Modifications of the imaging characteristics of an imaging system and a consequent increase in relative resolution in the spatial frequency range of interest have assumed significance in view of the growing applications of microscope imagery. The present study shows that a diffraction limited imaging system zonally masked by an oblique retarder is much more versatile in the sense that the imaging characteristics can be controlled in real time by virtue of the higher degrees of freedom available to the user. It has been shown that the optical transfer function (OTF) of the system varies periodically with the orientation θ of the analyzer at the output. Interestingly, it follows that the optical characteristics of the proposed imaging system can be expressed in terms of three OTF components which combined together gives rise to the overall system OTF. By proper choice of the polarization parameters involved it also possible to isolate these components or to select a convenient combination of these components. Finally, simulated results show that subtraction of two images produced by the proposed retarder masked lens yields OTFs that are difficult to obtain otherwise. © 2009 The Optical Society of Japan.