In optics, an aperture is a hole or an opening through which light is admitted. More specifically, the aperture of an optical system is the opening that determines the cone angle of a bundle of rays that come to a focus in the image plane. The aperture determines how collimated the admitted rays are, which is of great importance for the appearance at the image plane. If the admitted rays also pass through a lens, highly collimated rays (narrow aperture) will result in sharpness at the image plane, while uncollimated rays (wide aperture) will result in sharpness for rays with the right focal length only. This means that a wide aperture results in an image that is sharp around what the lens is focusing on and blurred otherwise. The aperture also determines how many of the incoming rays are actually admitted and thus how much light that reaches the image plane (the narrower the aperture, the darker the image).
An optical system typically has many openings, or structures that limit the ray bundles (ray bundles are also known as pencils of light). These structures may be the edge of a lens or mirror, or a ring or other fixture that holds an optical element in place, or may be a special element such as a diaphragm placed in the optical path to limit the light admitted by the system. In general, these structures are called stops, and the aperture stop is the stop that determines the ray cone angle, or equivalently the brightness, at an image point.
In some contexts, especially in photography and astronomy, aperture refers to the diameter of the aperture stop rather than the physical stop or the opening itself. For example, in a telescope the aperture stop is typically the edges of the objective lens or mirror (or of the mount that holds it). One then speaks of a telescope as having, for example, a 100 centimeter aperture. Note that the aperture stop is not necessarily the smallest stop in the system. Magnification and demagnification by lenses and other elements can cause a relatively large stop to be the aperture stop for the system.
Sometimes stops and diaphragms are called apertures, even when they are not the aperture stop of the system.
The word aperture is also used in other contexts to indicate a system which blocks off light outside a certain region. In astronomy for example, a photometric aperture around a star usually corresponds to a circular window around the image of a star within which the light intensity is summed.
In addition to an aperture stop, a photographic lens may have one or more field stops, which limit the system's field of view. When the field of view is limited by a field stop in the lens (rather than at the film or sensor) vignetting results; this is only a problem if the resulting field of view is less than was desired.
The pupil of the eye is its aperture; the iris is the diaphragm that serves as the aperture stop. Refraction in the cornea causes the effective aperture (the entrance pupil) to differ slightly from the physical pupil diameter. The entrance pupil is typically about 4 mm in diameter, although it can range from 2 mm in a brightly lit place to 8 mm in the dark.
In astronomy, the diameter of the aperture stop (called the aperture) is a critical parameter in the design of a telescope. Generally, one would want the aperture to be as large as possible, to collect the maximum amount of light from the distant objects being imaged. The size of the aperture is limited, however, in practice by considerations of cost and weight, as well as prevention of aberrations (as mentioned above).
A device called a diaphragm usually serves as the aperture stop, and controls the aperture. The diaphragm functions much like the iris of the eye—it controls the effective diameter of the lens opening. Reducing the aperture size increases the depth of field, which describes the extent to which subject matter lying closer than or farther from the actual plane of focus appears to be in focus. In general, the smaller the aperture (the larger the number), the greater the distance from the plane of focus the subject matter may be while still appearing in focus.
The lens aperture is usually specified as an f-number, the ratio of focal length to effective aperture diameter. A lens typically has a set of marked "f-stops" that the f-number can be set to. A lower f-number denotes a greater aperture opening which allows more light to reach the film or image sensor. The photography term "one f-stop" refers to a factor of √2 (approx. 1.41) change in f-number, which in turn corresponds to a factor of 2 change in light intensity.
Aperture priority is a semi-automatic shooting mode used in cameras. It allows the photographer to choose an aperture setting and allow the camera to decide the shutter speed and sometimes ISO sensitivity for the correct exposure. This is sometimes referred to as Aperture Priority Auto Exposure, A mode, Av mode, or semi-auto mode.
The specifications for a given lens typically include the minimum and maximum apertures. These refer to the maximum and minimum f-numbers the lens can be set at to achieve, respectively.
A typical lens will have an f-number range from 16 (small aperture) to 2 (large aperture) (these values vary). The maximum aperture (minimum f-number) tends to be of most interest (and is always included when describing a lens). This value is also known as the lens speed, because it is proportional to the square of accepted light, and thus inversely proportional to the square of required exposure time (i.e. using a lens with f/2, one can take pictures at one quarter of the exposure time necessary using a f/4 lens). Professional lenses for 35mm cameras can have f-numbers as low as 1.0, while professional lenses for some movie cameras can have f-numbers as low as 0.75 (very large relative aperture). These are known as "fast" lenses because they allow much more light to reach the film and therefore reduce the required exposure time. Stanley Kubrick's film Barry Lyndon is notable for having scenes shot with the largest relative aperture in film history: 0.7.
Prime lenses have a fixed focal length (FFL) and large aperture and are favored by professionals, especially by photojournalists who often work in dim light, have no opportunity to introduce supplementary lighting, and need to capture fast breaking events.
Zoom lenses typically have a maximum aperture (minimum f-number) of 2.8 to 6.3 through their range. A very fast zoom lens will be constant 2.8 or 2, which means the relative aperture will stay the same throughout the zoom range. A more typical consumer zoom will have a variable relative aperture, since it is harder and more expensive to keep the effective aperture proportional to focal length at long focal lengths; 3.5 to 5.6 is an example of a common variable aperture range in a consumer zoom lens.
The amount of light captured by a lens is proportional to the area of the aperture, equal to:
The focal length value is not required when comparing two lenses of the same focal length; a value of 1 can be used instead, and the other factors can be dropped as well, leaving area proportion to the reciprocal square of the f-number N..
If two cameras of different format sizes and focal lengths have the same angle of view, and the same aperture area, they gather the same amount of light from the scene. The relative focal-plane illuminance, however, depends only on the f-number N, independent of the focal length, so is less in the camera with the larger format, longer focal length, and higher f-number.
The terms scanning aperture and sampling aperture are often used to refer to the opening through which an image is sampled, or scanned, for example in a Drum scanner, an image sensor, or a television pickup apparatus. The sampling aperture can be a literal optical aperture, that is, a small opening in space, or it can be a time-domain aperture for sampling a signal waveform.
For example, film grain is quantified as graininess via a measurement of film density fluctuations as seen through a 0.048 mm sampling aperture.