THE three preceding chapters give an account of the geometrical theory of optical imaging, using for the main part the predictions of Gaussian optics of the Seidel theory. An outstanding instance of the invaluable service rendered by this branch of optics lies in its ability to present the working principles of optical instruments in an easily visualized form. Although the quality of optical systems cannot be estimated by means of Gaussian theory alone, the purpose served by the separate optical elements can be indicated in this way, so that a simple, though somewhat approximate, picture of the action of the system can often be obtained without entering into the full intricacy of the techniques of optical design.
The development of optical instruments in the past has proceeded just as fast as technical difficulties have been overcome. It is hardly possible to give a step-by-step account of the design of optical systems, for two reasons. Firstly, the limitations of a given arrangement are not indicated by the predictions of the simple theory; in particular cases this needs to be supplemented by a fuller analysis often involving tedious calculations. Secondly, difficulties of a practical nature may prevent an otherwise praiseworthy arrangement from being used. It is not intended in this account to discuss the theoretical and practical limitations in individual cases; only the basic principles underlying the arrangement of some of the more important optical instruments will be given, in order to provide a framework for some of the later chapters which deal with the more detailed theories of optical image formation.