spectra over its full field-of-view of about one square arcminute.
- NACO (NAos-COnica) is an Adaptive Optics facility producing images as sharp as if taken in space. It is also equipped with a spectrometer, polarimeter, coronographs, etc.
- SINFONI (Spectrograph for INtegral Field Observations in the Near Infrared) is a near-infrared (1 - 2.5 μm) integral field spectrograph fed by an adaptive optics module.
- SPHERE (Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet REsearch) is an extreme adaptive optics system with advance coronographs, designed to observe exoplanets.
- UVES (UltraViolet and Visible Echelle Spectrograph) is the high-dispersion spectrograph of the VLT, observing from 300 nm to 1100 nm, with a maximum spectral resolution of 110 000.
- VIMOS (VIsible Multi-Object Spectrograph), a four-channel multiobject spectrograph and imager, allows obtaining low-resolution spectra of up to 1000 galaxies at a time.
- VIRCAM (VISTA InfraRed CAMera) allows us to see some of the most distant astronomical objects, such as quasars and galaxies from when our Universe was very young.
- VISIR (VLT Imager and Spectrometer for mid-Infrared) studies the infrared light from celestial objects.
- X-shooter is a spectrograph covering a very wide range of wavelengths [UV to near infrared] simultaneously.
- ISAAC (Infrared Spectrometer And Array Camera) is an infrared imager and spectrograph, with an arm optimized for 1–2.5 μm and the other for 3–5 μm.
- FORS1 (FOcal Reducer and Spectrograph) is a multi-mode instrument, similar to FORS2.
For detailed descriptions of these instruments, refer to the ESO instruments summary table. This also table lists which instruments currently in operation.
Many of these instruments have been built, in collaboration with ESO, by consortia of European laboratories. Further details are given on the individual instrument pages.