The surface roughness and stability of very thin, single crystal, free standing gold films observed in the electron microscope are evaluated. Enhanced micrographs taken with high resolution electron microscopes are compared to computer generated geometrically constructed atomic models corresponding to both vapor deposited and sputtered thin films. Recognizable image features, in situ observations and atomic motion under different incident beam conditions correlate with improved microscope vacuum conditions. These results are also in agreement with high voltage microscope studies in which surface diffusion and sputtering were observed. © 1988.