David Shafer on His Philosophy of Optical Design

In this episode, I sat down with David Shafer. David has been creating incredible and cutting edge lens designs for decades; my first introduction to his work were his free slides he posted which looked like magic to me at the time. David discusses how he got into optics, his background in philosophy and how that guided his approach to optical design, and his optical design methodology. He also touches upon his insights about operating as a consultant, and how he created a successful career in optical design consulting. Overall this has been one of favorite interviews, David’s experience and thoughts on optical design is incredible and I hope you enjoy the episode as well.

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  1. David Shafer’s Slideshare webpage with all of his freely shared presentations. Read them! They are great!
  2. Innovation in Optical Design, A Short History slides presentation by David Shafer
  3. Designing a Double Gauss Lens the Hard Way slides presentation by David Shafer
  4. Optimum Design for a Fast Speed Lens slides presentation by David Shafer
  5. Design Methods slide presentation by David Shafer
  6. David Shafer’s Zeiss Talk Summer 2022
  7. Man Versus Machine-A Lens Design Challenge
    Donald C. Dilworth, David Shafer, “Man versus machine: a lens design challenge,” Proc. SPIE 8841, Current Developments in Lens Design and Optical Engineering XIV, 88410G (25 September 2013); https://doi.org/10.1117/12.2022871
  8. Simple Method For Designing Lenses
    David Shafer, “Simple Method For Designing Lenses,” Proc. SPIE 0237, 1980 International Lens Design Conference, (16 September 1980); https://doi.org/10.1117/12.959090
  9. Highlights of My 48 Years in Optical Design slide presentation by David Shafer. Demonstrates the lithography lens system and his design for Salvador Dali!
  10. Some Unusual Telescope Designs slide presentation by David Shafer. Demonstrates the optical design sent on space missions mentioned.
  11. A Perfect Lens Design Hiding in Plain Sight for 167 Years
    D. Shafer, “A Perfect Lens Design Hiding in Plain Sight for 167 Years,” in OSA Optical Design and Fabrication 2021 (Flat Optics, Freeform, IODC, OFT), F. Capasso, W. Chen, P. Dainese, J. Fan, J. DeGroote Nelson, F. Duerr, J. Rogers, J. Rolland, P. Clark, R. Pfisterer, H. Rehn, S. Thibault, M. Jenkins, D. Wook Kim, and N. Trela-McDonald, eds., OSA Technical Digest (Optica Publishing Group, 2021), paper 120780P.
  12. Principles of Optical Design by Born and Wolf. Maxwell’s Fishe-eye design is mentioned in section 4.2.
  13. The scientific papers of James Clerk Maxwell Volume 1.. Maxwell discusses his fish-eye design in XVII. On the general laws of Optical Instruments, pg 285
    Maxwell, J. (2011). The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (Cambridge Library Collection - Physical Sciences) (W. Niven, Ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511710377
  14. A Picture Proof of Pythagorean’s Theorm
  15. Galaxy Quest Trailer. Seriously, watch it, a great sci-fi movie.

@AlanG thank you for suggesting I speak with David. It was great getting to speak with him, his experience and knowledge in the field of optical design is almost unbelievable, and his distinctly philosophical approach that led to a defined methodology for design is refreshing. I hope you also enjoy the episode.

I just listened to the episode, and loved it! I’m glad you reached out and were able to get him on the podcast.

Great interview.

Does anyone know of the Tucson company David mentioned that attempts to reverse engineer optical design from the 2d layout?


I personally don’t know the name but I would recommend emailing David, he is very responsive via that point of communication and open to answering questions.