Astrophysics (Index)About

focal length

(length from optical element to focal plane)

A telescope's focal length is the distance from the primary lens or mirror to the focal plane (or if there is a secondary lens or mirror, where the focal plane would be if the secondary were removed). The reciprocal of the focal length is called the optical power.

The focal ratio (aka F-ratio, or for cameras, the F-stop or F-number) is the ratio of the focal length with the diameter of the aperture. For cameras, the focal ratio is important for determining the depth of field. For telescopes, it is important for determining the field of view: other elements being the same, the smaller the focal ratio, the larger the FOV, and telescopes aiming at surveys often are given short focal ratios (e.g., Schmidt cameras).

The lensmaker's formula (or lensmaker's equation) allows calculation of the focal length of a lens:

1/f ≈ (n-1)(1/R1+1/R2)

A more accurate version, significant if the lens is not thin:

1/f = (n-1)(1/R1+1/R2+(n-1)d/(nR1R2))

Further reading:

Referenced by pages:
Cassegrain reflector
field curvature
focal plane
Herschelian telescope
plate scale
Schmidt camera
Schmidt-Newton telescope (SNT)
spherical aberration
Roman Space Telescope (RST)