Ray tracing, a computational method for tracing the trajectories of rays of light through matter, is often used to characterize mechanical or biological visual systems with aberrations that are larger than the effect of diffraction inherent in the system. For example, ray tracing may be used to calculate geometric point spread functions (PSFs), which describe the image of a point source after it passes through an optical system. Calculating a geometric PSF is useful because it gives an estimate of the detail and quality of the image formed by a given optical system. However, when using ray tracing to calculate a PSF, the accuracy of the estimated PSF directly depends on the number of discrete rays used in the calculation; higher accuracies may require more computational power. Furthermore, adding optical components to a modeled system will increase its complexity and require critical modifications so that the model will describe the system correctly, sometimes necessitating a completely new model. Here, we address these challenges by developing a method that represents rays of light as a continuous function that depends on the light’s initial direction. By utilizing Chebyshev approximations (via the chebfun toolbox in MATLAB) for the implementation of this method, we greatly simplified the calculations for the location and direction of the rays. This method provides high precision and fast calculation speeds that allow the characterization of any symmetrical optical system (with a centered point source) in an analytical-like manner. Next, we demonstrate our methods by showing how they can easily calculate PSFs for complicated optical systems that contain multiple refractive and/or reflective interfaces.
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