What is camera aperture? LG V30 and its leading F1.6 camera explained

While the LG V30 is not official yet, there's quite a lot about it that we know with certainty. And we're not talking about leaks or rumors here. LG itself has been teasing us for weeks with bits of information about its upcoming high-end phone. One of these teasers revealed that the V30's main camera will have an aperture of f/1.6 – the widest on a phone to date. That's great and all, but why is this such a big deal? What exactly is a camera's aperture and what does it do?

The anatomy of a camera

Digital cameras are complex systems where multiple elements need to work in unison to produce the desired results. On one end there's the image sensor – it captures light and transforms it into digital signals which are then turned into a digital image. On the other – a lens system, often comprised of multiple lenses, guides light towards the sensor.

Generally speaking, the aperture is a circular opening within the optical system. It determines the amount of light entering the camera: a wider aperture allows more light to hit the sensor and vice versa. 

As shown in the image above, aperture size varies on higher-grade dedicated cameras. Its diameter is dictated by the shooting conditions or by the look the photographer is aiming to achieve, all while being limited by the technical capabilities of the lens.

How smartphone cameras are different

Smartphone cameras are much smaller than their dedicated counterparts, hence they capture far less light. There's no need for light to be limited by a varying aperture mechanism, such as the one pictured above. On most smartphone cameras, the diameter of the lens itself acts as the aperture, so the wider it is, the more light gets through. 

As we mentioned above, the LG V30 will have the widest on a phone, "delivering 25 percent more light to the sensor compared to an F1.8 lens". Here's how that compares to other popular phones.

PhoneLG V30Galaxy S8HTC U11iPhone 7LG G6Essential

So what do the numbers mean?

If you look in the camera section on a phone's specs sheet, you'll find its aperture expressed with the lowercase letter f followed by a slash and a number: for example f/1.6 (pronounced "ef one point six"). Writing it as F/1.6 or F1.6 also works, as long as you're not writing a science report. 

Unless you are a camera geek, all you need to know is that the smaller the number, the wider the aperture is for that particular camera. A wider aperture lets more light in, which helps with capturing clearer photos. But if you want to get into the technical details of the matter, f stands for the focal length of the lens – the distance between the image sensor and the point at which light rays come together. A simple diagram goes below.

How does a wider aperture produce better photos?

Cameras may seem to be faster than the blink of an eye, but they don't capture photos instantaneously. The image sensor needs to absorb light over a period of time to produce an image. This period is known as shutter speed or exposure time and can vary significantly: it can be as short as a thousandth of a second or as long as several seconds, depending on the conditions. There's also ISO – the sensitivity setting of the image sensor. It also changes depending on the scene: the higher the ISO is set, the brighter but noisier the image would turn out. Low-light shots require higher ISO settings, which is why they're fuzzier than daytime photos.

When a camera uses a wider aperture, more light reaches the sensor. In well-lit situations, this allows the camera to shoot at very quick shutter speeds, which reduces the chance of motion blur occurring. In low-light scenarios, the camera can produce a good image without setting the ISO too high. This is why the jump from f/1.8 on the LG G6 to f/1.6 on the V30 is a pretty big deal.

More about the LG V30:

Unfortunately, we can't show you any real-life LG V30 photos yet, but we should be able to share some soon enough. The phone will be officially announced on August 31 in Berlin, and we'll be there to tell you all you need to know about it. Until then, these links below will help you catch up:

Related phones

  • Display 6.0 inches
    2880 x 1440 pixels
  • Camera 16 MP (Dual camera)
    5 MP front
  • Hardware Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, 4GB RAM
  • Storage 64GB, microSDXC
  • Battery 3300 mAh
  • OS Android 9.0 Pie
    LG UX UI



37. talon95

Posts: 1012; Member since: Jul 31, 2012

wow, some of these comments...

35. jessy90

Posts: 162; Member since: Aug 01, 2016

Big aperture + Big sensor= great Big aperture + Small sensor= meh

33. milos

Posts: 68; Member since: Oct 29, 2012

Phone Arena, please adjust this article so people who are trying to learn do mot learn wrong. The coment under the lens/sensor diagram is simply wrong and contradicts what you have said above. This one "The f in f1.6 stands for focal length. Image via Martybugs.net" Mixing focal length and aperature is a bad way to start learning optics.

31. mixedfish

Posts: 1574; Member since: Nov 17, 2013

Article here is too naive and lives in a perfect world. You assume all lens elements will have the same luminance transparency to the sensor. Given that phone cameras have pretty low quality lens you can't say for sure F1.6 has the benefits of a reference grade. Then you add in the variable that all phones listed aren't even the same sensor size from 1/2.4" to 1/2.8", you can bet light sensitivity is definitely not the same. In otherwords phone manufactures advertising F stop is just another marketing gimmick.

29. redmd

Posts: 1965; Member since: Oct 26, 2011

Wow there are so many camera experts at PA

22. Macready

Posts: 1832; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

1/3 EV difference in noise (when amplification is boosted to compensate) is barely visible at giant print sizes, forget what these phones are used for. So not that "big of a deal" as the writer claims it is. That being said, the step from f/1.8 isn't a huge one, but compared to where we came from a few years ago (more than 1 EV improvement over f/2.3), it is a big deal. So it's welcome either way.

17. p51d007

Posts: 706; Member since: Nov 24, 2013

You want better photos with a cell phone? Stop using PINHOLE size camera elements. But, to achieve that goal, manufacturers, designers will have to stop being "fashion designers" and let phones go back to being "a tool". To achieve better photos, not only do you need a good "f/stop" number, you need a good sensor. The problem with the current photo sensors is they really have WAY TOO many elements. Anything more than 8-10 megapixels is overkill, given people don't really print photos like they use to. An 8MP sensor, can produce a photo that would print on 11x17 (A3 size) paper. Who the h*ll prints photos that big? Most are shared on social media, or email, not printed. The "only" real good adding more megapixels to a tiny pinhole sensor, would be for cropping/zooming part of the image. Stuffing more pixels sensors, into such a tiny space, presents another issue. It will cause the signal to noise ratio to increase, if you "crank the iso" up which creates crosstalk, in which a signal from one sensor, can "bleed" onto the path of the other sensor. Then, to knock out the noise, the camera software will have to use a software algorithm to get rid of the noise, which can result in a flat image with no "pop". Granted, most smartphones in the last 2-3 generations, WITH GOOD CAMERA software, to a pretty good job with "snapshots". To achieve even better images though, in my opinion, smartphones will have to have LARGER sensors, with a real optical zoom lens, which means a "bump" on the back. Currently, that isn't going to happen, given how many people moan and groan over "those awful bezels", or that "hideous camera bump" on the back. Samsung a few years ago, had the right idea with their non smartphone Samsung Zoom that had an extendable zoom lens and larger camera sensor, but, with the "fashion trend" of today, THAT ain't gonna happen.

30. mixedfish

Posts: 1574; Member since: Nov 17, 2013

Wrong, larger MP count is used for electronic image stabilization. Add that to a native 8mp sensor and you'll get 6mp, well below standard. But if you aimed to get 8mp and bump it up to 12mp, why not give the option to shoot in 12mp without EIS?

15. rsiders

Posts: 2066; Member since: Nov 17, 2011

I just hope LG has found a way to reign in overexposing bright parts and highlights in a scene. Other than that, I've loved the camera on the LG V10 and now V20. I'm also curious about this new glass they are using for the lens. Bring it on LG.

10. L0n3n1nja

Posts: 1620; Member since: Jul 12, 2016

Great article, but there is a bit more to how well a camera will do in low light. The size of the sensor itself effects how much light it can gather. I don't know what will be in the V30, but the G6 has a 1/3" sensor while the S8 has a 1/2.5" sensor. Even with the industry leading F/1.6 lens, if the V30 uses the same sensor as the G6, it may not be as sensitive to light as the S8/N8 and still trail in low light photography.

13. abdoualgeria

Posts: 928; Member since: Jul 27, 2015

Yes you are so true for example : full-frame sensor is 1.5 bigger than apsc sensor , so f1.8 on apsc means f1.2 on fullframe (1.2x1.5=1.8)

19. Melodyshine unregistered

Yes, when the V30 has the same sensor as the G6 then the V30 will have a Galaxy S8 equivalent aperture of ≈ f/1.95

38. talon95

Posts: 1012; Member since: Jul 31, 2012

totally untrue, that's not at all how f/# works.

9. abdoualgeria

Posts: 928; Member since: Jul 27, 2015

LG focus on optics Sammy focus on processing algorithm Image one of them focus on both

8. Lumberjack

Posts: 306; Member since: May 04, 2017

Lets see if a tiny sensor can deal with all that light. Shutter will have to act way faster to prevent overexposion and fake colors.

11. L0n3n1nja

Posts: 1620; Member since: Jul 12, 2016

It won't have an issue, actually cameras use much larger sensors and can have larger apertures as well. Don't know about LG, but my S7 can have a shutter as fast as 1/24,000 of a second.

14. Lumberjack

Posts: 306; Member since: May 04, 2017

Yes. But colors provided by auto mode of S7 are far from real. They are always lighter than reality. Sensor of S7 has diagonal of 7.05mm. G6's has 5.85mm My phone is f2.0 + 7.87mm

7. jellmoo

Posts: 2699; Member since: Oct 31, 2011

Nice and informative article. Looks like we'll have some good device options. The V30 for media lovers, and the Note 8 for productivity seekers.

5. emvxl

Posts: 146; Member since: Sep 29, 2009

Very good article Nick T.

4. chenski

Posts: 797; Member since: Mar 22, 2015

We should have more technical articles like this

3. Furkan

Posts: 552; Member since: Feb 25, 2017

Let's see Note 8 vs V30 (iPhone lost already)

28. piyath

Posts: 2445; Member since: Mar 23, 2012

Note 8 has the same camera as the S8 (which is f/1.7) thus no comparison, it also loses.

2. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

But will the 1.6A lens take a better photo than a 1.7? If it does it won't be by much. But its an improvement nonetheless. Let's see some v30 vs S7 vs S8 vs iPhone and then we will know. My money is on the S8.

6. talon95

Posts: 1012; Member since: Jul 31, 2012

f/1.6 lets in about 20-25% more light than f/1.7, which isn't bad. At f stops this low each 0.1 makes quite a difference.

18. Melodyshine unregistered

Just wrong. (1.7/1.6)² ≈ 1.13 => 13% more light per unit area. But the G6 has an f/1.8 aperture, not f/1.7. This could mean about 25% more light per unit area, but possibly the lens will have more vignetting => noise at the edges

36. talon95

Posts: 1012; Member since: Jul 31, 2012

Then you're also just wrong. I estimated and was slightly off, you calculated it and were more wrong than me. Plus you seem to suggest that the main point i made, that an f/0.1 does make a much bigger difference at low f numbers, is somehow not correct. I believe this is the correct equation: ln(1.7/1.6)/ln(sqrt(2))= 17.5% I'm not sure you really know what you're saying based on your comment and calculation. I'm not an expert but f/# should always be equivalent and comparable between lenses, that's the whole point. It provides a normalized light intensity on the sensor, so that aperture and focal length are all accounted for. What isn't in the equation is the sensor's efficiency and pixel count etc. In post 21 you try to say that an f/1.6 lens can somehow be equated with its sensor to an f/1.95. That's mixing apples and oranges. An f/1.6 is unequivocally better than an f/1.7 lens. Even if the sensors are different sizes, the light intensity hitting the surface, even if it's smaller, is more intense, because the size is already accounted for in the f/#. If you want to talk pixel count, density, micro lenses, process, filters, and everything else sensor related then that is a separate analysis of the sensor quality and efficiency. We don't know which camera will be better. But I'm certainly not wrong when I say that 17.5% more light from the f/0.1 difference is significant when at such low f numbers. Between f/4 and f/3.9 it would only be a 7.3% difference.

20. Macready

Posts: 1832; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

Actually, it's not that much. Generally, half a stop in noise difference (as a result of higher amplification to compensate for aperture differences) is hard to notice at a decently large display size (print or very large high res monitor). 1/3 a stop (which is what we're talking about here) is barely visible at giant print sizes, forget what most phones are used for. Granted, these light deprived small sensors love every bit of extra light, but to see a good difference, you'd be talking about the difference betweenat least f/2.0 and f/1.6 or larger. Not f/1.8 vs f/1.6. Even the actual brightness difference at the same shutterspeed and ISO (1/3 EV) would be hard to spot. And that's coming from someone who loves to shoot at large apertures on large sensors.

12. Guaire

Posts: 900; Member since: Oct 15, 2014

At same setup f/1.6 would take brighter photos than f/1.7. F-number is neither focal length nor aperture. It is ratio of focal length to diameter of the aperture. So despite having same f-number, apertures and consequently light gathering capabilities of two different cameras could be very different. Main camera of the S8 (and HTC U11 BTW) has 1/2.5" sensor and its 35mm equivalent focal length is 26mm (according to gsmarena). So its actual focal length is 4.34mm and the diameter of the aperture should be 2.55mm so surface area of the aperture should be 5.1mm2. On the other hand LG G6 has 1/3.06" sensor and its 35mm equivalent focal length is 29mm (according to phonearena). Actual focal length is 4.04mm. Diameter of the aperture is 2.24mm and surface area of the aperture is 3.95mm2. If LG applies that f/1.6 lenses to the same sensor at same focal length, surface area of the aperture will be 5.00mm2 which still is very slightly smaller than the S8's f/1.7. Also keep in mind S8 has significantly larger pixels. So on the paper at low light scenes, S8 will beat it easily. Probably Pixel will beat it too despite its f/2.0 lenses (which is actually larger than the G6's f/1.8) because it has even larger pixels than S8. Of course there are other factors like sensor, lense and ISP qualities, OIS and software algorithm.

24. integrazimmy

Posts: 65; Member since: May 30, 2015

Very informative!!!! I don't think anyone has been able to breakdown all that technical jargon like you just did!!! Major props!!! I guess we just have to wait for the final camera specs to really see how the V30 will really stack up against the Galaxies of Samsung!!!

27. Nathan_ingx

Posts: 4769; Member since: Mar 07, 2012

Well, right or wrong, the comments in this article makes it much more interesting and informative.

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