What is the aperture range of a lens?

Photography phactoid number 004

We are used to working with apertures in the range of f16 (small aperture) down to say f3.5 (large aperture). These are commonly available on many consumer lenses. But what sort of aperture range is there for camera lenses?

Working ranges

Some consumer lenses have begun to show quite big ranges. The really popular Canon EF 70-200mm F/2.8 L IS II USM Lens is a great example. I just love that baby! Wow! Excellent definition and clarity and brilliant control of aberrations. An incredible lens – no wonder it is so popular. Well, that lens shows an upper aperture range to f45 on my version (I think the latest version is f32). Now that is a small aperture. That sort of small aperture is used only for very, very bright conditions and long exposures. I don’t think I have ever used such a small aperture.

Pro lenses and specialist lenses

The reasonably priced nifty fifty Canon EF 50mm – f/1.4 USM Lens is another really popular lens. For aperture size however, it is beaten by another Canon lens that is also a 50mm, the extraordinary Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM Lens. An amazing lens, the depth of field on mine is so controllable you can focus it so that a wedding ring, looking through the hole, is in focus from front to back. Nothing else in the picture is in focus. Wonderful, but essentially a pro-lens.

Specialist lenses go further. On the minimum aperture size the smallest I have heard of is an f64. I am not sure how practical that is for a lens in the modern digital context. Has anyone some knowledge of that sort of aperture? Please comment below.

In the making of the film in this post: “How good is your exposure?”, they used ex-NASA lenses that were rated at f0.7. Now that is a wide aperture. Talk about a fast lens! Again, probably not practical for most purposes on a modern still digital camera.

In effect then, for modern every-day photography, an aperture range of f2.8 to f32 is acceptable and reasonable. In the pro-lens domain some exceptional lenses might stretch to f1.2 at the wide end. For other lenses, the aperture may narrow as far as f45. Outside of those boundaries you are talking specialist applications and big, big money… barrow loads of it!

Some links about lenses after this…

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

One response to “What is the aperture range of a lens?

  1. Pingback: Small aperture can mean soft images – why? | Photokonnexion