Beam quality (BQ) of a 4-cm copper-vapor laser (CVL) with unstable resonators of different magnifications was characterized based on time-resolved far-field measurement. It was found that the BQ improvement after each round trip of the cavity cannot be predicted correctly from resonator theory. With a cavity Fresnel number of ~ 300, the achievable CVL BQ at the later part of the pulse was limited to approximately 4 times diffraction limited (×DL), even with a cavity magnification of 130. A pronounced temporal BQ oscillation, which is synchronized with the temporal pulse modulation, was also observed throughout the entire pulse. Examination of the temporal evolution of the far-field spot with use of a gated camera revealed that the strong presence of amplified spontaneous emission (ASE) in the cavity during the entire laser pulse severely limited the achievable BQ because of consecutive cavity feedback that included this highly divergent ASE. BQ deterioration caused by intense ASE throughout the pulse was reduced when a cavity with a smaller Fresnel number was used.
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