Spherical aberration

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Optical aberration
Out-of-focus image of a spoke target..svg Defocus

HartmannShack 1lenslet.svg Tilt
Spherical aberration 3.svg Spherical aberration
Astigmatism.svg Astigmatism
Lens coma.svg Coma
Barrel distortion.svg Distortion
Field curvature.svg Petzval field curvature
Chromatic aberration lens diagram.svg Chromatic aberration


In optics, spherical aberration (SA) is a type of aberration found in optical systems that have elements with spherical surfaces. Lenses and curved mirrors are prime examples, because this shape is easier to manufacture. Light rays that strike a spherical surface off-centre are refracted or reflected more or less than those that strike close to the centre. This deviation reduces the quality of images produced by optical systems.

On top is a depiction of a perfect lens without spherical aberration: all incoming rays are focused in the focal point.

The bottom example depicts a real lens with spherical surfaces, which produces spherical aberration: The different rays do not meet after the lens in one focal point. The further the rays are from the optical axis, the closer to the lens they intersect the optical axis (positive spherical aberration).

(Drawing is exaggerated.) Spherical aberration 2.svg
On top is a depiction of a perfect lens without spherical aberration: all incoming rays are focused in the focal point.

The bottom example depicts a real lens with spherical surfaces, which produces spherical aberration: The different rays do not meet after the lens in one focal point. The further the rays are from the optical axis, the closer to the lens they intersect the optical axis (positive spherical aberration).

(Drawing is exaggerated.)
Spherical aberration of collimated light incident on a concave spherical mirror. Caustic of a circle 2.svg
Spherical aberration of collimated light incident on a concave spherical mirror.


A spherical lens has an aplanatic point (i.e., no spherical aberration) only at a radius that equals the radius of the sphere divided by the index of refraction of the lens material. A typical value of refractive index for crown glass is 1.5 (see list), which indicates that only about 43% of the area (67% of diameter) of a spherical lens is useful. It is often considered to be an imperfection of telescopes and other instruments which makes their focusing less than ideal due to the spherical shape of lenses and mirrors. This is an important effect, because spherical shapes are much easier to produce than aspherical ones. In many cases, it is cheaper to use multiple spherical elements to compensate for spherical aberration than it is to use a single aspheric lens.

"Positive" spherical aberration means peripheral rays are bent too much. "Negative" spherical aberration means peripheral rays are not bent enough.

The effect is proportional to the fourth power of the diameter and inversely proportional to the third power of the focal length, so it is much more pronounced at short focal ratios, i.e., "fast" lenses.

Longitudinal sections through a focused beam with negative (top row), zero (middle row), and positive spherical aberration (bottom row). The lens is to the left. Spherical-aberration-slice.jpg
Longitudinal sections through a focused beam with negative (top row), zero (middle row), and positive spherical aberration (bottom row). The lens is to the left.


In lens systems, aberrations can be minimized using combinations of convex and concave lenses, or by using aspheric lenses or aplanatic lenses.

Lens systems with aberration correction are usually designed by numerical ray tracing. For simple designs one can sometimes analytically calculate parameters that minimize spherical aberration. For example, in a design consisting of a single lens with spherical surfaces and a given object distance o, image distance i, and refractive index n, one can minimize spherical aberration by adjusting the radii of curvature and of the front and back surfaces of the lens such that

The signs of the radii follow the Cartesian sign convention.
A point source as imaged by a system with negative (top row), zero (middle row), and positive spherical aberration (bottom row). The middle column shows the focused image, columns to the left shows defocusing toward the inside, and columns to the right show defocusing toward the outside. Spherical-aberration-disk.jpg
A point source as imaged by a system with negative (top row), zero (middle row), and positive spherical aberration (bottom row). The middle column shows the focused image, columns to the left shows defocusing toward the inside, and columns to the right show defocusing toward the outside.

For small telescopes using spherical mirrors with focal ratios shorter than f/10, light from a distant point source (such as a star) is not all focused at the same point. Particularly, light striking the inner part of the mirror focuses farther from the mirror than light striking the outer part. As a result, the image cannot be focused as sharply as if the aberration were not present. Because of spherical aberration, telescopes with focal ratio less than f/10 are usually made with non-spherical mirrors or with correcting lenses.

Spherical aberration can be eliminated by making lenses with an aspheric surface. Descartes showed that lenses whose surfaces are well-chosen Cartesian ovals (revolved around the central symmetry axis) can perfectly image light from a point on the axis or from infinity in the direction of the axis. Such a design yields completely aberration-free focusing of light from a distant source. [1]

In 2018, Rafael G. González-Acuña and Héctor A. Chaparro-Romo, graduate students at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education in Mexico, found a closed formula for a lens surface that eliminates spherical aberration. [2] [3] [4] Their equation can be applied to specify a shape for one surface of a lens, where the other surface has any given shape.

Estimation of the aberrated spot diameter

Many ways to estimate the diameter of the focused spot due to spherical aberration are based on ray optics. Ray optics, however, does not consider that light is an electromagnetic wave. Therefore, the results can be wrong due to interference effects.

Coddington notation

A rather simple formalism based on ray optics, which holds for thin lenses only, is the Coddington notation. [5] In the following, n is the lens' refractive index, o is the object distance, i is the image distance, h is the distance from the optical axis at which the outermost ray enters the lens, is the first lens radius, is the second lens radius, and f is the lens' focal length. The distance h can be understood as half of the clear aperture.

By using the Coddington factors for shape, s, and position, p,

one can write the longitudinal spherical aberration as [5]

If the focal length, f, is very much larger than the longitudinal spherical aberration, LSA, then the transverse spherical aberration, TSA, which corresponds to the diameter of the focal spot is given by

See also

Related Research Articles

In optics, aberration is a property of optical systems such as lenses that causes light to be spread out over some region of space rather than focused to a point. Aberrations cause the image formed by a lens to be blurred or distorted, with the nature of the distortion depending on the type of aberration. Aberration can be defined as a departure of the performance of an optical system from the predictions of paraxial optics. In an imaging system, it occurs when light from one point of an object does not converge into a single point after transmission through the system. Aberrations occur because the simple paraxial theory is not a completely accurate model of the effect of an optical system on light, rather than due to flaws in the optical elements.

Lens Optical device which transmits and refracts light

A lens is a transmissive optical device that focuses or disperses a light beam by means of refraction. A simple lens consists of a single piece of transparent material, while a compound lens consists of several simple lenses (elements), usually arranged along a common axis. Lenses are made from materials such as glass or plastic, and are ground and polished or molded to a desired shape. A lens can focus light to form an image, unlike a prism, which refracts light without focusing. Devices that similarly focus or disperse waves and radiation other than visible light are also called lenses, such as microwave lenses, electron lenses, acoustic lenses, or explosive lenses.

Optics Branch of physics that studies light

Optics is the branch of physics that studies the behaviour and properties of light, including its interactions with matter and the construction of instruments that use or detect it. Optics usually describes the behaviour of visible, ultraviolet, and infrared light. Because light is an electromagnetic wave, other forms of electromagnetic radiation such as X-rays, microwaves, and radio waves exhibit similar properties.

Numerical aperture Dimensionless number that characterizes the range of angles over which an optical system can accept or emit light

In optics, the numerical aperture (NA) of an optical system is a dimensionless number that characterizes the range of angles over which the system can accept or emit light. By incorporating index of refraction in its definition, NA has the property that it is constant for a beam as it goes from one material to another, provided there is no refractive power at the interface. The exact definition of the term varies slightly between different areas of optics. Numerical aperture is commonly used in microscopy to describe the acceptance cone of an objective, and in fiber optics, in which it describes the range of angles within which light that is incident on the fiber will be transmitted along it.

The focal length of an optical system is a measure of how strongly the system converges or diverges light; it is the inverse of the system's optical power. A positive focal length indicates that a system converges light, while a negative focal length indicates that the system diverges light. A system with a shorter focal length bends the rays more sharply, bringing them to a focus in a shorter distance or diverging them more quickly. For the special case of a thin lens in air, a positive focal length is the distance over which initially collimated (parallel) rays are brought to a focus, or alternatively a negative focal length indicates how far in front of the lens a point source must be located to form a collimated beam. For more general optical systems, the focal length has no intuitive meaning; it is simply the inverse of the system's optical power.

Achromatic lens

An achromatic lens or achromat is a lens that is designed to limit the effects of chromatic and spherical aberration. Achromatic lenses are corrected to bring two wavelengths into focus on the same plane.

Parabolic reflector Reflector that has the shape of a paraboloid

A parabolicreflector is a reflective surface used to collect or project energy such as light, sound, or radio waves. Its shape is part of a circular paraboloid, that is, the surface generated by a parabola revolving around its axis. The parabolic reflector transforms an incoming plane wave traveling along the axis into a spherical wave converging toward the focus. Conversely, a spherical wave generated by a point source placed in the focus is reflected into a plane wave propagating as a collimated beam along the axis.

Angular resolution describes the ability of any image-forming device such as an optical or radio telescope, a microscope, a camera, or an eye, to distinguish small details of an object, thereby making it a major determinant of image resolution. It is used in optics applied to light waves, in antenna theory applied to radio waves, and in acoustics applied to sound waves. The closely related term spatial resolution refers to the precision of a measurement with respect to space, which is directly connected to angular resolution in imaging instruments. The Rayleigh criterion shows that the minimum angular spread that can be resolved by an image forming system is limited by diffraction to the ratio of the wavelength of the waves to the aperture width. For this reason, high resolution imaging systems such as astronomical telescopes, long distance telephoto camera lenses and radio telescopes have large apertures.

Optical telescope Telescope for observations with visible light

An optical telescope is a telescope that gathers and focuses light, mainly from the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum, to create a magnified image for direct view, or to make a photograph, or to collect data through electronic image sensors.

Reflecting telescope Telescopes which utilize curved mirrors to form an image

A reflecting telescope is a telescope that uses a single or a combination of curved mirrors that reflect light and form an image. The reflecting telescope was invented in the 17th century by Isaac Newton as an alternative to the refracting telescope which, at that time, was a design that suffered from severe chromatic aberration. Although reflecting telescopes produce other types of optical aberrations, it is a design that allows for very large diameter objectives. Almost all of the major telescopes used in astronomy research are reflectors. Reflecting telescopes come in many design variations and may employ extra optical elements to improve image quality or place the image in a mechanically advantageous position. Since reflecting telescopes use mirrors, the design is sometimes referred to as a "catoptric" telescope.

Airy disk

In optics, the Airy disk and Airy pattern are descriptions of the best-focused spot of light that a perfect lens with a circular aperture can make, limited by the diffraction of light. The Airy disk is of importance in physics, optics, and astronomy.

Geometrical optics, or ray optics, is a model of optics that describes light propagation in terms of rays. The ray in geometric optics is an abstraction useful for approximating the paths along which light propagates under certain circumstances.

Wavefront Locus of points at equal phase in a wave

In physics, the wavefront of a time-varying field is the set (locus) of all points where the wave has the same phase of the sinusoid. The term is generally meaningful only for fields that, at each point, vary sinusoidally in time with a single temporal frequency.

Catadioptric system Optical system where refraction and reflection are combined

A catadioptric optical system is one where refraction and reflection are combined in an optical system, usually via lenses (dioptrics) and curved mirrors (catoptrics). Catadioptric combinations are used in focusing systems such as searchlights, headlamps, early lighthouse focusing systems, optical telescopes, microscopes, and telephoto lenses. Other optical systems that use lenses and mirrors are also referred to as "catadioptric", such as surveillance catadioptric sensors.

Maksutov telescope

The Maksutov is a catadioptric telescope design that combines a spherical mirror with a weakly negative meniscus lens in a design that takes advantage of all the surfaces being nearly "spherically symmetrical". The negative lens is usually full diameter and placed at the entrance pupil of the telescope. The design corrects the problems of off-axis aberrations such as coma found in reflecting telescopes while also correcting chromatic aberration. It was patented in 1941 by Russian optician Dmitri Dmitrievich Maksutov. Maksutov based his design on the idea behind the Schmidt camera of using the spherical errors of a negative lens to correct the opposite errors in a spherical primary mirror. The design is most commonly seen in a Cassegrain variation, with an integrated secondary, that can use all-spherical elements, thereby simplifying fabrication. Maksutov telescopes have been sold on the amateur market since the 1950s.

Cassegrain reflector

The Cassegrain reflector is a combination of a primary concave mirror and a secondary convex mirror, often used in optical telescopes and radio antennas, the main characteristic being that the optical path folds back onto itself, relative to the optical system's primary mirror entrance aperture. This design puts the focal point at a convenient location behind the primary mirror and the convex secondary adds a telephoto effect creating a much longer focal length in a mechanically short system.

Aspheric lens Type of lens

An aspheric lens or asphere is a lens whose surface profiles are not portions of a sphere or cylinder. In photography, a lens assembly that includes an aspheric element is often called an aspherical lens.

Curved mirror Mirror with a curved reflecting surface

A curved mirror is a mirror with a curved reflecting surface. The surface may be either convex or concave. Most curved mirrors have surfaces that are shaped like part of a sphere, but other shapes are sometimes used in optical devices. The most common non-spherical type are parabolic reflectors, found in optical devices such as reflecting telescopes that need to image distant objects, since spherical mirror systems, like spherical lenses, suffer from spherical aberration. Distorting mirrors are used for entertainment. They have convex and concave regions that produce deliberately distorted images. They also provide highly magnified or highly diminished (smaller) images when the object is placed at certain distances.

Toric lens Type of lens

A toric lens is a lens with different optical power and focal length in two orientations perpendicular to each other. One of the lens surfaces is shaped like a "cap" from a torus, and the other one is usually spherical. Such a lens behaves like a combination of a spherical lens and a cylindrical lens. Toric lenses are used primarily in eyeglasses, contact lenses and intraocular lenses to correct astigmatism.

Petzval field curvature

Petzval field curvature, named for Joseph Petzval, describes the optical aberration in which a flat object normal to the optical axis cannot be brought properly into focus on a flat image plane.


  1. Villarino, Mark B (2007). "Descartes' perfect lens". arXiv: 0704.1059 [math.GM].
  2. Machuca, Eduardo (July 5, 2019). "Goodbye Aberration: Physicist Solves 2,000-Year-Old Optical Problem". PetaPixel. Retrieved July 10, 2019.
  3. González-Acuña, Rafael G.; Chaparro-Romo, Héctor A. (2018). "General formula for bi-aspheric singlet lens design free of spherical aberration". Applied Optics. 57 (31): 9341–9345. arXiv: 1811.03792 . Bibcode:2018ApOpt..57.9341G. doi:10.1364/AO.57.009341. PMID   30461981. S2CID   53695913.
  4. Liszewski, Andrew (August 7, 2019). "A Mexican Physicist Solved a 2,000-Year Old Problem That Will Lead to Cheaper, Sharper Lenses". Gizmodo . Retrieved August 7, 2019.
  5. 1 2 Smith, T. T. (1922). "Spherical Aberration in thin lenses". Scientific Papers of the Bureau of Standards. 18: 559–584. doi:10.6028/nbsscipaper.127.