Tapered fiber bundles are often used to combine the output power of several semiconductor lasers into a multimode optical fiber for the purpose of pumping fiber lasers and amplifiers. It is generally recognized that the brightness of such combiners does not exceed the brightness of the individual input fibers. We report that the brightness of the tapered fibers (and fiber bundles) depends on both the taper ratio and the mode-filling properties of the beams launched into the individual fibers. Brightness, therefore, can be increased by selection of sources that fill a small fraction of the input fiber’s modal capacity. As proof of concept, we present the results of measurements on tapered fiber-bundle combiners having a low-output étendue. Under low mode-filling conditions per input multimode fiber (i.e., fraction of filled modes ≤ 0.29), we report brightness enhancements of 8.0 dB for 19 × 1 bundles, 6.7 dB for 7 × 1 bundles, and 4.0 dB for 3 × 1 combiners. Our measured coupling efficiency variations of ∼1%–2% among the various fibers in a given bundle confirm the uniformity and quality of the fabricated devices.
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