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A compact system for high-resolution spectroscopy and quantitative photon flux and brilliance measurements of pulsed soft x-ray sources is described. The calibrated system combines a novel elliptical off-axis reflection zone plate with charge-coupled device detection for simultaneous spectral and spatial measurements. Experiments on a water-window droplet-target laser-plasma source demonstrate λ/Δλ⩾1000 spectral resolution and absolute flux and brilliance measurements. © 1997 American Institute of Physics.