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Neutral density filters with Risley prisms: analysis and design

Virgil-Florin Duma* and Mirela Nicolov

Department of Product Design, Aurel Vlaicu University of Arad, 77 Revolutiei Avenue, 310130 Arad, Romania *Corresponding author: Received 23 February 2009; revised 12 April 2009; accepted 13 April 2009; posted 14 April 2009 (Doc. ID 107856); published 5 May 2009

We achieve the analysis and design of optical attenuators with double-prism neutral density filters. A comparative study is performed on three possible device configurations; only two are presented in the literature but without their design calculus. The characteristic parameters of this optical attenuator with Risley translating prisms for each of the three setups are defined and their analytical expressions are derived: adjustment scale (attenuation range) and interval, minimum transmission coefficient and sensitivity. The setups are compared to select the optimal device, and, from this study, the best solution for double-prism neutral density filters, both from a mechanical and an optical point of view, is determined with two identical, symmetrically movable, no mechanical contact prisms. The design calculus of this optimal device is developed in essential steps. The parameters of the prisms, particularly their angles, are studied to improve the design, and we demonstrate the maximum attenuation range that this type of attenuator can provide. 2009 Optical Society of America OCIS codes: 0120.0120, 120.4880, 220.0220, 230.0230, 230.5480, 350.2450.

1. Introduction

Double-wedge optical devices, also known as Risley prisms, are used in a large variety of applications [1] such as optical compensators and shearing systems [2], polarimeters [3], and optical attenuators [4,5], where the wedges perform translations with regard to each other; laser scanners with refractive elements [6,7] and optical beam steering [8], where they rotate with regard to each other; interferometers [9,10] and anamorphic optical systems for multiple holography [11]; and as beam shaping devices for laser diodes [12]. In several of these setups, exploring the more general solution of double prisms instead of double wedges, as we shall also do, has proved to be a natural approach that allows for improved optimization of the device, although the design calculus becomes more complex. We approach neutral density filters by translating Risley prisms that are used for the attenuation of light, while preserving the spectral distribution of
0003-6935/09/142678-08$15.00/0 2009 Optical Society of America 2678 APPLIED OPTICS / Vol. 48, No. 14 / 10 May 2009

light for a certain wavelength domain, e.g., in the visible for colorimeters. Optical attenuators are optomechanical devices that achieve controlled adjustment of the light flux, mostly without altering its spectral distribution. An overview of the optical attenuators can be made with regard to their functioning principle: (i) by modifying the diameter of the light fascicle, with iris diaphragms or with different shutters [13]; (ii) with rotating elements, i.e., choppers [14]; (iii) with elements of variable transmittance and constant thickness: rotating semitransparent disks and polarizing filters; (iv) with elements of variable thickness: sets of neutral filters, step-by-step variable neutral filters [13], and doublewedge optical filters [5]. Each device has certain advantages that make it suitable for a specific application with regard to its required characteristics: stepby-step or continuous attenuation of the flux, spectral range, attenuation range, and sensitivity. Their field of applications comprises photographic apparatus, colorimeters, holography, and spectral and photometric systems in various optical setups. Attenuators with diaphragms, although light and versatile, have the disadvantage of modifying the

diameter of a beam. Choppers have good parameters, but with rotating, rapidly moving parts, therefore they are better for use in nonportable systems although mechanical wear remains a problem. Sets of neutral density filters, as well as step-by-step variable filters, are precise in flux adjustment but only for a limited number of values. Polarizers perform continuous attenuation but for polarized light only, e.g., for femtosecond laser pulses. The scope of this paper is to achieve a rigorous analysis and design calculus of a type of optical attenuator with significant advantages. Double-prism neutral density optical filters allow for good control of the flux, fine resolution, and are suitable for applications that involve finite diameter light beams, e.g., in colorimeters [15], which is one of our fields of interest. A problem of this device could be its possible lower attenuation range with regard to other solutions previously mentioned. The proper neutral density materials and constructive parameters of the attenuator must, therefore, be determined to achieve an optimum, as high as possible value for this essential parameter. We have found, to the best of our knowledge, only two solutions of the double-wedge attenuator presented briefly without a design calculus in the state of the art: #1 and #2 in our study (Section 2). We shall consider and discuss all three possible combinations of double prisms to determine which is best. To achieve this, their characteristic parameters will be defined and deduced. For a most general approach, we consider double identical prisms, not only wedges, and the useful prism angle remains a necessary aspect to be discussed. Based on a rigorous mathematical analysis, the design calculus of this type of attenuator will be developed for its best demonstrated solution.
2. Calculus of Double-Prism Attenuators

Fig. 1. Double-prism neutral density filter for solution #1 in the center (x 0) position: (a) lateral view and (b) view from the top.

=i ;

where is the emergent flux, which also takes into account the exit diaphragm (Figs. 3 and 4).
A. Solution #1

The functioning principle of the device is based on the thickness variation of the neutral filter formed, a variation that is a consequence of the movement of two prisms. Since they are identical, the parallel incident light beam is transformed into a parallel emerging beam. Flux e that emerges from the attenuator by use of the law of light attenuation is e i expd; 1 where i is the incident flux, is the absorption coefficient, and d is the thickness of the neutral filter formed. For solutions #1 (Figs. 1 and 2) and #3 (Fig. 4), this variation of the current thickness dx is achieved by moving just one prism (2), while the other prism remains stationary. For solution #2 (Fig. 3), the variation of d is achieved by symmetric movement of both prisms. The controlled movement is performed in all cases by use of micrometric screws (3) or, when higher precision and resolution are required, by use of piezoelectric actuators. To calculate and compare the characteristic performances, the total transmission coefficient of the system must be defined:

The two identical prisms for this device are in contact with each other at all times (Figs. 1 and 2) because of springs 4 and 4 in Fig. 1(b). The mobile prism slides along the fixed prism, with a refractive-index-matching liquid layer between [16]. However, in this configuration several problems arise with regard to this layer: (i) a possible change in transmission coefficient because of the lack of homogeneity of the liquid; (ii) the liquid might not always be in contact with the same thickness on both surfaces; (iii) the tension in the liquid because of the prism performance could affect the transmission coefficient. The drawbacks of this solution should be solved if this type of attenuator proved to be the best from an optical point of view; see the discussion in Section 3. The thickness of the neutral filter formed in this case (Fig. 1) is dx d0 x tan ; x l; l; 3

where d0 is the maximum thickness produced when the prisms are positioned on top of each other (the x 0 position), b is the width of the prisms, l is the maximum displacement of mobile prism (2), and is the characteristic angle of the two identical prisms. The condition for the incident beam to reach the first facet of prism (2) completely, regardless of its position, is (Figs. 2(a) and 2(b))
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Fig. 3. Optical attenuator with neutral density filter for solution #2: (a) lateral view and (b) spot displacement and exit diaphragm. Fig. 2. Extreme positions of the prisms for attenuator #1: (a) x l and (b) x l.

the attenuator are obtained, i.e., the adjustment scale and attenuation range: k max =min ; and the adjustment and attenuation interval: max min : 10 9

a D 2l;

where D is the diameter of the ray bundle when it emerges from the system (in this case, equal to the incident fascicle Di ). With Eqs. (1) and (2), ln 0 =d0 ; 5 where 0 x 0. Therefore , the total transmission coefficient of the system defined in Eq. (2), results as x 0 expx tan : 6

Their final expressions, obtained after necessary replacements, are provided in Table 1.
B. Solution #2

The characteristic function of the device can thus be ascertained [Fig. 5(a)] as well as its sensitivity S (Table 1). From Fig. 2, considering the limiting condition a D 2l from Eq. (4), one has max l 0 expl tan min l 0 expl tan p  0 C max q ; min 3 0 =C where the following notation was introduced: C expDi tan ; 8

In this case [Fig. 3(a)] the prisms have symmetric movement with regard to their center position (characterized by x 0) that is due to the micrometric screws (3) of equal steps, with left-hand and righthand threads, respectively. Still, for this solution, the air gap that is formed produces a displacement of the exit ray bundle with regard to the entrance bundle [enhanced in Fig. 3(b)]:

in this case, as mentioned, Di D. By performing the necessary calculus the most important parameters of
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Fig. 4. Solution #3 of the double-prism attenuator.

x r1 0 exp2r2 x tan ; where the following coefficients were used:  r1  D D max 2 ; r2


 nsin2 p cos cos : 1 n2 sin2


Using Eq. (15) with Eqs. (8) and (16) yields

r2 r2 max l r1 1 C ; 0

min 0 r1 0 : 17

Therefore, the attenuation range and intervals, defined by Eqs. (9) and (10), respectively, as well as the sensitivity of the device are obtained (Table 1), and the functioning characteristic of the device is presented in Fig. 5(b).
C. Solution #3

Fig. 5. Profile of the functioning characteristic x for three solutions of the double-prism attenuator: (a) #1 and (b) #2 and #3.

  n cos x 2x p 1 sin2 : 1 n2 sin2

This is a combination (Fig. 4) of the first two devices with prism (1) stationary and prism (2) performing a horizontal translation movement in this case. The characteristic parameters of this optical attenuator are deduced in a similar way by the first two solutions. With the same notations, one obtains the total transmission coefficient for this configuration: r1 0 expr2 x tan ; from which max l r1 0 2 C 2 ;
1r2 r2



An exit diaphragm is, therefore, necessary to have an emergent, circular section ray bundle (Fig. 3), regardless of the position of the prisms. The diameter of the incident ray bundle, therefore, must be D i D l ; In this case, dx d0 2x tan : For this solution, condition (4) becomes a 2l D max : 14 13 l max : 12

min l r1 0 : 19

Characteristic parameters S, k, and result and are presented in Table 1 in a comparative view with those of the first two devices. A graph of the characteristic function is presented in Fig. 5(b).
3. Comparison of the Three Solutions

The total transmission coefficient in this case is obtained from Eq. (2) by use of Eqs. (11)(13) and considering condition (14) to the limit:
Table 1.

In the design of optical systems for which doubleprism attenuators are a concern (e.g., colorimeters), the most important parameter is attenuation range k max =min . However min is also important to obtain a satisfactory value of the exit flux. Depending on the type of apparatus to be designed, this could prove to be an ongoing problem. Table 1 shows that,

Characteristic Parameters of Three Possible Configurations of Double-Prism Neutral Density Filters

No. 1 2 3 4 5

Double-Prism Attenuator Transmission coefficient x Sensitivity Sx d=dx Minimum transmission coefficient min Attenuation range k max =min Attenuation interval max min

#1 0 expx tan x tan q 3 0 =C  2=3 min C 0 C p 0 C C 0

#2 r1 0 exp2r2 x tan 2r2 x tan r1 0  r

C 0

#3 r1 0 expr2 x tan r2 x tan r1 0  r  1 r1 0  r

C 0 C 0

r1 0

C 0

2 =2


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by analyzing the parameters of the three attenuators, solution #2 is better than solution #3 from all significant points of view, including sensitivity. The final comparison should therefore be made between solutions #1 and #2. One can then determine if r1 > p 0 =C; r2 > 1; 20

min k 1;


solution #2, is optimal both from an optical and a mechanical point of view, since all the resulting optical parameters (min , k, and ) are better and the prism movement is precise, with no mechanical contact, which is a plus. Based on this former, mechanical point of view, solution #1 proved less reliable because of the drawbacks highlighted in Subsection 2.A with regard to the liquid layer that should have been placed between the prisms. One can see from Eq. (22) that   C max 4 >1 1 D 0 21

and eventually (iv) the minimum allowed sensitivity Smin . As can be seen from the characteristic parameters in Table 1, the best way to perform the design calculus would be to choose certain parameters, such as , the material, and also refractive index n, and to calculate the others, the most important of which would be prism angle . However, is difficult to obtain from the characteristic equations of the device (Table 1). A rather complicated design method is reported in Ref. [5]. The simplest way to perform the design calculus is to obtain, from Eq. (17) and attenuation range k in Table 1, with Eqs. (5) and (8), min r1 0 r1 expd0 ; k C=0 r2 exp2r2 l tan : From Eq. (14) and from Figs. 2 and 3, one has a 2l D max d0 = tan : 26 25

is a condition that is always fulfilled, as from Eqs. (5) and (8) one has C=0 exp2l tan : 22

These are the three design equations for the device. From Eqs. (25) and (26) one can, therefore, obtain the absorption coefficient l 1 1 ln p : min 1 2r2 1l=D D 2r2 l tan 27 The graph of Eq. (27) is presented in Fig. 6(a), for the following parameters: min 0:1, D 10 mm, and n 1:517; for three values of the prism angle the parameters are 10, 20, and 30. For the same parameters, the graph of the kl xmax function was achieved in Fig. 6(b). Thus, from Fig. 6(b), for the necessary value of adjustment scale k, with a mechanically optimum displacement l, prism angle results by the proper curve choice of kl xmax . Then, from Fig. 6(a), with these values of l and , the optimum coefficient is obtained. The minimum transmission coefficient min must then be verified to allow for the minimum necessary illumination in the optical path. In Fig. 7(a) such a multiple example is considered for three min l functions drawn for three different pairs of values for and . If min is not satisfactory, this entire calculus must be considered as an iteration. Several conclusions can be drawn from the discussion: the adjusment scale and attenuation range k can be obtained between 2 and 2.5 for 10 (for the specific parameters considered in Fig. 6) and for proper values of l (820 mm). For smaller prism angles k does not increase significantly; for higher , k begins to decrease, especially for large displacements l (e.g., k becomes 2.4 for 10 and l 20 mm). These values of k are rather small in comparison with other devices, e.g., diaphragms, choppers, or polarizers. This is a disadvantage, but

It is obvious that C=0 > 1 was by all means necessary to obtain a good value for adjustment scale k; see Table 1. As inequalities (20) are reduced to n > 1, the final conclusion is that they are always fulfilled. Therefore, solution #2 is the best choice from an optical point of view and from a mechanical point of view.
4. Design Calculus of the Optimal Device

In Fig 5 we present the functioning characteristics x of the three types of attenuator. Their obvious nonlinearity must be evaluated by a scale factor that, taking into account Eq. (9), is Smax max k; Smin min 23

As attenuation range k must be increased as much as possible from the original design (this is one of its main features), the consequence of significant nonlinearity of the characteristic of the device is inevitable. Here we address only solution #2 of the Risley prism attenuator, since we have demonstrated that it has superior performance compared with the other two possible devices. This also eliminates the mechanical difficulties that solution #1 would have raised if it were better from an optical point of view. The design theme usually imposes (i) exit diameter D of the fascicle; (ii) the minimum necessary transmission coefficient min to have a sufficient value of the exit flux; (iii) the attenuation interval or its equivalent, attenuation range k, as the two are linked to each other by Eqs. (9) and (10), by equation
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it is the best range to be obtained with this type of attenuator. For > 48 (an approximate value, also considered for the parameters in Fig. 6), the device can no longer be used: k decreases below 1.5, whereas it could be achieved for a maximum displacement of approximately 3 mm. Interesting, higher values of k are obtained for smaller prism angles . Since is smaller, max in Eq. (11) decreases; therefore, r1 in Eq. (16) increases. Thus, for the same min and d0 , absorption coefficient in Eq. (27) is also higher for small [Fig. 6(a)], i.e., for double wedges. An advantage of this type of optical attenuator is its good sensitivity: Sx 2r2 x tan (Table 1), especially taking into account the proper commercially available translation stages for such a setup [11]. In Fig. 7(b) the graph of the minimum sensitivity Smin Sx 0 is obtained with regard to l xmax for the angle prisms previously considered. A va-

lue of Smin 0:01 mm1 has been obtained for l 15 mm, whereas with Eq. (23), Smax 2:4Smin because k 2:3 for l 15 mm, as discussed in Figs. 6 and 7. This sensitivity allows for use of the device in certain applications when finite diameter beams are necessary for which the attenuation range obtained is satisfactory and when (especially in portable instruments) the compact mechanical setup is of prime importance, as in other apparatus with double wedges [7]. A detailed analysis of the sources of error that can appear in rotary Risley prism applications is reported in [17]. For our device, the accuracy in determination of the level of attenuation depends on three parameters from Eqs. (15) and (16): (i) the prism angle, which for commercially available prisms has tolerances of the order of seconds of arc; (ii) index of refraction n; and (iii) absorption coefficient . Factors (ii) and (iii) depend on the quality of the glass; nowadays materials with a high degree of homogeneity, e.g., ultrapure synthetic fused silica, are commer-

Fig. 6. Graphs of (a) absorption coefficient l xmax and (b) attenuation range kl xmax for min 0:1; D 10 mm; n 1:517 and for three prism angles of 1 10, 2 20, and 3 30.

Fig. 7. Graphs of (a) minimum transmission coefficient min l xmax and (b) minimum sensitivity Smin l xmax for D 10 mm and n 1:517 and for three pairs of values of 1 0:4 and 1 10; 2 0:2 and 2 20; and 3 0:1 and 3 30. 10 May 2009 / Vol. 48, No. 14 / APPLIED OPTICS 2683

Fig. 8. Graphs of the error of the transmission coefficient produced by a x 0:26 m accumulated positioning error of the two prisms for min 0:1; D 10 mm; n 1:517, and for three pairs of values: 1 0:4 and 1 10; 2 0:2 and 2 20; and 3 0:1 and 3 30.

cially available. All the surfaces of the wedges must be of high quality; surface accuracy of =4 is also commercially available nowadays for Risley prisms [18]. The mechanical tolerances of the mounting system can have an influence on the practical achievement of the calculated sensitivity. However, currently available translation stages provide [18] a good straight line accuracy of 0:2 m=in:, with a positional repeatability of 0:13 m. This is a translation advantage of Risley prisms over rotary prisms for which servomotors with controllers had to be developed [17] to achieve high precision, closed-loop positioning devices. For an optical attenuator, error (d=dx) x of the transmission coefficient obtained from the equation of x and produced by x 0:26 m an accumulated positioning error of the two prisms for the parameters and for the three pairs of the previously considered characteristic values of the prisms are presented in Fig. 8. This error is smaller and almost constant with regard to maximum displacement l of the prisms if double wedges are used, so the same conclusion as in the previous discussion can be drawn, with regard to the advantage of wedges versus prisms. In particular, from Fig. 8, for a 10 prism angle and l xmax 15 mm, a maximum error of 0.002% in the transmission of the attenuator is produced, which demonstrates that the sensitivity of the device is only slightly affected by the tolerances of the mounting system that are due to the high precision of commercially available translation stages.
5. Conclusions

the device with two identical prisms with symmetrical movement has the highest attenuation range, interval, and sensitivity, with the best possible minimum transmission coefficient. The characteristic parameters defined and obtained to perform this comparison also allowed for the development of the design calculus of these devices. Although we have considered double prisms, the double-wedge solution (with a prism angle of some 10) provides the maximum attenuation range of 22:5x, which we have demonstrated as the best this type of attenuator can offer. The attenuator has a good, however, not constant, sensitivity and a proper minimum transmission coefficient. This study is part of our research concerning different types of optical attenuator [14] in connection with several domains in which they are used, e.g., radiometry and colorimetry [15]. Our future work comprises experiments and applications of this optimal attenuator with double prisms developed in apparatus for which compact devices with finite diameter beams are required, particularly in a colorimeter with improved characteristics that we are currently developing [19]. The research was supported by the Romanian Education and Research Ministry through National University Research Council (NURC) grant 1896/ 2008. Special thanks to the reviewers, whose valuable comments were included entirely in the final version of the paper.
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The complete, rigorous mathematical study performed for the neutral density filters with Risley prisms has allowed for selection of the best of the three possible solutions of this optical attenuator, both from an optical point of view and from a mechanical point of view. We have demonstrated that
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