Is it worthwhile to reverse engineer a lens?

Published on by Optics for Hire.

This is a question we get from time to time and the short answer is usually 'no'. There are vendors who can provide this, but in our experience it really hasn’t been worth the effort to reverse engineer a lens.

While you could measure each lens element and get it’s radius, you then need to find out the refractive index of each piece of glass. This is not simple although it can be done. Then you need to get the spacing between the elements in the lens but sometimes in taking apart the lens you wind up destroying it.

Finally even if you succeed you don’t know the tolerances for the lens surfaces, the coatings, the centration tolerance or the spacing tolerance.

The time and money to do this doesn’t really pay off compared with making a new design. Assuming a client knows what they like about a lens, resolution, F# etc it's quicker to make a new design.

The only situation that might make it worthwhile to reverse engineer is if you are trying to design a lens that will go in front of a common consumer lens. It's not any easier, but the data collected could be useful in the design of the new attachment.