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Concept# Cardinal point (optics)

Summary

In Gaussian optics, the cardinal points consist of three pairs of points located on the optical axis of a rotationally symmetric, focal, optical system. These are the focal points, the principal points, and the nodal points. For ideal systems, the basic imaging properties such as image size, location, and orientation are completely determined by the locations of the cardinal points; in fact only four points are necessary: the focal points and either the principal or nodal points. The only ideal system that has been achieved in practice is the plane mirror, however the cardinal points are widely used to approximate the behavior of real optical systems. Cardinal points provide a way to analytically simplify a system with many components, allowing the imaging characteristics of the system to be approximately determined with simple calculations.
The cardinal points lie on the optical axis of the optical system. Each point is defined by the effect the optical system has on rays that pass through that point, in the paraxial approximation. The paraxial approximation assumes that rays travel at shallow angles with respect to the optical axis, so that and . Aperture effects are ignored: rays that do not pass through the aperture stop of the system are not considered in the discussion below.
Focus (optics) and Focal length
The front focal point of an optical system, by definition, has the property that any ray that passes through it will emerge from the system parallel to the optical axis. The rear (or back) focal point of the system has the reverse property: rays that enter the system parallel to the optical axis are focused such that they pass through the rear focal point.
The front and rear (or back) focal planes are defined as the planes, perpendicular to the optic axis, which pass through the front and rear focal points. An object infinitely far from the optical system forms an at the rear focal plane. For objects a finite distance away, the image is formed at a different location, but rays that leave the object parallel to one another cross at the rear focal plane.

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