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

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. 

The aperture diaphragm mechanism inside the lens is an opening controlling the amount of light entering the camera. Note that its diameter may be changed to match the light conditions.

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. 

Smartphone cameras use multiple lens systems, but need no mechanical aperture like a digital camera would

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
Phone
Aperturef/1.6f/1.7f/1.7f/1.8f/1.8f/1.9

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.

The f in f1.6 stands for focal length. Image via Martybugs.net

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.

The image on the left was taken with a wide aperture setting. The image on the right was shot with a narrow aperture, requiring higher ISO to be used to produce the same exposure. (Images for illustration purposes only, not taken with an LG V30.)

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:

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