Before the invention of lens-design software, complex optical systems were regularly created by manual calculation, resulting in extremely effective microscopes, telescopes, camera lenses, and other optics that served their purposes well. The effects of glass, manufacturing, and mechanical imperfections can now be taken into account with a high degree of precision by the lens designer, who can also easily add aspheric surfaces that reduce the number of elements, widen the field, and add other benefits.
Skilled lens designers now produce precision optics in direct collaboration with skilled optics fabricators for various applications, including smartphone cameras, military infrared (IR) imaging, computer chip manufacturing, augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR), and many others.
A standard optical design software package can simulate an optical system using wave-based physical optics calculations, which require more computation, or ray-tracing, which uses spot diagrams as the visual. Numerous derivatives of imaging lens design software exist, some or all of which may be merged into the original software package. These include non-imaging optical design software, integrated CAD/CAM programs, and other derivatives.
Lambda Research Corporation (Littleton, MA) produces OSLO (Optics Software for Layout and Optimization), optical-design software that makes it easier to design and analyze a wide range of optical systems. The sequential ray-trace engine at the program’s core can model geometrical and physical optics.
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