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Optics is the science of light, and in photography often refers more specifically to to the properties and construction of lenses or the technical aspects of light sensors.

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92
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7answers
7k views

What is bokeh, exactly?

I understand that "bokeh" refers to out-of-focus areas of an image — but there is obviously more to it than that. What does the term mean exactly? How well is bokeh really understood? Is it purely ...
48
votes
5answers
1k views

Is there development in the world of lenses?

Now, I'm not an expert, so if this post makes you laugh, you're welcome. Still, as far as I know there are basically two components that determine the potential quality of a camera's photos: Sensor ...
46
votes
4answers
3k views

Why aren't all viewfinders 100%?

We often see that a manufacturer's high-end (D)SLR models offer a "100% viewfinder," which shows the entire exposed frame, and allows precise composition with regard to objects near the edge of the ...
40
votes
7answers
5k views

What is a “diffraction limit”?

I've seen the term used, but what is a "diffraction limit", when should I worry about it, and what undesirable effects are a result of it ?
35
votes
4answers
10k views

Why do light sources appear as stars sometimes?

See for example this photo: From my experience, the longer the exposure the stronger can this effect be observed. Is this correct? Are there any other factors that influence the creation of these ...
34
votes
2answers
15k views

What is the difference between a pentaprism and a pentamirror?

Higher-end SLR cameras include a pentaprism to transmit the image from the lens to the viewfinder, whereas lower-end SLR cameras use a pentamirror to accomplish the same task. What are the ...
32
votes
2answers
2k views

How do I interpret an MTF Chart?

As part of how Canon (and other lens makers) give technical information about their lenses, they supply an MTF (Modulation Transfer Function) chart. How do I read and interpret what the chart is ...
30
votes
5answers
5k views

How do constant aperture lenses work?

Cheaper zoom lenses usually are faster at the wide end and slower at the long end (for example, the $150 Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6). More expensive constant-aperture zoom lenses have the same ...
28
votes
4answers
2k views

How does aperture work without “cropping” the image hitting the sensor?

I've been teaching myself the various settings in cameras and now have a much fuller understanding of how to use my camera effectively, but one thing is still bugging me. When the aperture size is ...
27
votes
3answers
2k views

What does a hexagonal sun tell us about the camera lens/sensor?

In this picture, we see that the sun comes out as a hexagon. I am sure it is not arbitrary. What does the hexagon tell us about the instrument that captured the image?
25
votes
3answers
9k views

What does the number of elements and groups in a lens mean?

All lens specifications include a statement of how many elements the lens contains, and in how many groups, for example: Nikon AF-S VR Zoom-NIKKOR 70-300 mm 1:4,5-5,6G: 17 elements in 12 groups (two ...
23
votes
3answers
2k views

Does changing the focal length change focus?

When using manual focus or back focus on D60, I sometimes zoom in the lens, set the focus, and then zoom out. Does changing the focal length (zooming out), also change the focus? In case the answer ...
22
votes
2answers
3k views

What is a zone plate?

I was looking into alternative methods of photography and I happened upon something called a 'zone plate.' Three questions: What is a zone plate? How does it work? What can I do with it?
21
votes
3answers
1k views

When you zoom in with a lens on an SLR why does the lens go in then out?

I guess this is more a question of optics than photography but I just got an SLR with a basic 18-55 lens. I noticed that when going from 18 to 55 or 55 to 18 the lens physically comes back in and ...
20
votes
4answers
2k views

What is focal length and how does it affect my photos?

What is focal-length? Are focal-length and zoom synonymous? How does the focal length of a photo affect it?
20
votes
4answers
1k views

What are good advanced books on the physics and science of photography?

I am looking for books about the physics of DSLR, including modern photography optics and sensor electronics. If I already have some books on optics and electronics, I have found fairly hard to find ...
19
votes
2answers
439 views

How do graduated ND filters actually work?

My question stems from the fact that the surface of the filter is completely out of focus. My understanding is that light from any one point of the subject hits the lens all over... some of it ...
18
votes
3answers
2k views

What makes a Carl Zeiss lens so special in a smartphone?

There are smartphones on the market that have a focus towards photography. Some are equipped with a Carl Zeiss lens. I have looked into Wikipedia, which tells me that they are a brand who produces ...
18
votes
12answers
14k views

How does the lens diameter influence photo quality?

I have tested two different 50mm lenses in my camera. One was a Nikkor 50mm ∅52mm. The other one was a Sigma 50mm ∅72mm. I took some pictures with both lenses using the same setup for aperture and ...
18
votes
3answers
5k views

How does the human eye compare to modern cameras and lenses?

A goal in most photography is to present a scene which resembles what a person who had been there at that moment would have seen. Even when intentionally working outside of that, human vision is the ...
17
votes
5answers
1k views

How does a circular lens produce rectangular shots?

Is it something like the sensor captures a circular image and then what we get is the cropped version? Something like this: Or did I get it completely wrong?
16
votes
6answers
2k views

Can a smaller sensor's “crop factor” be used to calculate the exact increase in depth of field?

If APS-C and similar crop-sensor digital cameras have a focal length multiplying effect such that a 50mm lens has an apparent focal length closer to the field of view of an 80mm on a full frame ...
16
votes
1answer
2k views

What is the “Newton Effect”?

I was just chatting with a photographer friend of mine, and he mentioned wanting "anti-newton glass"... I didn't know what that was, so I did a google search. I quickly figured out that it was ...
16
votes
2answers
735 views

Do rounded edges on aperture blades improve image sharpness, and how?

In the description for the XF lenses for its new X-Pro system, Fujifilm crows: The [XF lenses] all offer precise control over depth-of-field and deliver excellent out-of-focus bokeh thanks to the ...
15
votes
2answers
702 views

Does a specific f number across all lenses denote same amount of light?

When we say a light source emits 1500 lumens of light, it does not really matter if the light source is incandescent, CFL, diode etc. Similarly, when I say f/1.8 can I assume that all lenses pass the ...
15
votes
5answers
900 views

How do I find the aperture that produces the highest-quality images for a given lens?

I'm not talking about large aperture (f/1.8, f/2.8...), rather, about small apertures (f/18, f/20, f/23...). I read somewhere (actually I think it was on this site, but I don't exactly remember which ...
14
votes
3answers
2k views

What causes lens flare?

I heard a couple of years ago that only certain types of lens caused flare to appear, something related with the material and/or quality of the lens. Is this true? Which material/quality caused flare? ...
14
votes
6answers
966 views

Is there an easy way to force chromatic aberration?

A couple of months ago I was playing with my camera and a magnifying glass and I noticed that this glass produced a very soft chromatic aberration. Here's an example: (Here is the full size, 18mp ...
14
votes
2answers
1k views

What is the “Circle of Confusion?”

I know that when I want to calculate Depth of Field by hand one of the variable elements in that equation is the Circle of Confusion. In layman's terms, what is the "Circle of Confusion," how do I ...
13
votes
2answers
2k views

Why do zoom lenses and compact cameras have varied maximum aperture across the zoom range?

Why does a camera's maximum (allowed) aperture get smaller when you increase its zoom?
12
votes
6answers
535 views

Does lens speed still increase meaningfully when the physical aperture is larger than the sensor size?

This question came to me this morning, thinking about 50mm lenses. I have the Pentax 50mm f/1.7 (manual) and it's a very nice lens, but would be considered (relatively) slow on 35mm film, and many ...
12
votes
6answers
666 views

What lens characteristics contribute to attractive lens flare?

Some lenses give really harsh and unwanted flares. Some gives beautiful flares that add depth to an image. What's the science behind this?
12
votes
2answers
2k views

Why are cine lenses so much more expensive?

For example, compare a cine lens like the Zeiss Compact Prime CP.2 50mm/T2.1 ($3,900) to a high-end DSLR lens like the Canon 50mm f/1.2L ($1418). Both are EF-mount, have the same focal length, and it ...
12
votes
3answers
445 views

What is Chromatic Aberration?

What is Chromatic Aberration? Is it a physical part of the lens, or just an optical illusion?
12
votes
1answer
221 views

What lens design limits derive from the width of the lens mount?

I'm familiar with the lens design limitations imposed by the flange-to-focal-plane distance. But what constraints are caused by the width of the lens mount (that is, the size of the hole in the ...
11
votes
4answers
549 views

Why aren't lenses designed with extra large apertures for autofocus beyond what's used for imaging?

Historically, designing large-aperture lenses has been difficult because correcting the optical aberrations that arise from large apertures requires complex designs and very large amounts of glass. ...
11
votes
3answers
9k views

How does a spherical lens differ from an aspherical lens?

Many lenses (like the Pentax DA 15mm f/4 Limited, or the Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.4G) are described as having "aspherical lens elements". Does this mean that regular lenses are spherical lenses? What's the ...
11
votes
5answers
7k views

What is “infinity focus”?

I have been reading a bit about astrophotography and the term infinity focus keeps coming up. What is infinity focus and how do you set the camera to infinity focus?
11
votes
4answers
2k views

What is the reference point that the focal length of a lens is calculated from?

I understand the idea of a focal length for a single lens, i e the distance from the lens to the point at which parallel rays of light converge. However, in the case of a photographic lens with ...
11
votes
3answers
474 views

How does the D800E reverse the effect of an antialiasing filter by adding another filter?

According to http://mansurovs.com/nikon-d800-vs-d800e the D800E differs from the D800 in that one of the layers of the filter reverses the effect of the initial low-pass filter. How does this work? ...
11
votes
4answers
1k views

Is overall light gathering of a lens only dependant on aperture?

My impression is that the aperture value of a lens determines its light gathering ability, but I'm not sure I understand how it works... When considering light gathering in telescopes, it is ...
10
votes
3answers
2k views

How many optical aberration types are there in lenses? And what are they?

Everyone hears something about chromatic aberration but are there any other types? What causes them?
10
votes
1answer
406 views

How do I design a conceptual lens schematic?

I would like to attempt to create a schematic for a simple or small compound lens, but the process seems very daunting. I have thoroughly read 'Science for the Curious Photographer: An Introduction to ...
10
votes
2answers
2k views

Why is depth of field affected by focal length?

As the focal length decreases, the depth of field increases as well. Why is this? I'm not so much interested in a physics lesson as I am interested in a simple, down-to-earth explanation.
10
votes
1answer
2k views

What are Barrel and Pincushion distortion and how are they corrected?

I have some questions regarding Barrel distortion and pincushion distortion. Since they are related I have put them in single post. I am aware that barrel distortion occurs more in wide-angle ...
9
votes
4answers
411 views

Why are some zoom lenses “soft” at either end of the focal length range?

As one reads about zoom lenses, a relatively common comment that comes up in reviews of some lenses (especially lower-priced lenses) is that the lens is not as sharp ("soft") at one or both ends of ...
9
votes
1answer
353 views

Why do mirror lenses have poor contrast?

I was reading this question on mirror lenses and the answers taught me a lot about mirror lenses. It is pretty obvious to me why they have donut bokeh (central obstruction) and why they are fixed ...
9
votes
2answers
7k views

What is the Chief Ray Angle (CRA)?

I want to select image sensors for a particular application. One term that I have come across regularly in their datasheets is the CRA. I was comparing 2 image sensors and although they were of ...
8
votes
6answers
3k views

Technically, why is the out of focus area blurred more when using a bigger aperture?

I'm wondering, technically, why and how does the out of focus areas blur more when using a bigger aperture. I think it'd help a lot if I presented a problem that's been driving me nuts for a long ...
8
votes
1answer
480 views

How is Bokeh created?

I am not asking how to create a bokeh effect. I found the answer to that quesiton here: Best way to get shaped bokeh? The answers on that question say you basically cut out an image from a piece of ...