General Optics Books

If your bookshelf has only one book on optics (unlike ours), it should be Modern Optical Engineering, 4th ed. by Warren Smith.

    Anyone who has mastered the contents of this book is an estimable optical engineer. It is the only text our founder has used in teaching one of his courses in lens design.

    For more in-depth reading on the theory of optics, we recommend the following books on optics:

    • Hecht, Optics – the best undergraduate text on optics. This book covers physical optics (interference, diffraction, polarization) that Smith glosses over.
    • Born & Wolf’s Principles of Optics covers the theory of optics in excruciating detail; only known book that references the van Cittert-Zernike theorem for partial coherence.
    • Welford – Aberrations of Optical Systems contains everything you will ever need to know about aberration theory, other than pupil aberrations (for that you’ll need to consult Roland Shack’s unpublished book).
      Lens Design Books
      • Warren Smith, Modern Lens DesignThis book has a lot of overlap with Smith’s text that we mentioned above, but if you’re looking for information on lens design, this is a perfect fit. 
      • Michael Kidger, Fundamental Optical Design and Intermediate Optical Design. These books are the basis for a two semester graduate course in lens design. They are very readable and include a lot of information on the design of specific lens types not found elsewhere, for example, complex apochromatic lenses in the second volume.
      • Rudolf Kingslake, Lens Design Fundamentals. The first edition of this book offers the insights of a skilled designer who had to rely on intellect rather than computers. It is interesting, but no one designs lenses this way now. R. Barry Johnson’s 2nd edition is still a bit old-school, but has a lot of good information.
      • Joseph Geary, Introduction to Lens Design. This book is one of two on the list that is specific to a lens design program, Zemax in this case. It is clearly the text for a one semester course in lens design. A lot of material is covered, but not at great depth.
      • Donald Dilworth, Lens Design. Although strongly biased toward Don’s lens design program (SYNOPSYS), this book has a lot of insights on the design process.
      • Robert Shannon, The Art and Science of Optical Design. I (Steve here) studied under Bob Shannon, so I bought this book as soon as it came out. It’s written in Bob’s inimitable style and contains a lot of insights into the design process.
      • Fischer, Tadic-Galeb, and Yoder, Optical System Design, 2nd EdOf the books on this list, this one contains the broadest selection of topics. None of the others covers optomechanical design or polarization. The bloopers chapter is very instructive.
      • Donald C. O’Shea, Elements of Modern Optical Design. Other than the case study on designing laser printer, I have not had much use for this book.
      • Authur Cox, A System of Optical Design. This is the second oldest book on lens design published in the USA. Its “Lens Performance” section is a review of the patent literature up to 1964 and was the place to go when looking for a design starting point for many years.
      • A. E Conrady, Applied Optics and Optical DesignThis is a great resource if you want detailed instruction on how to design lens using log tables. 

      I don’t own these last few titles, but you might consider using them:

      • Gregory Smith, Practical Computer Aided Lens Design.
      • Bruce Walker, Optical Engineering Fundamentals.
      • Seward, Optical Design of Microscopes
      Optical Scattering Books
      Optical scattering is a field by itself. The best three references we know of are:
      • John Stover, Optical Scattering – a practical overview of surface roughness and optical scattering, including both theory and measurement.
      • J. A. Ogilvy, Theory of Wave Scattering from Random Rough Surfaces – my favorite book on the theory behind scattering. Unfortunately, it is out of print.
      • Giorgio Frsnceschetti & Daniele Riccio, Scattering, Natural Surfaces and Fractals – goes into great detail on scattering from various types of fractal surfaces.
      Computer Graphics Books
      Computer graphics has done a lot of work in applying optics theory to generating pretty but also accurate pictures. To learn more about this field we recommend:
        • Matt Pharr & Greg Humphreys, Physically Based Rendering.
        One of our optics bookshelves

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