We propose a new method for the computation of the tristimuli values that correspond to the impulse response along the optical axis provided by an imaging optical system working under polychromatic illumination. We show that all the monochromatic irradiance distributions needed for this calculation can be obtained from the Wigner distribution function associated with a certain version of the pupil function of the system. The use of this single phase-space representation allows us to obtain the above merit function for aberrated systems with longitudinal chromatic aberration and primary spherical aberration. Some numerical examples are given to verify the accuracy of our proposal. © 1997 Optical Society of America.