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Physical Review A - Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics


The minimum-Kullback-entropy principle (mKE) is a useful tool to estimate quantum states and operations from incomplete data and prior information. In general, the solution of an mKE problem is analytically challenging and an approximate solution has been proposed and employed in different contexts. Recently, the form and a way to compute the exact solution for finite dimensional systems has been found, and a question naturally arises on whether the approximate solution could be an effective substitute for the exact solution, and in which regimes this substitution can be performed. Here, we provide a systematic comparison between the exact and the approximate mKE solutions for a qubit system when average data from a single observable are available. We address both mKE estimation of states and weak Hamiltonians, and compare the two solutions in terms of state fidelity and operator distance. We find that the approximate solution is generally close to the exact one unless the initial state is near an eigenstate of the measured observable. Our results provide a rigorous justification for the use of the approximate solution whenever the above condition does not occur, and extend its range of application beyond those situations satisfying the assumptions used for its derivation.