A unified approach to the problem of the spatial resolution of near-field optical and tunneling microscopes is proposed. The recording of an optical signal is regarded as plotting the intensity distribution of the electromagnetic field along the trajectory of a virtual infinitely sharp point. Its distance from the sample surface depends on the shape of the field lines and is the main factor that limits the resolution of the device. Estimates are made of the limiting resolution when various types of optical probes are used. © 2004 Optical Society of America

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