Abstract

The sensitivity and dynamic range of optical coherence tomography (OCT) are calculated for instruments utilizing two common interferometer configurations and detection schemes. Previous researchers recognized that the performance of dual-balanced OCT instruments is severely limited by beat noise, which is generated by incoherent light backscattered from the sample. However, beat noise has been ignored in previous calculations of Michelson OCT performance. Our measurements of instrument noise confirm the presence of beat noise even in a simple Michelson interferometer configuration with a single photodetector. Including this noise, we calculate the dynamic range as a function of OCT light source power, and find that instruments employing balanced interferometers and balanced detectors can achieve a sensitivity up to six times greater than those based on a simple Michelson interferometer, thereby boosting image acquisition speed by the same factor for equal image quality. However, this advantage of balanced systems is degraded for source powers greater than a few milliwatts. We trace the concept of beat noise back to an earlier paper [J. Opt. Soc. Am. 52, 1335 (1962) ].

© 2006 Optical Society of America

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