Lens manufacturers use their optical expertise for much more than camera lenses alone. As an example, here’s a quick tour around the Nikon technology website, which highlights some of the company’s wide range of activities.

First let me say that I’ve chosen to highlight the Nikon technology website only because I happened to come across something on it in another context: other manufacturers are similarly diverse and if I come across their websites I will highlight those too in due course.

All of what follows is either on or accessible from the Nikon technology website at http://www.nikon.com/about/technology, which can be reached simply by clicking on the link or the accompanying image. (I’ve used TinyURL to condense the addresses in the text that follows in order to make it more readable but you can still click the links to reach the appropriate parts of the Nikon technology website.)

Click on the image above to visit the Nikon technology website, which will open in a separate page so you can continue to read this ‘blog at the same time!

Let’s start with a photographic topic; the impact that Nikon technology has had on the manufacture of aspherical lenses. As the name suggests, aspherical lenses do not have spherical profiles. Conventional lenses have surfaces that are sections of different-radius spheres; very thin lenses tend to correspond with large-radius spheres whereas very fat lenses correspond with small-radius spheres; but the same is not true for aspherical lenses.

The problem with spherical lenses (like spherical mirrors) is that they cannot bring all the rays of light that strike the lens at different places to the same point of focus. Aspherical lenses solve this problem by having a radius-of-curvature that varies from the centre of the lens to the edges. The theory of such a lens is relatively straightforward but its manufacture is very tricky. Fortunately, there is a clear explanation, aided by some useful animations, on the Nikon technology website at http://tinyurl.com/3yxtkqj. Nikon also provides an explanation of Seidel’s five monochromatic aberrations (at http://tinyurl.com/3483lo3) and a fascinating insight into its L35AF compact camera, which had a Nikkor-type lens for top-quality imaging (http://tinyurl.com/35nxopz).

Moving on to more scientific matters, the Nikon technology website offers a couple of fascinating videos – not just animations – that explain the use of terahertz imaging (these are waves that fall between conventional light and EHF radio waves in the electromagnetic spectrum). You can find out more and view the videos at http://tinyurl.com/3x86l3p.

Even weirder is evanescent light, which is best described as a “mist” or “aura” of light where there should be no light at all (http://tinyurl.com/32lzczo) and, weirdest of all, the ability of light to lift a particle using a technique known as laser trapping (http://tinyurl.com/39b82an.

If all of that is simply too spooky then you could take refuge in a nice down-to-Earth explanation of Nikon’s highly effective Nano Crystal Coating technology (http://tinyurl.com/38aov8e) and the company’s related activities working with the beauty industry to devise a multi-angle image capturing system and improved performance of cosmetics (http://tinyurl.com/34ogc34).

Clearly, as the Nikon technology website proves, there is a lot more to a lens manufacturer’s business than simply making camera lenses!