Due to the enormous dynamic range of human photoreceptors in response to light, studying their visual function in the intact retina challenges the stimulation hardware, specifically with regard to the displayable luminance contrast. The adaptive optics scanning laser ophthalmoscope (AOSLO) is an optical platform that focuses light to extremely small retinal extents, approaching the size of single photoreceptor cells. However, the current light modulation techniques produce spurious visible backgrounds which fundamentally limit experimental options. To remove unwanted background light and to improve contrast for high dynamic range visual stimulation in an AOSLO, we cascaded two commercial fiber-coupled acousto-optic modulators (AOMs) and measured their combined optical contrast. By compensating for zero-point differences in the individual AOMs, we demonstrate a multiplicative extinction ratio in the cascade that was in accordance with the extinction ratios of both single AOMs. When latency differences in the AOM response functions were individually corrected, single switch events as short as 50 ns with radiant power contrasts up to 1:1010 were achieved. This is the highest visual contrast reported for any display system so far. We show psychophysically that this contrast ratio is sufficient to stimulate single foveal photoreceptor cells with small and bright enough visible targets that do not contain a detectable background. Background-free stimulation will enable photoreceptor testing with custom adaptation lights. Furthermore, a larger dynamic range in displayable light levels can drive photoreceptor responses in cones as well as in rods.
Keywords: (110.1080) Active or adaptive optics; (230.1040) Acousto-optical devices; (330.4300) Vision system - noninvasive assessment; (330.5310) Vision - photoreceptors; (330.5510) Psychophysics.