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Rod Lenses

Definition: cylindrical lenses with the geometrical form of a cylinder

More general term: lenses

German: Stablinsen

Category: general optics

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A rod lens is a cylindrical lens which has the geometrical form of a cylinder and has a polished mantle, while the two flat end surfaces may be ground. It is analogous to a ball lens for focusing in both directions.

Rod lenses can be used, for example, for collimating a divergent beam in one dimension (see Figure 1) or for focusing light to a line. There are also imaging applications. Note, however, that a rod lens exhibits substantial spherical aberrations when light propagation is not restricted to a small fraction of its cross-section.

Note that there are also gradient-index lenses which also have a cylindrical shape. There, however, the two end faces are polished, and the mantle surface is not optically relevant.

Types of Rod Lenses

Rod lenses are available with different optical materials, mostly with glasses like fused silica and BK7, but also with crystalline materials like YAG or silicon, e.g. for infrared optics.

Rod lenses can have diameters of a few millimeters, but there are also cylindrical microlenses with substantially smaller diameters. Small-diameter rod lenses are frequently used as fast-axis collimators for diode bars.

rays at a rod lens
Figure 1: Focusing of divergent light with a rod lens.

There are also half-rod lenses, which are rod lenses cut into two equal pieces.

Focal Length

There are two different definitions of focal length of a rod lens. The effective focal length, which is the distance between a plane through the center of the lens and the beam waist (focus) of an initially collimated input beam, is given by the equation

effective focal length of a rod lens

where D is the diameter of the lens cylinder and n its refractive index.

The back focal length is defined as the distance of the focal point from the lens surface, and is smaller than the effective focal length by half the diameter of the rod.


The RP Photonics Buyer's Guide contains 13 suppliers for rod lenses. Among them:

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See also: cylindrical lenses, microlenses, ball lenses, gradient-index lenses
and other articles in the category general optics


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