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Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Photonics Spectra
Aug 2000
Robert E. Fischer and Michael P. Newell

Most commercial lens assemblies such as lenses for cameras and microscope objectives are reasonably priced (on the order of several hundred dollars) and are available immediately. A custom-designed lens assembly looks the same externally, but its cost is often more than an order of magnitude higher than the off-the-shelf assembly. Why such a discrepancy? Just what is it that makes custom optics expensive, and is it worth it?

Most people who work peripherally with lenses and optics will judge the cost of a lens assembly based on what they find in the catalogs. This will often equate to the range between $200 and $1000. It is clear why the reaction to a $15,000 to $50,000 price range for an apparently similar custom-designed lens can be shocking. However, the custom lens is quite a different animal from the one in the catalog…


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