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A Tedious E planation of the f/stop

A Tedio
b Ma he O Cole A Hi o Home Page

E plana ion of he f/ op
of Pho og aph : The 2000 A Tedio E plana ion of Dep h of Field

Pho og aphe e hei e po e ing a combina ion of h e peed and f/ op o ge he co ec amo n of ligh on he film/ en o . The h e peed eg la e ho long he film i e po ed o ligh coming h o gh he len . The f/ op eg la e ho m ch ligh i allo ed h o gh he len b a ing he a ea of he hole he ligh come h o gh. Fo an gi en film peed (ISO) and ligh ing combina ion he e i one co ec amo n of ligh o p ope l e po e he film. Thi amo n of ligh can be achie ed i h man diffe en combina ion of f/ op and h e peed . De pi e being one of he e po e con ol in pho og aph , he f/ op emain a o ce of conf ion and m e o man pho og aphe , e en o ome ho e i all he ime. I find i in e e ing ha he local came a hop ha pic e nde gla on he co n e ho ing a cene ing a ange of focal leng h (fo a good e ample of hi , ee m f iend Da e Dahm ' Len Focal Leng h Cha ), pho o ho ing he ame cene p in ed a diffe en i e and pho o ho ing an ac ion cene ho a diffe en h e peed . All ha i a med o be of in e e and comp ehen ion o he c ome . Wha he don' ha e i a e of pho o ho ing dep h of field, o a cene ho a a ange of e po e combina ion he e he f/ op' effec a e ho n. Ma be i j ake oo m ch e plana ion. Well, oo m ch e plana ion i ha hi page i all abo , and I'll go o e he f/ op and e peciall i ini iall -conf ing n mbe ing a ome leng h. Fill Tha B cke ! M fa o i e analog fo e po e i filling a b cke i h a e . A b cke i of fi ed i e and need a ce ain amo n of a e o fill i , j like film o a digi al en o , hich i of a e en i i i ( he ISO) and need a ce ain amo n of ligh o op imall cap e an image. To fill o b cke , o can po a mall eam of a e fo a long ime o a fa eam of a e fo a ho ime. Ei he a , o end p i h he ame amo n of a e . In pho og aph , he i e of he eam of he a e i analago o he f/ op, he leng h of ime o po i analago o he h e peed, and he i e of he b cke i analago o he film peed. B oadl peaking, f om he b cke ' poin of ie , i doe n' ma e hich combina ion of eam i e and leng h of ime o choo e a long a he igh amo n of a e end p coming in. Film i he ame; i hin limi , i i indiffe en o he combina ion of ime and amo n of ligh a long a he igh amo n of ligh e en all a i e . Sh e Speed
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A Tedious E planation of the f/stop

Shutter speeds are a bit easier to understand, so I'll start with those. Both exposure controls run through a sequence of settings which involve doubling and halving the amount of light reaching the film. Shutter speeds are measured in seconds and fractions of a second and so the doubling and halving is fairly self-evident. One quarter second is half as long as one-half second but is twice as long as one-eighth. One second is twice as long as half a second and half as long as 2 seconds. It's pretty easy, and this works through the whole sequence of shutter speeds. On my old Nikon FE, for instance, the shutter speed sequence is: 8 seconds 4 seconds 1/4 1/8 1/15 1/30 2 seconds 1 second 1/60 1/125 1/250 1/2 1/500

second

1/1000

Each of these settings is clearly half/double the length of time of its immediate neighbours (OK, I know, 1/15th isn't e actl half the time of 1/8th and 1/125th isn't e actl half the time of 1/60th, but it's close). This doubling/halving is thus pretty simple to comprehend for this exposure control. F/S op f/stops are a bit more confusing because the numbers appear so arbitrary. This is the standard sequence of f/stops from f/1.4 to f/22. Although it may not seem intuitive at first, in this sequence the f/1.4 setting lets in the most light while the f/22 setting lets in the least. Also, each of these f/stops has precisely the same halving/doubling relationship as the shutter speed sequence. 1.4 2.0 2.8 4 5.6 8 11 16 22

On the face of it, going from f/4 to f/5.6 doesn't sound like halving the amount of light. What's more, 5.6 is a larger number and sounds like it ought to be more light, not less. Neither does f/4 to f/2.8 sound like doubling the amount of light. In fact, each of the numbers in this sequence is a halving/doubling of the amount of light from its immediate neighbours, just like the shutter speed settings are. Not only that, but it makes sense, as I shall show below. The reason that both the halving and doubling and the smaller numbers mean more light things make sense is that he f/ op i a a io. The ratio is between the diame e of the aperture in the lens and the focal leng h of the lens. The focal length is generally measured in millimeters, so we'll stick with those as our unit of measure. On a 50mm lens, f/2 is saying that the diameter of the aperture is 25mm. The ratio is: 50/25 = 2. That seems pretty straightforward. A good question might be, what is the area of that aperture? Well, the aperture is usually a set of five to fifteen blades which form a roughly circular hole, so we'll use the formula for the area of a circle, which as I'm sure you'll recall is * radius 2. For I'll use 3.14159265. On our 50mm lens, the aperture at f/2 has a diameter of
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A Tedious E planation of the f/stop

25mm which is a radius of 12.5mm. The area of the aperture is thus 12.52, or 3.14159265 X 156.25, or 490.9 square millimetres.

This fact by itself isn't all that useful. It i useful in relation to the adjacent f/stops. What is the area of the aperture at f/2.8? Well, because the f/stop is a ratio of the focal length to diameter, our 50mm lens at f/2.8 would have a diameter of 50/2.8 = 17.86mm. Remember, we have to divide that by 2 to get the radius of 8.93mm, so the area of the circle thus formed would be X 8.932, or 250.5 square mm. Rounding off a bit, that's about 250 sq. mm at f/2.8 and 500 sq. mm at f/2, a double/half relationship. Aha! So that's it! The a ea f he h e d b e a d ha e , it's just represented by a ratio on the lens! No wonder it's so darn confusing. Here's a table of the aperture areas for the common f/stops for a 50mm lens: e e f e( ) 50.0 35.7 25.0 17.9 12.5 8.9 6.3 4.5 3.1 2.3 (50mm divided by f/stop) Dia a e Radi f a e e( 25.0 17.9 12.5 8.9 6.3 4.5 3.1 2.3 1.6 1.1 A ea f A e e( . ) 1,963 1,002 491 250 123 63 31 16 8 4 (pi X the radius squared)

f/ f/1.0 f/1.4 f/2.0 f/2.8 f/4 f/5.6 f/8 f/11 f/16 f/22 (As shown on lens)

(1/2 the diameter)

If you look down the column of figures on the right, you can see the (more or less) doubling/halving going on up and down the column. You can see also how the big numbers make for smaller areas since the f/stop number is being divided into the focal length, then halved, then squared, then multiplied by . It's no wonder this seems obscure. Why not just call for the area of the aperture directly? A couple of reasons. First of all, if you have a 50mm lens on and say "I shot this with my 50mm at 1/125th of a second and an aperture area of 63 square millimeters" you will impart correct and exact information that precisely zero people will understand. It's much easier to say "I shot this at 1/125th at f/5.6". Also, 63 square millimeters is f/5.6 only with a 50mm lens; if your lens is a 35mm, or an 85, or a 300, the ratio changes and the exposure is different. That 63 sq. mm is about f/4 on the 35mm, f/9.5 on the 85mm and f/32 on the 300. Knowing only the area of the aperture requires also knowing the length of the lens to be informative as to the amount of light coming through the lens. The f/stop figure incorporates both of these in one useful if initially confusing measure and the lens
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A Tedious E planation of the f/stop

.I ' ( .F / , ?),

.W

/8,

.T

'

So, does that mean f/8 is the same brightness of illumination on the film/sensor regardless of focal length of the lens? Y .T -, ). I ' ' !I ' ' 1/125 ' 1954 J /8 . /8 , 20 ' 400 , (

Got it, I think. What about other f/stop terms? When people talk about a fast lens, what does that mean? L ' , ). T ,N ( ) 28 , 28 /1.4, 28 /2.0, 28 /2.8 28 /3.5. A /4, /5.6, /16; .T 28 /3.5, I , /3.5, 28 /2.8. T 28 /2.8, , , 28 /2.0 .T 28 /2.0 28 /1.4 .L .L .T 28 /1.4 28 ; 28 /2.0 ; 28 /2.8 , ' ; 28 /3.5 .T 28 /1.4 N ' ; , !Y B $2,500 .N 2010 24 /1.4 , , ' $2,500. (

Wh wouldn't ou alwa s use a fast lens? W T ' ' .T . , , .I . A ,


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A Tedious E planation of the f/stop

bei g ea ice ide e b i d f d gg ed d . If a d e he fa e a i ide e i g , if ae a , a , f/8, he a e ca i g a d a hea a de e i e hich a be de e f i g i chea e b e he ed d .

ic

The i e e a i ea b i i he g e e . The eigh ba a d he c c e .F i a ce, I ed a Ni 300 f/4.5 ED-IF e . The IF i i e a f c , he ED had d i h he E aDi e i ga ed. I a a ee e , 300 i e g h, i h i h ( a a ) f c i g a d eighed i a 2 b . 2.9 . (989g). If I e ed he 300 f/2.8 e he eigh e 5 b .8 (2500g). N fa e gh? H ab Ni ' 300 f/2? I eighed i a 15 b . 6.9 . (7000g). The 300 f/2 ic 2 1/3 e he 300 f/4.5 I ed, b i a e a e i e ha d-h dab e e e h ha fi i he ca e a bag a d a e i i a ie d i eedi g a i d, e i i g i i ca e a d eighi g e e i e a ch. The f/2 i e ed i he $20,000+ a ge. Y a ee he i e i he e e .M de c e a e ha d , igh a d . The a e a ha e a a iab e a i f/ ac hei a ge. The fe i a e e e e e d be fi ed f/ ( he Ni 70-200 f/2.8, f i a ce, i f/2.8 ac he h e a ge, i a a da d e ,b i eigh a a dc $2,500). I e e hi g he e a e ade ff . E e h e e e he diffe e ce i iceab e; b he -i - a ' Ni 55 f/1.2 i ch hea ie ha 50 f/1.8. Hi ie fi de e i b igh a d ha a f ac i fa ca be ha d e i e ,b he ca e a eigh a he ec a a d a e i i a e if 'e h i g a f/11 a a . If d decide a he fa e ib e e e , g b e f a Leica M6 (fi ) M9 (digi a ), f hich ca b a 50 f/1.0 e a d a 75 f/1.4. A d bef e hi ha i ' de ech g ha a he e de , eca ha Ca ade a 50 f/0.95 f hei a gefi de ca e a bac i he 1950 , a d i a e a 85 f/1.2 f hei SLR . M Zoom lens sa s it's f/4.5 to 5.6. What's that mean? Thi e a e he i e e e eed i e. I a Ni 24-85 f/2.8-4 e ,a a e a e. I ' e ac a a d igh , b i ie . If hi ab i , he i e f he e e e eeded ge f/2.8 a 24 i ch a e ha he i e eeded ge f/2.8 a 85 .T ee e i e a dc d , he e a fac e acce ha he e i be fa e a he ide e d f i f ca e g h a ge a d e a he g e d. A a e , ca e f/2.8 a he 24 e d f he a ge, b f/4 a he 85 e d. Thi i a ic a iceab e i a e e ha d , a , 70-300 he e a he 300 e d he a i f/ i f/5.6 e. I a h i he c ac i a d h e , hich ca ha e ea ab g f ca e g h . Y 'd be e ha e a da !
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A Tedious E planation of the f/stop

I hear stops referred to a lot. Are these alwa s f/stops? N .A .T , , .I S , " , 25 N 100 Y 12 ' .H , 12 " S 100 6 , 6 " , II, ISO 100 ( 400, 200 , , ). E " / , /8 , ISO 400 " /11. H ", , ", / ,

, .

;I ISO 100 ISO 6". W , ' : 100 50 , 50 25 .Y 50 ' 100 . not

What is stopping down? I' , .G /11 / /8 /8 /11 . How am I supposed to remember that f/stop sequence? E N What About m weird f/stops? T / 1/3 , /8, /3.5, /3.8 N D700 , , /4.5. Y 1/2 ( 1/3 / ) . !: LCD 1/2 / I , .I , I /1.4, /2, /2.8, /4 /1.8, /2.5, /3.2, .M , , , N !Y , ! .T / ; .W

You Sa Most things Double and Halve? Y .S .T 1/15 1/30 1/60 1/125 /
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A Tedious E planation of the f/stop

/2.8 25 E

/4

/5.6 100 200

. 400

.F : 800 / ' ISO 50 200, ISO .Y 50. O ,

.T

50

.T

ISO 100 ISO 200

' T -

. .H .

ISO

25 32 40 50 64 80 100 125 160 200 250 320 400 T K 125, Ho G / 1/125 ,I / N ( /6.25) ' , .H . I' I P S . I took m lens apart. The aperture is no calculation sho s. What's up? Y ' (M .I ) 300 /4.5 ( .Y , ' behi d .H . Wh are the called f/stops?
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, F 64 NPS ,P K -X P P P ISO ISO 160.

do ou refer to e posures bet een full f/stops? ,I .I /5.6 S , L-308B /5.6 . /5.6 .I I /8,

, T -S I

here near as big as the R

, / .M , .T , N 300

.I /4.5

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A Tedious E planation of the f/stop

I ha e no idea. I' e ne e ead an a ho a a i e de c ip ion of he e he name came f om. I ha e a ag e memo ha he def nc maga ine Modern Photograph did an a icle abo i in abo 1974 b m ag e memo al o eem o ecall ha i migh ha e been he Ap il i e. I ge a ickle of email f om a io people offe ing a ange of opinion of h he name, and one da pe hap I'll compile hem in o a page of hei o n. I he f/ op all I need o kno he len ? abo he ligh an mi ion h o gh

P obabl . I ' good eno gh fo i all all ama e and nea l all p ofe ional . The e i a concep called / op, fo an mi ion op, hich i a mea e of he ac al ligh an mi ion of he len a he han he imple a io of he ape e o he focal leng h. The / op can a f om he f/ op beca e o ha e a lo of len elemen (big oom len e migh ha e he e) o a one ime o migh ha e had one len coa ed and ano he no coa ed. Abo he onl people ho need hi le el of p eci ion a e p ofe ional cinemapho og aphe ho e he / op o e e po e. Thei len e ome ime ha e bo h f/ op and / op cale ma ked. E en hen he kno he / op of he len , he f/ op emain impo an beca e dep h of field i d i en b he f/ op ega dle of he ligh pa ing abili of he gla . I ha e ne e een a ill pho og aph len ma ked in / op , I ha e ne e ed / op pe onall and I do b o 'd e e find a p ofe ional ill pho og aphe ho ha , b he concep i o he e o I ho gh I'd men ion i . Pe onall , he onl ime I ha e fo nd he ma ked f/ op o be ndependable a i h a Vi i a 600mm f/8 Se ie One len I had. Thi a a ca adiop ic (mi o ) len billed a a Solid Ca beca e a he han mi o and ai pace, i had mi o i h olid gla in be een. Thi p pp eighed a lo ! An a , he len a nominall f/8 b m o n e pe ience a ha if o ed a epa a e me e o 'd be e hink abo i a an f/8 and a half o f/11 len . So Wha ' Impo an in all hi ? Yo need o kno he do bling/hal ing ela ion hip and ho i ok i h h e peed in e po e. Yo need o nde and ha fo a gi en amo n of ligh and ISO, he e a e man combina ion of h e peed and f/ op ha gi e he ame amo n of ligh on he film/ en o ( ee ne pa ag aph). Thi i ke ince he h e peed and f/ op o choo e ha e implica ion in ho o final pho og aph ill look in a o he han p el he amo n of ligh on he film. Yo need o kno ha a o op do n o ge mo e dep h of field. Yo do no need o go a o nd calc la ing ape e a ea fo o len e and f/ op . If o ' e like me, i ' o h doing i once o ee ha i o k , hen fo ge ing abo . Ho a Range of Se ing Gi e he Same Amo n of Ligh e kno ha he h e peed and
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A Tedious E planation of the f/stop

/ /

( ( .I ' 1/125 /8 :

.T ) ) ; .A

, ,

S S / P /1.4 .A

1/4 /45

1/8 1/15 1/30 1/60 1/125 1/250 1/500 1/1000 1/2000 1/4000 /32 /22 /16 /11 , /45 ' , , .B .W , (I' , . / .Y D F ). T , /8 /5.6 /4 /2.8 /2 /1.4

I .W , I' S PS: A ( I .I , .T / .B ( S .N I L308B) D , I ( / L .

, / D 101) ' H '

(1976)

S S

L28C2

S , .N ,
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A Tedious E planation of the f/stop

a few years to nail down these relativities, so I did a sheet to help you see all your exposure combinations given a reading from your camera or light meter. Take a look at this sheet and see if it helps. PPS: Thanks to Mike Sheehan of Aurora Colorado who emailed me with how to show pi in html; π which will show as . Have fun with all this! S ppo hi i e!

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