Fresnel lenses consist of a series of concentric grooves etched into plastic. Their thin, lightweight construction, availability in small as well as large sizes, and excellent light gathering ability make them useful in a variety of applications. Fresnel lenses are most often used in light gathering applications, such as condenser systems or emitter/detector setups. They can also be used as magnifiers or projection lenses in illumination systems, and image formulation.
A Fresnel (pronounced fray-NEL) lens replaces the curved surface of a conventional optical lens with a series of concentric grooves. These contours act as individual refracting surfaces, bending parallel light rays to a common focal length (Figure 1). As a result, a Fresnel lens, while physically narrow in profile, is capable of focusing light similar to a conventional optical lens but has several advantages over its thicker counterpart.
Figure 1: Profile of a Fresnel Lens [View Larger Image]
THE THEORY OF FRESNEL LENSES
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The driving principle behind the conception of a Fresnel lens is that the direction of propagation of light does not change within a medium (unless scattered). Instead, light rays are only deviated at the surfaces of a medium. As a result, the bulk of the material in the center of a lens serves only to increase the amount of weight and absorption within the system.
To take advantage of this physical property, 18th-century physicists began experimenting with the creation of what is known today as a Fresnel lens. At that time, grooves were cut into a piece of glass in order to create annular rings of a curved profile. This curved profile, when extruded, formed a conventional, curved lens – either spherical or aspherical (Figure 2). Due to this similar optical property compared to a conventional optical lens, a Fresnel lens can offer slightly better focusing performance, depending upon the application. In addition, high groove density allows higher quality images, while low groove density yields better efficiency (as needed in light gathering applications). However, it is important to note that when high precision imaging is required, conventional singlet, doublet, or aspheric optical lenses are still best.
Figure 2: Side Profile Comparison of a Plano-Convex (PCX) and a Fresnel Lens [View Larger Image]