Convex and Concave Lenses

A lens is a curved piece of material that refracts light. This refraction of light is used to form an image. The two main types of lenses are convex and concave.

Convex Lens

Convex lenses are thicker in the middle, which means that they refract parallel rays of light inwards to a single point, which we call the focal point.

  • The focal point is also known as the principal focus
  • The distance from the lens to the focal point is called the focal length
Diagram illustrating the properties of a convex lens. Parallel rays of light approach the lens and, after passing through, they converge at a specific point known as the 'Focus' or 'Focal Point'. The distance between the lens and this point is labelled as 'Focal Length'. The central line passing through the lens is marked as 'Axis'. A horizontal line passing through the focus is termed the 'Focal Plane'.

Convex lenses are sometimes called converging lenses because they make the light rays converge (come together).

Concave Lenses

Concave lenses are thinner in the middle than at the edges. This means that the parallel rays diverge (spread out) as they pass through the lens. However, if you trace these rays backwards, they seem to diverge from a focal point on the other side of the lens.

Diagram illustrating the properties of a concave lens. Parallel rays of light approach the lens and, after passing through, they diverge outwards. The rays appear to come from a specific point known as the 'Focus' or 'Focal Point' before reaching the lens. The distance between the lens and this virtual point is labelled as 'Focal Length'. The central line passing through the lens is marked as 'Axis'. A horizontal line passing through the focus is termed the 'Focal Plane'.

We can figure out the direction that the light rays will be refracted. To do this, trace the virtual lines (illustrated in green) from the focal point of the lens to the point where the rays exit the lens. Extending these lines shows us the path of the actual refracted rays.

Making a Lens More Powerful

The focal point is always located on the axis that passes through the centre of the lens. The distance between the lens and this focal point is known as the focal length. A shorter focal length is more powerful, which means it refracts light more intensely.

To make a lens more powerful, we can change its shape, making it more curved. Or we can use a material that can refract light more intensely.

You’ve used 10 of your 10 free revision notes for the month

Sign up to get unlimited access to revision notes, quizzes, audio lessons and more

Sign up