Autoconfocal microscopy (ACM) is a simple implementation of a transmitted-light confocal microscopy where a nonlinear detector plays the role of a virtual self-aligned pinhole. We report here a significant improvement of ACM based on the use of graded-field (GF) imaging. The technique of GF imaging involves introducing partial beam blocks in the illumination and detection apertures of an imaging system. These partial beam blocks confer phase-gradient sensitivity to the imaging system and allow control over its background level. We present the theory of the GF contrast in the context of ACM, comparing it to GF contrast in a non-scanning widefield microscope, and discuss various performance characteristics of GF-ACM in terms of resolution, sectioning strength, and an “under-detection” light collection geometry. An advantage of ACM is that it can be readily combined with two-photon excited fluorescence (TPEF) microscopy. We present images of rat brain hippocampus using simultaneous GF-ACM and TPEF microscopy. These images are inherently co-registered.
©2007 Optical Society of America
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