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