When one compares focal length, many times we use the 35mm equivalent length. A 50mm lens on an APS-C sensor camera(1.6x) would be a 80mm equiv. length on a full frame camera.

But when we state the aperture of a lens, I do not typically see the aperture given in terms of the sensor size. I recently read an article that did take the sensor size into account Sony DSC RX100 Hands-on (see the sensor comparison chart).

For example if one is looking at a point and shoot lens they will say that it has a f/2.0 lens, when clearly this is not the same depth of field as a f/2.0 lens on a full frame DSLR. Is there a reason that it does not make sense to regularly compare the aperture range of a camera or lens while taking the sensor into account?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The Fstop info is not there to give you any precise info on depth of field, it is simply a indication of the measurement scale used to quantify light . The variables of depth of field for any given fstop are just that, many. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alaska Man
    Commented Dec 30, 2017 at 18:56

3 Answers 3


The problem is there are two factors determined by the aperture - depth of field and exposure. Sensor size affects depth of field but not exposure.

With focal length it makes sense to talk equivalents as there is exactly one factor involved, angle of view.

To be correct you'd have to say that a 30mm f/1.4 mounted on a 1.5x crop camera had a 45mm equivalent field of view, an f/2.1 equivalent DOF-aperture and an f/1.4 equivalent exposure-aperture. Which would just wind up confusing every body.

Also focal length is much more important to most amateur photographers who might not understand the influence of aperture but do understand zoom.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It is sad to say, but the correct version that confuses everybody sounds fantastic to me :) \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Commented Jun 12, 2012 at 18:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ But one detail is still unclear: physical aperture is smaller for the crop camera. This means that less light enters the cropped sensor, and that (if I got it right) the smaller sensor must "work harder" to achieve the same exposure at the same ISO value (or, I would say that ISO is defined for each camera in a way to ensure specific exposure at specific shutter/f-stop combinations). After all, in terms of noise, a 1/3.2" camera with f/1.8 will suck even at ISO 200. \$\endgroup\$
    – vgru
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 12:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Groo Exposure is measured based on field density of light, not on total amount of light. That is, exposure is expressed in light energy per unit area. If a sensor is twice as large the lens needs to collect twice as much light to spread the same amount of energy over each mm² of the sensor. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 1:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Matt Grum, you say that aperture affects brightness and depth of field, whilst focal length only affects angle of view, but could one not also argue that focal length also affects depth of field as well as angle of view? Consequently people using a 50mm equivalent on a tiny sensor compact can’t take the same sort of photos as someone using an actual 50mm (of the same aperture) on a FF. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rich
    Commented Dec 30, 2017 at 12:04

Take a look at Can a smaller sensor's "crop factor" be used to calculate the exact increase in depth of field?, where the background is explored in detail. It's also roughly the case that larger sensors allow one to use higher ISOs without as much noise penalty, simply because of the intrinsic physics of having more light-gathering area. And, since multiplying the aperture by the crop factor cancels out the relative terms used in the f-stop, it gives a number more useful for considering when sharpness is diffraction limited. (That is, it comes into play at lower f-stops with smaller formats, because the real aperture size is smaller.)

In short, I think you're basically right that they should include this information — for many purposes, an apples-to-apples comparison includes multiplying maximum aperture by the crop factor.

As to why not: I think it's because marketers know that fast lenses are a selling point, and don't want to downplay that. But for focal length, long lenses ("more reach!") is the selling point, so it gets pushed. In the case of the Sony RX100, saying "28-100mm (equivalent) zoom lens!" sounds good, while saying "f/4.8-f/13 (equivalent) max aperture!" somewhat less so.

Additionally, the equivalent focal length is a directly-useful tool in comparing the framing a certain lens will give. But the aperture stop number is useful in its original form for exposure, whereas the converted equivalence is useful for more obscure things and for technical comparison — but less so directly, because then you have to get into arguing whether ISO ought to also be corrected for sensor size, at which point all of your terms become "equivalent" rather than reality, and everyone's head starts spinning even more than it was at the beginning of the conversation. (And then that gets even more confused, because in the past few years, technology generation is arguably more important than sensor area.) But I don't think this confusion is why it's not used — if something sounds good to marketing but introduces more confusion, they'll do it anyway and leave us to sort it out.

So, while I understand why manufacturers and reviewers don't push this equivalence, I think it is a very useful thing to take into account when comparing gear — at least when comparing gear for a purpose where it's meaningful. It's obviously not meaningful when actually figuring exposure settings.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree that this is probably more from a marketing perspective. Before the "crop" sensors came around, you didn't hear about the "35mm equivalent" for 5x7 or 8x10 formats. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eric
    Commented Jun 8, 2012 at 21:41

Aperture stays the same and depth of field too, just imagine if you are using film camera and place mask in front of the film (that way you change "sensor" size) the ISO remains the same and exposure remains the same regardless of "sensor" size, it is only controlled by curtains and lens aperture, the crop factor only useful when connected to the resolution of the "film", we had these problems when we were using small 16mm film Kodak cameras, higher ISO, grainier image, the best print output was 3x5 inches prints.


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