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EE 529 Optics An Aside on the Paraxial Approximation

A question often arises as to the angular range over which the paraxial approximation can be considered accurate, or valid. The answer is that it depends on what you are calculating, and for what purpose. The paraxial approximation is essentially the approximation that sin = , and that cos = 1. Of course, neither result is exact for any finite angle at all, and so one has to establish some form of a metric to determine if the use of any equation derived with use of the paraxial approximation is appropriate. For the design example of the 35 mm projection system presented at the midterm review session, we are essentially producing a first-order system design, with system constraints and parameters accurate to a few percent. If we were to refine the design further in order to proceed toward system evaluation and then fabrication, of course we would demand much greater precision throughout, and would likely use analytical expressions and ray-tracing methods in conjunction with one or more system metrics (such as image resolution transfer from the object to the image, aberrations, distortion, vignetting, and the like) to optimize the design around the first-order system design that we have obtained. Let's consider a few values of sin , cos , and : (rad) 0.0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.35 Sin 0.0 0.0998 0.1987 0.2955 0.3429 Cos 1.0 0.9953 0.9801 0.9553 0.9394

As you can see from the table above, errors in the sine approximation increase slowly through about 0.35 radians, or about 20 degrees, while errors in the cosine increase a bit more rapidly (due to the fact that the next term in the cosine function expansion is quadratic in , while the next term in the sine function expansion is cubic in . In order to evaluate, then, over what range of angles we can expect the

paraxial approximation to be "accurate", we need to evaluate (1) to what degree we expect the resulting design to be accurate, and (2) to what degree the resulting design depends on the sine approximation, on the one hand, and the cosine approximation, on the other. For the case of the design example presented at the midterm review, the purpose of the example was to produce a self-consistent system design that satisfied the constraints provided in the problem. No specific constraints regarding an overall system performance metric were stated, and hence it seems reasonable to allow "paraxial" rays to extend up to about 20 degrees or so off axis. Often, a limit of 10 degrees is used if a bit more precision is desired. In this case, imposing such a strict requirement would result in a substantial loss of optical throughput efficiency, which seems undesirable for a calculation of this nature.