A method for enhancing the temporal resolving power of an optical signal recording system such as a streak camera or photodetector by sinusoidally modulating the illumination or light signal at a high frequency, approximately at the ordinary limit of the photodetector's capability. The high frequency information of the input signal is thus optically heterodyned down to lower frequencies to form beats, which are more easily resolved and detected. During data analysis the heterodyning is reversed in the beats to recover the original high frequencies. When this is added to the ordinary signal component, which is contained in the same recorded data, the composite signal can have an effective frequency response which is several times wider than the detector used without heterodyning. Hence the temporal resolving power has been effectively increased while maintaining the same record length. Multiple modulation frequencies can be employed to further increase the net frequency response of the instrument. The modulation is performed in at least three phases, recorded in distinct channels encoded by wavelength, angle, position or polarization, so that during data analysis the beat and ordinary signal components can be unambiguously separated even for wide bandwidth signals. A phase stepping algorithm is described for separating the beat component from the ordinary component in spite of unknown or irregular phase steps and modulation visibility values. This algorithm is also independently useful for analyzing interferograms or other phase-stepped interferometer related data taken with irregular or unknown phase steps, as commonly found in industrial vibration environments.
 The United States Government has rights in this invention pursuant to Contract No. W-7405-ENG-48 between the United States Department of Energy and the University of California for the operation of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.