definition of aperture

Are you searching for a decent definition of aperture also known as f-stop? In optical terms the general meaning of aperture is simply a hole though which light travels.

In practical digital photography terms it the size of the opening in the lens. The most important thing to understand is the effect of aperture on depth of field and quality.

The definition of aperture is not as important to understand as is it's effect on depth of field

As the photographer, you don't have to be an expert on lens design.  You do need to know that a small aperture, like f-16 in the diagram above, will give you a deeper depth of field. In other words, you'll have a greater range of things in reasonably sharp focus, from closer objects to further away from you objects in your scene.

Small f/stopSmall Aperture = f/22
Large f/sopLarge Aperture = f/1.8

You can control how much you want in focus by setting your camera lens to a specific aperture. A small lens aperture opening, like f/16 or f/22, will five you deep depth of field. A large aperture opening, like f/2.0 or f/1.8, will give you shallow depth of field.

how does this definition of aperture effect quality

The quality of an image is also affected by which aperture you choose and it does vary from lens to lens. There is a broad rule of thumb that is helpful to follow.

The results for each lens is an in-depth topic better covered by a lens review on your specific lens. Specific lens tests give data on sharpness, chromatic aberrations, and diffraction at different apertures.

As a general rule, the best quality image is achieved with a lens aperture that is two or three f-stops closed down from widest open setting that your lens can be set.

Here is an example.

If you have a maximum f-stop of f-4 with a given lens, you'll get the best photo quality closed down by two f-stops. Two f-stops smaller than f-4 is an aperture of f-8.  

But here's the thing, this is a very general rule and is not 100% true for every design of lens. It's still a safe bet the two stops down from maximum is going to give you a good sharp image. It also assumes your choice of f-stop won't create an issue depth of field or blur from motion if it makes your shutter speed too slow.

It is a good rule of thumb to follow and is generally true.  But if you have a dire need to know the absolute exact best aperture to achieve that slightly better result, (which may not be detectable by the human eye) than you need to

  1. Test the lens yourself, or have it tested.
  2. Research the test results for your specific lens design and your personal lens should have been manufactured very closely to the same specs and should perform in a similar way.

You might be catching on to my opinion at this point.  Lens tests do have value.  There is no doubt.  For the majority of beginner and hobbyist photographers, the differences in quality between one aperture and another simply won't be noticed.

For lesser quality lenses, you may get noticeable issues showing up at the extreme ranges of apertures, the fully wide-open f-stops and the very smallest f-stops. The widest open lens openings are often not as sharp and the smallest lens openings usually produce at least some diffraction. One of the sites I visit for thoughts on lenses is The Digital Picture.

aperture's effect on the exposure

Each full f-stop number represents a factor of two in terms of the amount of light.  Opening up the lens from f 8.0 to f5.6 will double the amount of light entering the camera at any given shutter speed.

If your camera is set on Aperture Priority Mode, it will automatically compensate by shortening the shutter speed to give you the correct exposure.

Each change in aperture by one f-stop equates to a change in light by a factor of two

In the days of film photography, the f-stop numbers that represented the aperture size were the standard numbers shown above.  Modern digital cameras and lenses now have countless fractional f-stops within the entire range of apertures that give you the ability to pinpoint exposure more precisely.

Also useful information is how changing the aperture will require either the ISO or the shutter speed to change to maintain a proper exposure.  This is best illustrated by understanding the exposure triangle:  Photo Exposure.

Use the the simple definition of aperture to mean the size of the lens opening and get a better understanding of how it affects quality and depth of field.  Controlling depth of field gives you as the photographer a way to emphasize specific parts of the photograph.

Happy Shooting!

Leave Aperture Definition - Go To Photography Dictionary

Go to Digital Photography Tips Main Page