Operational definition of quantum correlations of light
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2016 American Physical Society. Quantum features of correlated optical modes define a major aspect of the nonclassicality in quantized radiation fields. However, the phase-sensitive detection of a two-mode light field is restricted to interferometric setups and local intensity measurements. Even the full reconstruction of the quantum state of a single radiation mode relies on such detection layouts and the preparation of a well-defined reference light field. In this work, we establish the notion of the essential quantum correlations of two-mode light fields. It refers to those quantum correlations which are measurable by a given device, i.e., the accessible part of a nonclassical Glauber-Sudarshan phase-space distribution, which does not depend on a global phase. Assuming a simple four-port interferometer and photon-number-resolving detectors, we derive the reconstruction method and nonclassicality criteria based on the Laplace-transformed moment-generating function of the essential quasiprobability. With this technique, we demonstrate that the essential quantum correlations of a polarization tomography scheme are observable even if the detectors are imperfect and cannot truly resolve the photon statistics.