Tag Archives: coherent light

Wavefront to PSF to MTF: Physical Units

In the last article we saw that the Point Spread Function and the Modulation Transfer Function of a lens could be easily obtained numerically by applying Discrete Fourier Transforms to its generalized exit pupil function P twice in sequence.[1]

Obtaining the 2D DFTs is easy: simply feed MxN numbers representing the two dimensional complex image of the pupil function in its uv space to a fast fourier transform routine and, presto, it produces MxN numbers that represent the amplitude of the PSF on the xy sensing plane, as shown below for the pupil function of a perfect lens with a circular aperture and MxN = 1024×1024.

Figure 1. 1a Left: Array of numbers representing a circular aperture (zeros for black and ones for white).  1b Right: Array of numbers representing the PSF of image 1a (contrast slightly boosted).

Simple and fast.  Wonderful.  Below is a slice through the center, the 513th row, zoomed in.  Hmm….  What are the physical units on the axes of displayed data produced by the DFT?

Figure 2. A slice through the center of the PSFshown in figure 1b.

Less easy – and the subject of this article as seen from a photographic perspective.

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Aberrated Wave to Image Intensity to MTF

Goodman, in his excellent Introduction to Fourier Optics[1], describes how an image is formed on a camera sensing plane starting from first principles, that is electromagnetic propagation according to Maxwell’s wave equation.  If you want the play by play account I highly recommend his math intensive book.  But for the budding photographer it is sufficient to know what happens at the exit pupil of the lens because after that the transformations to Point Spread and Modulation Transfer Functions are straightforward, as we will show in this article.

The following diagram exemplifies the last few millimeters of the journey that light from the scene has to travel in order to smash itself against our camera’s sensing medium.  Light from the scene in the form of  field  U arrives at the front of the lens.  It goes through the lens being partly blocked and distorted by it (we’ll call this blocking/distorting function P) and finally arrives at its back end, the exit pupil.   The complex light field at the exit pupil’s two dimensional uv plane is now  U\cdot P as shown below:

Figure 1. Simplified schematic diagram of the space between the exit of a camera lens and its sensing plane. The space is filled with air.

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