Bewersdorf, J., Schmidt, R. and Hell, S. W.
Comparison of I5M and 4Pi-microscopy. Journal of Microscopy 222: 105-117 (2006).

The axial (z -) resolution of -100 nm provided by 4Pi and I5M fluorescence microscopy relies on the coherent addition of spherical wavefronts of two opposing high aperture angle lenses. Both microscopes feature a point-spread function (PSF) with a sharp central spot that is accompanied by axially shifted sidelobes which leads to replication artefacts in the raw image data. In a 4Pi-microscope the sidelobes are less pronounced than in I5M and without relevant lateral (x,y) substructure, making their posterior removal in the image reliable and fast. On the other hand, high speeds of raw data acquisition are more easily gained by I5M. Moreover, I5M features a stronger signal as compared to the commonly employed two-photon excitation (2PE) 4Pi-imaging mode. We investigate here the capability of both techniques to image (aqueous) specimens without artefacts. To this end, we consider the optical transfer function (OTF) of the two microscopes in conjunction with the signal-to-noise-ratio (SNR) of the object to be imaged. The imaging of E. coli bacteria with an interconvertable setup enabled a direct comparison of the two imaging modes. As both systems rely on high aperture angles, water-immersion lenses of the largest numerical aperture available (NA = 1.2) were employed. The experimental results are corroborated by simulations assuming the signal strength encountered in the experiment. The comparison of the theoretical with the experimental PSFs/OTFs showed that our setup operated close to theory in both imaging modes. Although I5M provided about 10 times brighter raw image data as compared to (2PE) 4Pi-microscopy, the I5M data could not be entirely cleared of artefacts. In conclusion, with the current aperture angles and fluorescence signal strengths, it is not advisable to trade in the suppression of the sidelobes for a larger image signal.