We demonstrate an improved signal-to-noise ratio in a scanning optical microscope used to read out information from a magneto-optical data storage layer. By placing a shading band in the return path of the optical system we can reduce noise by as much as 3 dB in certain spatial frequency ranges. The signal-to-noise ratio improvement arises from differences in the signal and noise distributions in the pupil of the optical system. Although the experimental results are shown only in one dimension, the concept is applicable to two-dimensional scanning of low-contrast samples.
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