The occurrence and smoothing of speckle are studied as a function of the line width for a highly collimated illuminating source. A general theory is presented for speckling in the image of a partially diffuse, phase type of object, which has a variable number of random scattering centers per resolution element. Then, an expression is derived for the wavelength spacing required to decouple the speckle patterns arising from two monochromatic tones in an imaging system, thereby establishing that it is feasible to smooth speckle using multicolor illumination. This theory is verified in a series of experiments using both laser illumination and band-limited light from a carbon arc. With highly collimated sources, we show that speckle appears laserlike for an imaged diffuser even up to line widths of 5 Å. Then, smoothing of speckle is demonstrated in the imaging of a diffuser and for a section of an optic nerve when the illumination is provided by six narrow lines spread over 1500 Å. Since with color-blind, panchromatic viewing the speckle smooths, a direct extension of this method to holographic microscopy, using a multitone laser, should permit one to record and reconstruct holograms of diffraction-limited resolution that are essentially speckle-free.
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