Adaptive optics (AO) retinal images are limited by anisoplanatism; wavefront shape varies across the field of view such that only a limited area can achieve diffraction-limited image quality at one time. We explored three alternative AO modalities designed to reduce this effect, drawn from work in astronomy. Optical design analysis and computer modeling was undertaken to predict the benefit of each modality for various schematic eyes and various complexities of the imaging system. Off-axis performance was found to be limited by system parameters and not by the eye itself, due to the inherent off-axis characteristics of the eye’s gradient index lens. This rendered the alternative AO modalities ineffectual compared with conventional AO but did suggest several methods by which anisoplanatism may be reduced by altering the design of conventional AO systems. Several of these design possibilities were explored with further modeling. The best-performing method involved the replacement of system lenses with gradient index versions inspired by the human eye lens. Mirror-based relay optics also demonstrated good off-axis performance, but their advantage was lost in regions of the system suffering from uncorrected higher-order aberration. Incorporating “off-the-plane” beam deviations ameliorated this loss substantially. In this work we also show, to our knowledge for the first time, that the ideal location of a single AO corrector need not lie in the pupil plane.
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