What is lens design [optical design]?

Lens design is the art or science of designing optical systems.

An optical system consists of one or more elements - individual lenses or mirrors. Light passes through these elements in sequence before heading toward the detector or film plane.

Unless these elements are properly shaped and spaced, then the resultant image will be deeply blurred and distorted - fit for nothing.

The lens designer has to select different materials for each element, define their curvatures and control their spacings

A complex lens may have tens or even hundreds of design parameters - all of which are critical. Moroever these all interact in a highly complex way [non-linear], so the designer cannot just tweak one at a time.

In short this is a highly skillfull craft, worthy of more recognition than it has.

Why is lens design important?

Some products of this science are obvious - practically all of us have a camera - wether in a mobile phone, a top of the range Canon or Olympus, or a old large format system. Imagine the world withouth them

Some products are much less obvious, but if anything even more essential. Take any computer and open its case - what do you see? Lots of chips. How are these manufactured? By a process called lithography, where detailed masks are projected onto silicon wafers. And how is the mask projected? Why, by a lithography lens.

No lens design means no lithography lenses, which means no microprocessor or memory chips, which means no computers and therefore no internet. I rest my case!

Lithography lenses are one of the crowning achievements of the lens designer - amazing quality and fabulously expensive [over $1,000,000 a time]! Most lenses are orders of magnitude cheaper, maybe even pence, but all require at least some design to function.

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