Still confused about what camera aperture and ISO mean? This chart will visualize their effects to help you understand

Hey there, up-and-coming shutter bugs! Remember the smartphone camera race rules of yesteryear? Back then, it was all about who will pump out the biggest resolution sensor – it was a megapixel race, throwing numbers in the faces of consumers as proof that one's camera is better than the other. Nowadays, it has become clear that it's hardly all about the resolution of a camera – its aperture size, general build technology, and the software that tweaks the images as you take them are just as, if not more, important. Manufacturers now see that there is a greater benefit to be had in teaching consumers about these differences, as well as granting them more access to manual camera settings, such as shutter speed and ISO.

But what exactly do these settings change, and what's this aperture size (F/”something-something?”) everyone keeps talking about? Well, the bloggers at Photoblog Hamburg were kind enough to create this quick-reference graph that you see above. From top to bottom, it shows the various effects of the aperture size, shutter speed, and ISO setting.

So, the aperture size has two effects on a photo. Firstly, the larger it is (counterintuitively, a larger aperture is marked with a lower number, as can be see in the graph), the more light it lets in and the better it represents a depth field in the image – that's when you want to focus on a specific object and have stuff in the background / foreground be naturally blurred, bringing more attention to the actual subject of the photograph. In other words, in most cases – especially for our mobile, casual photography needs, a bigger aperture is almost always a good thing. Of course, professional photographers will like to have a choice and use smaller apertures – for example, when they wish to shoot a large landscape with differently placed objects.

Shutter speed is, of course, the amount of time for which the camera is actually capturing what the sensor "sees". If you are out on a nice sunny day, keeping shutter speed to the minimum will result in great, non-blurry pics, as the sensor will only capture a fraction of a second, not allowing you to spoil the image by shaking your hand, or the objects to move around too much. On the other hand, setting shutter speed too low will result in overexposed pictures, as too much light will get to the image. In darker environments, you will want to lower the speed to allow that light to get in, but not too much as to avoid excessive blur. How do you achieve that? This is where ISO comes in.

ISO is another setting that has to do with how much light ends up on the image. A low ISO will introduce the least amount of light, whereas a higher one will give you more of it. The downside is, as can be seen on the graph, that high ISO numbers introduce noise into the photo. So, when in a dark environment, one must play with the balance between ISO and shutter speed, in order to achieve a photo that is not too noisy and not too blurry. Another example of using the ISO / shutter speed combo to help you achieve better results are sports shots – one is advised to set the shutter speed as high as possible, allowing them to capture the athletes in motion without blurring them too much, and compensate for any lack of exposure by raising the ISO accordingly.

So, if you find yourself often forgetting these guidelines, download the image above and use it for reference whenever needed.

source: Fotoblog Hamburg via Lifehacker



1. DaveElliott

Posts: 148; Member since: Sep 20, 2012


2. rd_nest

Posts: 1656; Member since: Jun 06, 2010

That's too simplistic. This is true assuming 2 important variables - 1. Same sensor size 2. Same focal length Aperture is a function of focal length. That's why it's mentioned F/x number. And focal length varies when the sensor size changes. So, if you are comparing these numbers with variable sensor size and focal length, a F2.8 aperture may give you more light than F1.8.

10. iCameToBashYou

Posts: 16; Member since: Feb 26, 2015

Well said. I won't bash you. ;)

11. TheStanleyFTW

Posts: 252; Member since: Feb 20, 2013

Here is a cookie friend. :) And example would be 16-50mm lens for an APS-C (Nikon) sensor would be 24-75 mm for a full frame sensor, since APS-C (at least the Nikons version) have a x1.5 crop factor :)

16. bambamboogy02

Posts: 840; Member since: Jun 23, 2012

How many camera's do you most ordinary people take pictures with, generally just the 1. So it would be the same sensor size. This is for beginners, and helping those, not up to par with what the settings do,visualize and understand the BASICS of the mechanics of the settings.

20. downphoenix

Posts: 3165; Member since: Jun 19, 2010

That may come into play if comparing smartphone cameras to other camera devices, but most smart phones are fairly within similar sensor sizes and focal lengths.

31. alexvv

Posts: 165; Member since: Oct 16, 2013

can you explain this please? because i can't find a site with a good explanation about the connection between aperture and focal length. for instance: a s5 mini has 31mm (fixed) lens and a f/2.4 aperture. a xperia z has a 28mm lens and f/2.4. That means that the s5 mini can capture more light because of the less wide angle lens ?

4. bur60

Posts: 981; Member since: Jul 07, 2014

Yes Exactly. The Nokia 808 may have F2.4 aperture and my Z3c F2.0, the focal length of the Nokia is twice as long, (4,5 vs 8mm if I'm correct), So even with higher aperture, the outcome is better with the 808

8. NopeNein

Posts: 147; Member since: Feb 04, 2015

Because The Sensor on The 808 Is Bigger (also zeiss lens). well the 808 for me is just digital camera with phone function slapped on the back.

17. bambamboogy02

Posts: 840; Member since: Jun 23, 2012

The general info is correct for people who know nothing about any of what was mentioned above. Obviously a bigger sensor changes the settings, but give it a rest already. You guys want to have a pissing competition about everything. 1. Is the information provided enough to help beginners? yes! 2. Is the information provided wrong? No! 3. Are there other variables that can play a role and change what is provided? YES, of course. Those who don't understand these basic things provided, will probably not know sensor size, focal length, and how it will overall reflect in there pictures. Lets keep things in perspective.

5. bur60

Posts: 981; Member since: Jul 07, 2014

Also Iso doesn't necessarily mean noise. Iso means how light sensitive your sensor is. Most camera's can crank up the iso without much noise (after correction ofcourse). If u digitally force the iso higher u will get indeed a lot of noise.

6. chocowii

Posts: 478; Member since: Jan 30, 2014

the chart doesn't tell the whole story. every one of these features it's comparing has more than one effect. Aperture: Narrower aperture brings more depth into focus, but makes the image darker. Shutter speed: Slower shutter speed makes the image brighter, but motion becomes blurred. ISO: Higher ISO makes the image brighter, but also noisier. It's all about finding the right balance for your purpose. You want to use high ISO if it's dark and you're getting too much motion blur with a slow shutter. Also, the image is exaggerating. 25600 won't look THAT bad in practice (though it may depend on your camera)

7. NopeNein

Posts: 147; Member since: Feb 04, 2015

25600 is terrible. even on DSLR. Smartphone noise threshold is maybe around ~1600-3200, depends on sensor

9. mixedfish

Posts: 1560; Member since: Nov 17, 2013

On crappy DSLR maybe, checkout ISO25600 on mirrorless A7s, still very usesable if down-scaled.

28. NopeNein

Posts: 147; Member since: Feb 04, 2015

nah dude, lets be realistic, none of us really have an A7s.

12. TheStanleyFTW

Posts: 252; Member since: Feb 20, 2013

Sony A7S and Nikon D4S disapproves! XD

27. NopeNein

Posts: 147; Member since: Feb 04, 2015

(not to mention both cost an arm, leg, wife, baby, virgin tears and satan's piss)

29. TheStanleyFTW

Posts: 252; Member since: Feb 20, 2013

But we are not talking about the prices here, only the image quality at high iso :)

18. buccob

Posts: 2975; Member since: Jun 19, 2012

I've been able to take great low light pictures, with movement, without flash, at ISO12800 with my QX-100, not even a DSLR. The scene was at a Tango Show in Argentina where lights were dim and changing every time and the performers were moving... the pics turned out fantastic (also tweaking shutter speed)

22. TheStanleyFTW

Posts: 252; Member since: Feb 20, 2013

But those who are very critic about noise, would look at the noise levet at 100% crop before they would call a photo "good" in low-light :)

23. buccob

Posts: 2975; Member since: Jun 19, 2012

I really though it was going to be worse than the results I got... and also, keep in mind that the QX-100 is a lens style camera design to be used without Flash, so the low light/ high ISO photography must look good. Of course, when I take pictures of stars / night sky, ISO that high will creat noticeable noise, so I lower the ISO to about 3200 and open the shutter for about 6-8 seconds, and the noise is gone.

24. TheStanleyFTW

Posts: 252; Member since: Feb 20, 2013

Huhuhu. Do you have a blog or something with your photos? I would like to see them just to see what QX-100 can do :D

25. buccob

Posts: 2975; Member since: Jun 19, 2012

Well not really, I uploaded some of them to my Instagram account, ironically the Tango show have the less likes :-P but the cameras are very capable... However my account has a mixture of pictures from my old Xperia Acro S, the new Z3C and the QX-100 not all of them are labeled but I will try to edit them accordingly. @dquilon Scroll down until you see snow. All the pictures from the trip to Argentina were with the QX-100. (disclaimer, I am not a pro by any means)

30. TheStanleyFTW

Posts: 252; Member since: Feb 20, 2013

Noooice. Gotta look at them :D

13. McLTE

Posts: 922; Member since: Oct 18, 2011

A cute chart to introduce the budding photographer to the basic concepts. In practice however, this chart is nearly useless as others have indicated. If a newbie photographer grabs this chart and makes choices based on that alone, they will be horribly disappointed with the results. Photography is more than those 3 independent variable, it's the art of knowing how to combine all 3 into achieving the results you want.

15. bambamboogy02

Posts: 840; Member since: Jun 23, 2012

The General mechanics of the 3 variables remains the same. It's not a go to chart to solve your problem, or improve your shot, but it is suppose to be used as a quick reference to know what those settings will accomplish. Instead of changing the setting and then taking the picture and then seeing how it comes out. Don't be a stooge and read into this article like it is suppose to be the guidelines for photo shoots.

14. itsdeepak4u2000

Posts: 3718; Member since: Nov 03, 2012

Thanks Paul. Nice article.

19. AntiFanBoyz unregistered

This "chart" has been floating around for awhile. It's barely explains the effects of aperture and shutter speed, doesn't explain ISO appropriately, and is generally useless after day 1 of learning photography.

21. T-rex unregistered

A little correction, ISO does not control the amount of light entering the sensor. ISO is the sensitivity of the sensor to the light. So while the same amount of light may be entering the sensor, higher ISO means the sensor will be more sensitive to light than when the ISO is low for the same amount of light

26. kevin91202

Posts: 642; Member since: Jun 08, 2014

"Firstly, the larger it is..." -PA Firstly? What? Como?

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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