Paraxial waves in the far-field region
By investigating the changes suffered by a paraxial beam propagating in the near-field and in the far-field regions, it has been found a set of wave equations valid for points gradually closer to the near field. A relevant expression for the validity of the far-field approximation is given from the paraxial Helmholtz equation. It is pointed out that the well-known Fresnel number associated with every transverse diffraction pattern can be interpreted as a magnitude that measures the relative standard deviation of the Fraunhofer pattern and a first-order field, thus reporting on an integral expression suitable for a general case. Finally, the Rayleigh range of the optical beam is deduced from the previously inferred Fresnel number, what has been applied for the cases of a spherical Gaussian beam and a uniform-illuminated circular aperture.