The limits of the paraxial approximation for a laser beam under ABCD transformations is established through the relationship between a parameter concerning the beam paraxiality, the paraxial estimator, and the beam second-order moments. The applicability of such an estimator is extended to an optical system composed by optical elements as mirrors and lenses and sections of free space, what completes the analysis early performed for free-space propagation solely. As an example, the paraxiality of a system composed by free space and a spherical thin lens under the propagation of Hermite-Gauss and Laguerre-Gauss modes is established. The results show that the the paraxial approximation fails for a certain feasible range of values of main parameters. In this sense, the paraxial estimator is an useful tool to monitor the limits of the paraxial optics theory under ABCD transformations.
© 2011 Optical Society of America
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