The spherical crystalline lenses in the eyes of many fish species are well-suited models for studies on how natural selection has influenced the evolution of the optical system. Many of these lenses exhibit multiple focal lengths when illuminated with monochromatic light. Similar multifocality is present in a majority of vertebrate eyes, and it is assumed to compensate for the defocusing effect of longitudinal chromatic aberration. In order to identify potential optical advantages of multifocal lenses, we studied their information transfer capacity by computer modeling. We investigated four lens types: the lens of Astatotilapia burtoni, an African cichlid fish species, an equivalent monofocal lens, and two artificial multifocal lenses. These lenses were combined with three detector arrays of different spectral properties: the cone photoreceptor system of A. burtoni and two artificial arrays. The optical properties compared between the lenses were longitudinal spherical aberration curves, point spread functions, modulation transfer functions, and imaging characteristics. The multifocal lenses had a better balance between spatial and spectral information than the monofocal lenses. Additionally, the lens and detector array had to be matched to each other for optimal function.
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