Aperture, what is it?

November 16th, 2011 | by | photography, tech


Aperture, what does it mean?

I am still new to digital photography and I have been trying to learn anything and everything about shooting. I have decided to focus on learning the mechanics of how a camera works before learning about shot setups, angles, colors, framing, etc… The first three basic settings for taking shots without the flash are exposure, shutter speed, and aperture. All three of these settings effect each other. Aperture settings on DSLRs are commonly refereed to as f-numbers or f-stops. The lower the f-stop, the wider the opening on the shutter. This is considered a high aperture shot, since the aperture is more open, even though the f-stop number is smaller. Adversely the higher the f-stop, the smaller the opening on the shutter.

This picture here is a great representation of aperture:

Aperture Diagram

credit: Silver Strand Photo


What does this mean?

Simply put, this means that with a higher aperture, the sensor takes in more light resulting in a faster shutter. So those lenses with lower and lower f-stops can take faster and faster images. This is good for sports, outside, action shots as well as taking longer distance photos without getting image blur. Another fun aspect of a higher aperture is a narrowed focal point, giving you a depth of field. The shallow depth of field gives the background and foreground more of a blur.

Now aside from getting a nice background/foreground blur, having a higher aperture lets you take better pictures with less light. Since the aperture opens wider, it takes in more light, which means faster shutter times. Why is this important? The darker the environment, the longer the shutter needs to be open, and the smaller the aperture, the less light that hits the sensor. So in a dark environment, you can get faster shutter speeds. Holding the camera and taking pictures any less than 1/60 shutter speed can easily cause blur.

Now the higher the aperture gets, the more expensive the lens becomes. It seems to be an exponential cost as well. For example:

Canon EF Lens – 50 mm – F/1.8 – costs around $100+
Canon EF Lens – 50 mm – F/1.4 – costs around $350+
Canon EF Lens – 50 mm – F/1.2 – costs around $1600+

So for a beginner, the F/1.8 lens is a great option. I was given this lens from an acquaintance, and I have more fun shooting with this lens than any other that I currently own.

So all in all knowing about aperture is an important step to getting a grasp on digital photography, but it is just one of the basic things to learn. Start shooting on manual an playing with the settings, it is the best way to learn.

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4 Responses to “Aperture, what is it?”

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  1. steph says:

    What ‘acquantance’ was nice enough to give you that lens? I would sure like to meet them :)

    • jeff says:

      It was actually someone I did some freelance work for. He bought the 50mm f/1.2 and no longer had the need for his older 50mm f/1.8. So make some friends that have expensive tastes and you’ll get some good hand-me-downs.

  2. Riccardo says:

    Nice post, I bought a Canon 500D few months ago and thinking to upgrade my kit-lens with the 50mm 1.4 as the 1.8 look too fragile to me.

    • jeff says:

      The 50mm f1.8 is pretty fragile (it’s mainly plastic, and feels pretty cheap) but for around $100, it’s an easy step to take. It’s at lease $250 less than the 50mm f1.4. After laying out about $600 or $700 hundred dollars for camera, it’s was hard for me to justify another $350 on top of that.

      I also bought the 28-135mm f3.6-5.6 canon lens lightly used for $350 (normally $500+). I consider that the poor mans 24mm-105mm f4. I use this lens for almost all of my shooting, it’s a great ‘everyday lens’.

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