We show that with spatially incoherent illumination, the point spread function (PSF) width/spatial resolution of an imaging interferometer like that used in full-field optical coherence tomography (OCT) is almost insensitive to aberrations. In these systems, aberrations mostly induce a reduction of the signal level that leads to a loss of the signal-to-noise ratio without broadening the system PSF. This is demonstrated by comparison with traditional scanning OCT and wide-field OCT with spatially coherent illuminations. Theoretical analysis and numerical calculation as well as experimental results are provided to show this specific merit of incoherent illumination in full-field OCT. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that such a result has been demonstrated.
© 2016 Optical Society of America
Aberrations are known to blur optical images by perturbing the wavefronts; more precisely, the distorted optical images are obtained by amplitude or intensity convolution of the diffraction-limited images with the aberrated point spread function (PSF). Depending on the nature of the illumination, spatially coherent or incoherent, the amplitude or intensity has to be considered [1,2]. In order to reduce or to avoid blurring, adaptive optics (AO), which was originally proposed and developed for astronomical imaging [3,4], is usually used to correct the perturbed wavefront, thus achieving a PSF close to diffraction-limited during imaging.
Optical interferometry techniques have been widely used for imaging. Among those techniques, the use of optical coherence tomography (OCT) has increased dramatically in various researches and clinical studies since its development. Traditional scanning OCT selects ballistic (more precisely, singly backscattered) photons through scattering media based on a broadband light source and coherent cross-correlation detection . Both longitudinal [6,7] and en face scanning [8,9] OCTs use spatially coherent illumination [super-luminescent diode (SLD), frequency-swept laser, etc.] and rely on point-by-point scanning to acquire three-dimensional reflectivity (back-scattering) images. Parallel OCT systems that take images with planes that are perpendicular to the optical axis have also been developed with specific detectors and methods by using either spatially coherent illumination (SLD, femtosecond laser, etc.), that is referred to as wide-field (WD) OCT [10–12], or spatially incoherent illumination (halogen lamp, LED, etc.), like full-field (FF) OCT . Higher resolutions are achieved in these systems as en face acquisition allows using larger numerical aperture (NA) optics. WDOCT systems with powerful laser sources or SLDs have high sensitivity, but the image can be significantly degraded by coherent cross-talks . FFOCTs use thermal lamps or LEDs for high resolution, highly parallel image acquisitions, but could suffer low power per spatial mode .
In this Letter, we show that with spatially incoherent illumination, the resolution of the FFOCT is almost insensitive to aberrations. Instead of considering the PSF of a classical imaging system such as a microscope, we will pay attention to the PSF of the complete interferometric imaging system for which an undistorted wavefront from a reference beam interferes with the distorted wavefront of the object beam. More precisely, we will consider the cases of scanning OCT with spatially coherent illumination, WDOCT with spatially coherent illumination, and FFOCT with spatially incoherent illumination; surprisingly, we found that in FFOCT with incoherent illumination the system PSF width is almost independent of the aberrations and that only its amplitude varies.
In order to stick to the PSF definition, we will consider a point scatterer as our object, and we will analyze the response of the system to such an object. Suppose the single point scatterer is at position , the sample arm PSF of the interferometer is , and the reference arm PSF of the interferometer is . For simplification, we ignore all the constant factors in the following expressions. So in all three cases, the sample field at the detection plane would be
In the case of the traditional scanning OCT, the reference field of each scanning position at the detection plane would be . Since coherent illumination is used, interference happens at each scanning position, and the final interference would be a sum of the interference term across the scanning filed result in
Thus, the system PSF of the scanning OCT system would be a convolution of the sample arm PSF and the reference arm PSF, as shown in Figs. 1(a)–1(c). When aberrations exist, the convolution of the aberrated sample arm PSF with the diffraction-limited reference arm PSF results in an aberrated system PSF for the scanning OCT systems [Figs. 1(d)–1(f)].
In the case of WDOCT, as coherent sources are used, the optical beams are typically broadened by lenses to form parallel illuminations on both arms of the interferometer . Thus, plane waves impinge on both the object and the reference mirror. In the sample arm, the point scatterer will send a spherical wave back that will be the focus on the camera plane that can be described by Eq. (1). For the reference arm, consider it as homogeneous illumination, a plane wave will be reflected back by the reference mirror and form a uniform field at the camera plane. Thus, the interference that happens between the two arms would be1(g)–1(i). When aberrations distort the backscattered wavefront of the sample arm, the aberrated sample arm PSF and the uniform reference field interfere, resulting in an aberrated system PSF for the WDOCT systems [Figs. 1(j)–1(l)].
When we deal with the case of FFOCT with spatially incoherent illumination, we have to go back to the basic definition of the spatial coherence of the beams that impinge the reference arm as well as the sample arm of the interferometer. Let us consider a circular uniform incoherent source located in the image focal plane of a microscope objective with a focal length of , which could be obtained with a standard Koehler illumination with LED or halogen lamp illuminations. The source illuminates the field of view of the microscope objective. One first step is to determine the spatial coherence length in the field of view. The van Cittert–Zernike theorem states that the coherence angle is given by the Fourier transform of the source luminance . If the pupil diameter is , the angle would be . At the level of the focal plane, this corresponds to a zone of radius or . We can say that, in absence of aberrations, the focal plane is “paved” by small coherent areas (CA) of radius . This radius is also the radius of the diffraction spot that limits the resolution of the microscope objective in the absence of aberrations. When going from one diffraction spot to the next adjacent diffraction spots, the incoherent plane waves impinging the objective are separated by on the edges of the pupil.
In absence of aberrations for an interferometry like FFOCT, the single point scatterer at the object plane of the sample arm lies in a single CA [Fig. 2(a)], and the backscattered signal will only interfere with the signal reflected from the corresponding CA in the reference arm [Fig. 2(c)]. Note that the size of the CAs is the same as the diffraction spot; the signal from one CA at the camera plane could be expressed as the reference PSF. Thus, the interference would be
The system PSF is actually the dot product of the sample PSF and the reference PSF, as shown in Figs. 1(m)–1(o). The overall signal reflected from the reference mirror at the camera is still homogenous, but we displayed it by combining multiple reference PSFs reflected from different CAs that have different spatial modes.
When aberrations exist in the sample arm, the various CAs in the object plane will have larger sizes and will overlap each other [Fig. 2(b)]. This results in the backscattered signal of the single point scatterer in the sample arm contains not only the spatial mode of the targeted focus CA, but also the modes from the overlapped adjacent CAs. Thus with aberrations that create a broadened sample PSF, interference will happen not only with the reference beam corresponding to the targeted CA, but also with the beams corresponding to the adjacent CAs. What we want to demonstrate and illustrate by an experiment is that the interference signal with the targeted focus CA gives a much stronger signal than the one with the adjacent CAs, resulting in an “interference” PSF that is much thinner than the one of the classical broadened sample PSF. In order to be more quantitative, we are going to compare this by the Strehl ratio approach.
The “best focus” signal intensity damping compared to the diffraction-limited PSF is given (for small aberrations) by the Strehl ratio that is proportional to the peak aberrated image intensity , where is the root mean square deviation over the aperture of the wavefront phase . In our case, suppose is the phase of the interference wavefront between the sample signal and the reference signal corresponding to the targeted focus CA, then the phase of the interference wavefront with the reference signals corresponding to an adjacent CA is , where is a phase that varies linearly from one edge of the pupil to the other in the range of . A comparison between the Strehl ratio of the interference signal with the targeted CA and the one with an adjacent CA is3. For defocusing, the intensity ratio of the interference with the adjacent CAs is damped about 740 times compared with the interference with the targeted focus CA, resulting in a signal damping or an amplitude damping of 27.1 times. The amplitude damping ratio is calculated by 1(p)–1(r), the interference signal results in a dot product of the aberrated sample PSF with the reference PSF corresponding to the targeted focus CA since the interference with the reference PSFs corresponding to the adjacent CAs are significantly degraded. This actually matches with Eq. (4) for the non-aberrated situation. For distorted sample PSF (mostly broadened), its interference with the reference channel conserves the main feature of an unperturbed PSF with only a reduction in the FFOCT signal level. We mentioned “almost” for the resolution conservation, because there are situations in which the product of the reference arm PSF with an off-center aberrated sample arm PSF may result in losing some sharpness due to the high side lobes of the Bessel PSF function.
With the commercial LLtech FFOCT system Light-CT Scanner that uses 0.3 NA microscope objectives , we have also conducted experiments with gold nanoparticles to check how the system PSF would be affected by inducing different level of defocus. A 40 nm radius gold nanoparticle solution was diluted and dried on a coverslip so that single particles could be imaged. By moving the sample stage, a 10, 20, and 30 μm defocus was induced to the targeted particle. The length of the reference arm was shifted for the same value in order to match the coherence plan of the two arms for imaging. Theoretically, the system resolution was 1.5 μm corresponding to about 2.5 pixels on the camera. By adding 10, 20, and 30 μm of defocusing, the sample PSF would be broadened by 2.3, 4.6, and 6.9 times. The experimental results are shown in Fig. (4). FFOCT images [Figs. 4(a)–4(d)] and the corresponding signal profiles [Figs. 4(e)–4(h)] of the same nanoparticle were displayed. It is obvious that with more defocusing added, the signal level of the gold nanoparticles is reduced, but the normalized signal profiles graph [Fig. 4(i)] clearly shows that the size of the particle that corresponds to the system PSF width stays the same for all of the situations. This phenomenon has also been confirmed in FFOCT systems with various NA (0.1, 0.2, and 0.8) microscope objectives.
In conclusion, we have shown for the first time, to the best of our knowledge, that in spatially incoherent illumination interferometry like FFOCT, the system PSF width is almost insensitive to aberrations with only signal amplitude reduction. More precisely the aberration-induced reduction in signal is roughly proportional to the square root of the Strehl ratio. Let us consider the realistic case of a diffraction-limited imaging system with a PSF width of 2 μm that allows, for instance, the resolving of the cones in retinal imaging. With a Strehl ratio of 0.1, which is considered to give a low quality image, the PSF would be broadened to about 6 μm, which would mask the cell structures. But in a FFOCT system, the same Strehl ratio would only reduce the signal by a factor of 3.1 that leads to the same reduction of the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) while keeping the image sharpness. As we intended to apply a FFOCT system with AOs for an eye examination, this specific merit of spatially incoherent illumination could simplify the in vivo observation of the eye. We think that we could restrict the aberration corrections to the main aberrations (e.g., focus and astigmatism) that will improve the SNR and skip the high order aberrations. This would also increase the correction speed, thus reducing the imaging time.
European Research Council (ERC) (501100000781).
1. M. Born and E. Wolf, Principles of Optics: Electromagnetic Theory of Propagation, Interference and Diffraction of Light (CUP Archive, 2000).
2. J. W. Goodman, Introduction to Fourier Optics (Roberts & Company, 2005).
3. H. Babcock, Publ. Astron. Soc. Pac. 65, 229 (1953). [CrossRef]
4. G. Rousset, J. C. Fontanella, P. Kern, P. Gigan, F. Rigaut, P. Lena, C. Boyer, P. Jagourel, J. P. Gaffard, and F. Merkle, Astron. Astrophys. 230, L29 (1990).
5. D. Huang, E. A. Swanson, C. P. Lin, J. S. Schuman, W. G. Stinson, W. Chang, M. R. Hee, T. Flotte, K. Gregory, C. A. Puliafito, and J. G. Fujimoto, Science 254, 1178 (1991). [CrossRef]
6. N. Nassif, B. Cense, B. H. Park, S. H. Yun, T. C. Chen, B. E. Bouma, G. J. Tearney, and J. F. de Boer, Opt. Lett. 29, 480 (2004). [CrossRef]
7. R. Huber, M. Wojtkowski, and J. G. Fujimoto, Opt. Express 14, 3225 (2006). [CrossRef]
8. B. M. Hoeling, A. D. Fernandez, R. C. Haskell, E. Huang, W. R. Myers, D. C. Petersen, S. E. Ungersma, R. Wang, M. E. Williams, and S. E. Fraser, Opt. Express 6, 136 (2000). [CrossRef]
9. Y. Zhang, J. Rha, R. S. Jonnal, and D. T. Miller, Opt. Express 13, 4792 (2005). [CrossRef]
10. S. Bourquin, P. Seitz, and R. P. Salathé, Opt. Lett. 26, 512 (2001). [CrossRef]
11. E. Bordenave, E. Abraham, G. Jonusauskas, N. Tsurumachi, J. Oberlé, C. Rullière, P. E. Minot, M. Lassègues, and J. E. Surlève Bazeille, Appl. Opt. 41, 2059 (2002). [CrossRef]
12. M. Laubscher, M. Ducros, B. Karamata, T. Lasser, and R. Salathé, Opt. Express 10, 429 (2002). [CrossRef]
13. L. Vabre, A. Dubois, and A. C. Boccara, Opt. Lett. 27, 530 (2002). [CrossRef]
14. B. Karamata, P. Lambelet, M. Laubscher, R. P. Salathé, and T. Lasser, Opt. Lett. 29, 736 (2004). [CrossRef]
15. A. F. Fercher, C. K. Hitzenberger, M. Sticker, E. Moreno-Barriuso, R. Leitgeb, W. Drexler, and H. Sattmann, Opt. Commun. 185, 57 (2000). [CrossRef]
16. C. W. McCutchen, J. Opt. Soc. Am. 56, 727 (1966). [CrossRef]
17. LLTech SAS, France, http://www.lltechimaging.com/.