A classic confocal microscope illuminates one spot on your sample to detect the emitted fluorescence signal. Out-of-focus emission light is rejected at a pinhole, the size of which determines how much of the airy pattern reaches the detector. You can increase the resolution by making the pinhole smaller, but signal-to-noise drops significantly since less valuable emission light is passing through. With Airyscan ZEISS introduces a new concept. Instead of throwing light away at the pinhole, a 32 channel area detector collects all light of an Airy pattern simultaneously. Each detector element functions as a single, very small pinhole. Knowing the beampath and the spatial distribution of each Airy pattern enables a very light efficient imaging: you can now use all of the photons that your objective collected.
It's up to you whether you use the additional information from your sample to get better signal-to-noise, resolution or speed. In the optional Virtual Pinhole Mode, you can decide even after the acquisition, which pinhole size best suits your application.