Abstract

Optical properties of the eye contribute to the reduced visibility of spatial patterns at low luminance. To study the limits of spatial vision when optical factors are minimized, we measured contrast-sensitivity functions (CSF’s) for 543.5-nm laser interference fringes imaged directly on the retina. Measurements were made in the fovea at four luminance levels, ranging from 0.3 to 300 photopic trolands (Td). At each luminance the fraction of coherent light in the stimulus pattern was varied to assess the masking effects of laser speckle, which is visible as spatial noise in fields of coherent light. Compared with published CSF’s obtained under natural viewing conditions, interferometric CSF’s were similar in height but broader, with the range of visibility being extended to higher spatial frequencies. The masking effects of speckle were greatest at the highest luminance and were negligible at the lowest luminance. For low coherent fractions, contrast sensitivity improved over the entire luminance range at a rate consistent with a square-root law; with purely coherent light, sensitivity tended to level off at approximately 30 Td because of speckle masking. The results indicate that the optical quality of the eye reduces the spatial bandwidth of vision even at luminances near the foveal threshold. The change in interference fringe visibility with luminance is consistent with noise-limited behavior, and the masking effects of speckle noise diminish as luminance decreases.

© 1995 Optical Society of America

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