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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

A dioptre, or diopter, is a unit of measurement of the optical power of a lens or curved mirror, which is equal to the reciprocal of the focal length measured in metres (that is, 1/metres). For example, a 3 dioptre lens brings parallel rays of light to focus at 1/3 metre. The same unit is also sometimes used for other reciprocals of distance, particularly radii of curvature and the vergence of optical beams. The term was proposed by French ophthalmologist Felix Monoyer in 1872.[1][2]

Though the dioptre is based on the SI-metric system it has not been included in the standard so that there is no international name or abbreviation for this unit of measurement - within the international system of units this unit for optical power would need to be specified explicitly as the inverse metre (m-1). However most languages have borrowed the original name and some national standardization bodies like DIN specify a unit name (dioptrie, dioptria, ..) and derived unit symbol "dpt".

Quantifying a lens in terms of its optical power rather than its focal length is useful because when relatively thin lenses are placed close together their powers approximately add. Thus a thin 2-dioptre lens placed close to a thin 0.5-dioptre lens yields almost the same focal length as a 2.5-dioptre lens would have. This approximation enables an optometrist to prescribe corrective lenses as a simple correction to the eye's optical power, rather than doing a detailed analysis of the entire optical system (the eye and the lens).

Since optical power is approximately additive, it can also be used to adjust a basic prescription for reading, e.g. an optometrist, having determined that a myopic person requires a basic correction of, say, −2 dioptres to restore normal distance vision, might then make a further prescription of 'add 1' for reading, to make up for lack of accommodation (ability to alter focus). This is the same as saying that −1 dioptre lenses are prescribed for reading.

In humans, the total convergence power of the relaxed eye is approximately 60 dioptres. The cornea accounts for approximately two-thirds of this refractive power and the crystalline lens contributes the remaining third.[3] In focusing, the ciliary muscle contracts to reduce the tension or stress transferred to the lens by the suspensory ligaments. This results in increased convexity of the lens which in turn increases the optical power of the eye. As humans age, the amplitude of accommodation reduces from approximately 15 to 20 dioptres in the very young, to about 10 dioptres at age 25, to around 1 dioptre at 50 and over.

Convex lenses have positive dioptric value and are generally used to correct hyperopia (farsightedness) or to allow people with presbyopia (the limited accommodation of advancing age) to read at close range. Concave lenses have negative dioptric value and generally correct myopia (nearsightedness). Typical glasses for mild myopia will have a power of −1.00 to −3.00 dioptres, while over the counter reading glasses will be rated at +1.00 to +3.00 dioptres. Optometrists usually measure refractive error using lenses graded in steps of 0.25 dioptres.

The dioptre can also be used as a measurement of curvature equal to the reciprocal of the radius measured in metres. For example, a circle with a radius of 1/2 metre has a curvature of 2 dioptres. If the curvature of a surface of a lens is C and the index of refraction is n, the focusing power is ɸ = (n − 1)C. If both surfaces of the lens are curved, consider their curvatures as positive toward the lens and add them. This will give approximately the right result, as long as the thickness of the lens is much less than the radius of curvature of one of the surfaces. For a mirror the focusing power is ɸ = 2C.

Relation to magnifying power

The magnifying power of a simple magnifier is related to its optical power. This is covered in detail in the articles on magnification and magnifying glasses.

See also


  1. Monoyer F. - Annales d'Oculistiques (Paris) 68:101 (1872) - proposed diopter notation. The term was coined by Johannes Kepler and was used for the title of his book Dioptrice, in which he layed out some fundamental concepts on geometric optics.
  2. Colenbrander, August, Measuring Vision and Vision Loss pdf
  3. http://www.eyeweb.org/optics.htm

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