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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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A Simple Model for Sharpness in Digital Cameras – Spherical Aberrations

Spherical Aberration (SA) is one key component missing from our MTF toolkit for modeling an ideal imaging system’s ‘sharpness’ in the center of the field of view in the frequency domain.  In this article formulas will be presented to compute the two dimensional Point Spread and Modulation Transfer Functions of the combination of diffraction, defocus and third order Spherical Aberration for an otherwise perfect lens with a circular aperture.

Spherical Aberrations result because most photographic lenses are designed with quasi spherical surfaces that do not necessarily behave ideally in all situations.  For instance, they may focus light on slightly different planes depending on whether the respective ray goes through the exit pupil closer or farther from the optical axis, as shown below:

Figure 1. Top: an ideal spherical lens focuses all rays on the same focal point. Bottom: a practical lens with Spherical Aberration focuses rays that go through the exit pupil based on their radial distance from the optical axis. Image courtesy Andrei Stroe.

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