Aberrations begone: Nikon’s new OPTIA analyzer should yield better SLR and mirrorless lenses


posted Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 2:12 PM EDT

It's not just our cameras that are high tech these days -- in an increasingly digital world, lens development has come on in leaps and bounds, too. An announcement today from Nikon sees even loftier levels of tech deployed in its development process -- and that should mean better lenses for its customers.

It's only a few decades since lenses were developed by rooms full of people manually performing ray tracing calculations ad infinitum. Today, computers do the heavy lifting, but it's still not until you hit the prototype stage that anything resembling real-world photography happens. Even once you've got the prototypes ready, it's a complex task to judge their performance. It's not just about sharpness -- all sorts of other factors come into play, and they have to be measured and quantified.


For Nikon at least, the task has apparently just gotten easier thanks to a new lens testing system dubbed OPTIA, as well as new lens simulation software. An abbreviation of "Optical Performance and Total Image Analyzer", Nikon's OPTIA system allows it to quantify how a particular lens design performs for a wide range of metrics. According to the company, these cover "nearly all aspects of optical performance", including resolution, aberrations, bokeh, texture reproduction, and sense of depth.

OPTIA is said to be based on argon fluoride immersion scanner technology already used in developing projection lenses for integrated circuit steppers and scanners, where optical performance is key. It's been adapted for the much wider range of wavelengths in visible light, though; IC production uses a much narrower range of wavelengths.


And even before lenses reach the prototype stage, new simulation technology deployed by Nikon should bring better results. The newly-developed software will now allow simulation of real-world photography, letting Nikon gauge how a particular lens design will perform and refine its creation before it invests the time and expense required to create prototype optics.

If you're shooting with a Nikon DSLR or mirrorless, perhaps it's time to start saving pennies. According to the company, development of the OPTIA system was completed in May 2012, and as of this month, it has now fully deployed both OPTIA and the new simulation software in its development process. Good things could be on their way in the not-too-distant future!

(Nikon logo image courtesy of Joe Shlabotnik / Flickr. Used under a CC-BY-2.0 license.)