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Learner Reviews & Feedback for First Order Optical System Design by University of Colorado Boulder

285 ratings

About the Course

This course can also be taken for academic credit as ECEA 5600, part of CU Boulder’s Master of Science in Electrical Engineering degree. Optical instruments are how we see the world, from corrective eyewear to medical endoscopes to cell phone cameras to orbiting telescopes. When you finish this course, you will be able to design, to first order, such optical systems with simple mathematical and graphical techniques. This first order design will allow you to develop the foundation needed to begin all optical design as well as the intuition needed to quickly address the feasibility of complicated designs during brainstorming meetings. You will learn how to enter these designs into an industry-standard design tool, OpticStudio by Zemax, to analyze and improve performance with powerful automatic optimization methods....

Top reviews


Aug 8, 2022

I enjoyed very much this course! It gives a detailed (yet understandable for a broader audience) introduction to several methodologies to understand optical systems, mostly lenses, and their design.


Aug 25, 2019

Really nice course with very clear explanations of the principles of optical engineering and learn how to use ZEMAX Opticstudio to simulate your optical system

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1 - 25 of 100 Reviews for First Order Optical System Design

By Bailey C

Mar 19, 2019

This course has a lot of potential, but leaves a lot to be desired. It’s definitely not for everyone, so take a few things into account before you join:

1) The lecture videos are pretty superficial. You can read the majority of the information in the first few chapters of pretty much any textbook on optical engineering.

2) There is a large discrepancy between the depth of information presented and the depth required to solve the assignments. Solving the assignments can often require a significant amount of time researching on the internet or in other optics sources to find the necessary background information.

3) Many of the assignment problems are very poorly written. Questions and explanations are ambiguous or unclear more often than not. I often had to solve the problems 2-3 different ways using a different interpretation of the question to get the right answer.

4) There is no interaction between the teachers and the course whatsoever. The forums are full of posts by confused students asking for help with 0 replies. Even now, well over a year after the course was created, the final assignment has technical issues that prevent students from even submitting the assignment as intended.

Issues #2 and #3 wouldn’t be critical if #4 were remedied, but the creators seem to have no interest in maintaining their course or interacting with the students in a meaningful way. In short, if you are looking to be dropped in the deep end of optical design and are an effective self-learner (seriously, you are on your own here), you can learn a lot simply by grinding through the assignments. If you are looking to be taught in the traditional sense, or for professionalism, look somewhere else.

By Randy H

Aug 9, 2019

I am still struggling through this course. The lecture materials are insufficient. The instructors are non responsive and the other students taking the class are too few in number for me to have a cadre with which to discuss. I'm left googling the topics in order to proceed. For the money spent, this is unsatisfactory. I'd highly recommend NOT taking this course.

By lihan

Jan 4, 2019

I appreciate the content of the course, however, it is not meet my expectation. I did the the questions and most of the questions is pulling my attention on numerical calculation rather than understanding the optics principle. It is wasting of my time on those calculation rather than understanding the optics design. I would highly recommend the teacher think deeply and carefully to assign the homework and questions which would reflect to the value student paid rather than coping the questions from his/her real class or somewhere, good questions are really important for student to understand and digest the knowledge.

By Chen S

May 31, 2019

Very poorly designed course. No one to ask or clarify requirement if you have any question. Project submission is such a mess that a lot of information can't be uploaded. Project instruction keeps telling you to save the file while a trial version that can't save any file is provided. Few peer to review assignment. This course just needs tons of polish before it's a good experience to go through. It's helpful to learn the knowledge but the process of studying is such a pain

By Marek B

Apr 12, 2019

Good Course but it is impossible to get any response from the Instructors or TAs and the fact that we were using demo version of the Optic Studio which had some limitations in comparison with the regular version (like number of decimal places displayed, lack of optimisation wizard, inability to save your work) and needed to be reinstalled every two weeks or so felt very unprofessional.

By Muhammed Ç

Dec 11, 2019

there were so much missing information, so I took the first test and the questions were not that much related to what I got through the lectures

By Matthew D

Nov 29, 2019

Fantastic intro to optics as a field. I'd recommend:

* Knowing a fair amount of trigonometry beforehand

* Reviewing matrix multiplication

* Time. You *must* understand how much time each concept takes to sink in, and you need to give it appropriate breathing room. Without that, it's very difficult to do well.

By Maryam S

Jan 10, 2019

I really enjoyed taking the course. Completing assignments especially after week 3 took me 2-3 times longer than the suggested specified time. However I learned a lot from this course.

Learning Zemax was always like a hurdle for me but amazingly the instructor walked me through the main features of the software and I feel you already know a lot about optical design and simulations.

The capstone project seems to be tough (I haven't started it yet), but it is worthed spending the time since it complements your learning and proficiency level.

By Rafel

Jul 29, 2020

Good course, explanations are clear and concise and I got a good learning. Tricky exercises! Perhaps more exercises with quantstudio would have been nice.

By Matthias W

Jan 31, 2020

Could be less academic and more industry oriented.

By Andrea M

Sep 15, 2021

I really recommend the course and found the video introductions really helpful to get a quick understanding of the topics. More learning is necessary in any case, to pass the exams, but everyone can find the required information. Forums help sharing thougts and questions. Just one remark, the volume of the audio in the video clips is a bit low.

By Roberto F G

Aug 26, 2019

Really nice course with very clear explanations of the principles of optical engineering and learn how to use ZEMAX Opticstudio to simulate your optical system

By Aakash R

Apr 30, 2020

An excellent course that teaches you geometric optics and gets you started with ZEMAX. Some of the quizzes have typos/bugs in them, but this is a minor gripe.

By Lawrence S

Dec 20, 2018

A few new insights even for a senior optical engineer. I will keep working through their lectures if each one offers at least a few nuggets of insight.

By Zhaoning Y

Jan 17, 2019

Learned a ton about paraxial optics design. Great lecture, capstone project is A LOT of work (>20 hour) for me.

By Wayne L

May 18, 2019

Great course, but the tool (Demo version Zemax) is not very useful because of the removal of several important features (e.g. save, undo and limited precision).

By Mary S

Jan 10, 2020

Sometimes the lectures didn't contain enough info to do the homework. But the lectures and the homework were both h

By Richard D

Feb 5, 2019

Very advanced, and might be intractable for those without some previous optics experience.

By Rafael C

Jul 8, 2019

The course is very good and has a high level - it can be quite demanding at times. The classes are neat and instructors very didactic. What is a little bit upsetting is that the instructors rarely check the discussion board... interaction there is very low even with other students, which can make learning a little bit harder...

By Roberto M F L R

Oct 7, 2020

This course is by far the best I have followed in Coursera. The material is highly interesting and, contrary to many others, the quizzes require you to think and take a little time to work out the solution. Disregard comments about the grading system being flawed. There are very few cases where there is ambiguity on the question and you can resubmit your answer immediately, so that will not delay your progress in any way. All the information you need to solve the problems is contained in the videos, and for the very few occasions when an external source is needed you are directly pointed to it. It's all pretty much self-contained. If you are looking for a quick certificate with no thinking or effort required, go somewhere else. On the other hand, if you really want to learn you can't go wrong with this course.

By Charles K

May 2, 2022

This is an excellent course, clearly one of the best that I have taken through Coursera. Professor McLeod quickly summarizes the salient aspects of optical system design and you will learn what is necessary to get started designing optical systems. Of course you won't learn everything that you need to know but it is a great first step and you will be able to continue that learning through textbooks and internet resources. I'd recommend the Optics text by Hecht as well as his Schaum's Outline of Optics. The free fully-featured professional Zeemax OpticStudio software is a major plus since ii doesn't expire for 9 months as well as the free SPIE class on the use of the software.

By Ilse J M

Jan 28, 2019

This course is an excellent and concise way to get acquainted with basic (paraxial, paper-based) optical design. I've been on a quest to self-study to becoming an optical designer and I've been looking for something like this - this is the course that addresses the gap in many an optical engineering text book. The assignments also necessitate some critical thinking and further study. The course is more involved than the overview would have one believe!

By Alexis D

Jul 5, 2022


- The course gives a good basic understanding of the optics phenomena in a few weeks only

- The course stucture is logical and the information is adapted

- Quiz difficulty is a bit higher than the videos. It pushes to think further


- I was expecting more Zemax tutorials

- The automatic corrector is sometimes a bit to strict

By osama a r

Mar 25, 2019

A unique and very well designed online applied optics course which provides insight to optics designing and helps in understanding the optical systems. After this course, i feel enriched with the optics knowledge. Anxiously looking forward for more courses in this specialization.

By Eric J

Apr 27, 2021

Great setup from question to question on the homeworks. Some inference is needed from question to question, but this is building skills to think as an optical engineer. Questions are hard but being able to submit answers many times allows you to check your work as you go.