The relationship between system condition and signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) in reconstructed Stokes parameter images is investigated for rotating compensator, variable retardance, and rotating analyzer Stokes vector (SV) polarimeters. A variety of optimal configurations are presented for each class of systems. The operation of polarimeters is discussed in terms of a four-dimensional conical vector space; and the concept of nonorthogonal bases, frames, and tight frames is introduced to describe the operation of SV polarimeters. Although SNR is an important consideration, performance of a polarimeter in the presence of errors in the calibration and alignment of the optical components is also important. The relationship between system condition and error performance is investigated, and it is shown that an optimum system from the point of view of SNR is not always an optimum system with respect to error performance. A detailed theory of error performance is presented, and the error of a SV polarimeter is shown to be related to the stability and condition number of the polarization processing matrices. The rms error is found to fall off as the inverse of the number of measurements taken. Finally, the concepts used to optimize SV polarimeters are extended to be useful for full Mueller matrix polarimeters.
© 2002 Optical Society of America
Original Manuscript: May 1, 2001
Revised Manuscript: September 24, 2001
Published: February 1, 2002
J. Scott Tyo, "Design of optimal polarimeters: maximization of signal-to-noise ratio and minimization of systematic error," Appl. Opt. 41, 619-630 (2002)