Diffracted fields from 100-mm aperture near-field scanning optical microscopy (NSOM) probes and uncoated tapered fibres are measured and analysed. Using a solid angle scanner, the two-dimensional intensity distribution and polarization state of the diffracted light are resolved experimentally. Polarization analyses show that circularly polarized input light does not maintain its polarization state for all diffraction angles, and is completely filtered into linearly polarized light at large polar diffraction angles. This drastic decomposition originates from the vector nature of light diffracted by the sub-wavelength aperture. There is a fundamental difficulty in generating circularly polarized light near the aperture of NSOM probes owing to polarization-dependent diffraction in the near-field regime. This is illustrated by the Bethe-Bouwkamp model using circularly polarized input light.