Holographic gratings recorded in photochromic media often do not obtain the maximally achievable diffraction efficiency because of diminishing the fringe contrast caused, e.g., by a photochemically active readout beam or unequal intensities of object and reference waves. For nonreversible materials this problem causes a decrease in diffraction efficiency that is proportional to the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). However, in nonlinear materials such as photochromic media, for which saturation effects need to be considered, an out-of-proportion decrease in the SNR results. It is shown that an overshooting peak during hologram growth, which then decays to a lower permanent level of diffraction, is an indicator for such a situation. Even a weak readout beam may cause such effects, which significantly affect the hologram kinetics. The observed overshooting diffraction efficiency may even be misinterpreted to be dependent on material properties. Experimental and theoretical proof that with low levels of auxiliary light this type of problem can be eliminated completely is presented. Throughout this research bacteriorhodopsin films were used, but the results are valid for photochromic media in general.
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