For several years, scientific, industrial, and biological fields have benefited from knowledge of phase information, which allows for the revealing of hidden features of various objects. An alternative to interferometry is single-beam phase retrieval techniques that are based on the transport of intensity equation, which describes the relation between the axial derivative of the intensity and the phase distribution for a given plane in the Fresnel region. The estimation of the axial intensity derivative is obtained from a series of intensity measurements, where the accuracy is subject to an optimum separation between the measurement planes depending on the number of planes, the level of noise, and the actual object phase distribution. In this Letter, a quantitative analysis of the error in estimated axial derivative is carried out and a model is reported that describes the interdependence between these parameters. The results of this work allow for estimation of the optimum separation between measurement planes with minimal error in the axial derivative.
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