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.

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

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

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.)

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:

Related phones

V30
  • Display 6.0" 1440 x 2880 pixels
  • Camera 16 MP / 5 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, Octa-core, 2450 MHz
  • Storage 64 GB + microSDXC
  • Battery 3300 mAh(16.5h talk time)

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39 Comments

1. Stappy3

Posts: 108; Member since: Dec 09, 2015

Very useful and informative article.

21. Melodyshine unregistered

Just a pity that the article writes nonsense. f/1.6 does not mean "wide aperture". Moreover "the widest on a phone to date" is totally wrong (when the V30 uses the same sensor as the G6) as the f-number does not say anything about how wide an aperture is. If the V30 has the same sensor as the G6 then the the V30 will have a Galaxy S8-equivalent aperture of ≈ f/1.95 and a Google Pixel-equivalent aperture of f/2.15. In this case many phones have a wider aperture: Panasonic Cm-1, Lumia 1020, HTC U Ultra, Galaxy S8, HTC U11, Moto G5 Plus, Moto Z Force, Asus Zenfone 3 Zoom, Nexus 5x, Pixel, Xperia XZs, Kodak Ektra, ... Moreover aperture size says nothing about image quality unless the field of view and the sensor size don't change. Furthermore the f number does not say how much light a smartphone camera can capture. In fact the f number means nothing when you don't know other specs. The f number says how much light per unit area(!) can be captured. So when the sensor is very small, even f/1 is useless. Therefore an f/1.6 lens and a 1/3.06" (LG G6) sensor are only equivalent to an f/1.95 lens and a 1/2.55" sensor (Galaxy S8). So, no, f/1.6 on the V30 is not a "big deal" unless they use a good (large) sensor. It's always the same: The people who know the least are the loudest. Phonearena writes nonsense about cameras nearly every week.

23. trojan_horse

Posts: 5868; Member since: May 06, 2016

"Furthermore the f number does not say how much light a smartphone camera can capture. In fact the f number means nothing when you don't know other specs." Couldn't have said it better.

25. integrazimmy

Posts: 58; Member since: May 30, 2015

While I agree that sometimes PA doesn't articulate the most important thing, which in this case is the Advent of the first f/1.6 Aperture camera. I understand that there are many other variables which together, will give you the exact functionality of the camera. So once again, I think the idea is... The progress!!! Imagine that LG would've NEVER broken the f/1.8 barrier, it's possible that no one, if not at least much later would've migrated to f/1.7 like in the Samsung GS7.

26. R-vjn

Posts: 301; Member since: Jan 07, 2013

Exactly..! I wish LG used the same sensor on the v20 (16MP, 1/2.6") for the v30 instead of the smaller one in the G6 as the V20 sensor would make a bigger impact and would even help create natural bokeh. But still I'm not too worried about it since in mobile cameras it 85% about processing and 15% about specs. But at the same time, giving a better hardware specs will give much more room to improve on the processing front..! Anyways lets wait and see..!

39. SebastianFox

Posts: 21; Member since: Oct 17, 2014

You can't start strong with "Just a pity that this article writes nonsense" and come with a claim like "Aperture equivalence" afterwords, so ironic. There is no such thing as "Aperture equivalent". The only thing that can be considered as aperture equivalent is a 2 different sets with different focal length and opening diameter, and considering the fact that no one knows the actual focal lengths and pupil diamiter of all these cameraphones you mentioned, your claimed calculations of "Aperture equivalent" are not anything better than the stuff mentioned in this article. Even the one I mentioned is not actually an "Aperture equivalent" but more of a "focal length equivalent", the equation is simply n= f/d, where f is the focal length, d is the entrance diameter and n is the aperture number, that's like optics 101 stuff that every big talker should've known before he dares to try. To confirm for everyone here, no, an f/1.6 has the same intensity per unit area to other f/1.6 lenses REGARDLESS of any other factor, the only difference would be the depth of feild of the lens, which would be ofcourse, much less, but depth of feild actually depends on much other factors. Furthermore you CANNOT compare different sets with different formats and different lenses by using only crop factor and aperture number like the guy above did, don't be that guy. YES the aperture diameter would be smaller, as guaire stated, his calculations were as far the most accurate here, even tho the whole formula is just simple as hell, he is, indeed correct, because he used focal length and devided by f numbers, simple, but more correct than anyone here. One does not simply mix format and lens calculations.

32. milos

Posts: 68; Member since: Oct 29, 2012

Completely wrong. Please dont learn from this articke. These are two different things (measures) F-stop which is opening of the aperature, and Focal length. Read more accurate explanations from knoledgable members replies.

34. tangbunna

Posts: 457; Member since: Sep 29, 2016

F/1.6 sensor size 1/4

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: 985; 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: 985; 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: 1811; 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: 855; 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: 58; 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: 4767; Member since: Mar 07, 2012

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

16. Settings

Posts: 2943; Member since: Jul 02, 2014

Lol, Samsung fans won't let their phone god lose.

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.

4. chenski

Posts: 745; Member since: Mar 22, 2015

We should have more technical articles like this

5. emvxl

Posts: 139; Member since: Sep 29, 2009

Very good article Nick T.

7. jellmoo

Posts: 2531; 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.

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: 1521; 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

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

10. L0n3n1nja

Posts: 1521; 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: 985; Member since: Jul 31, 2012

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

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