what does 1:4-5.6 means on the lens. Does it means that the focal length is from f4 to f5.6 only? Or does it means that it has a range from f1 to f5.6?


It means it's a zoom lens that can open as wide as f/4 when zoomed out to the widest angle of view. When zoomed in to the longest focal length it will only be able to open up to f/5.6. For some lenses minimum aperture will be something like f/22 for all focal lengths, for other lenses it might be around f/22 on the wide end and f/32 on the long end.

Remember that apertures are expressed as ratios or fractions, so f/4 means 1:4 (the aperture is 1/4 of the focal length) and f/5.6 means 1:5.6 (the aperture is 1/5.6 of the focal length).

So 1:4-5.6 could also be expressed as 1:4-1:5.6, f/4-f/5.6.

  • I am alittle confused still. I am new to this. Can I ask you another question. So if I want to buy a len that have a aperture of at least f1.8 (a len that have a range but at least can go down to f1.8), how will it look like on the description of the lens?
    – Steph
    Nov 25 '16 at 10:32
  • For example if I buy Sony ILCE-6300 Body + 16-50mm Power Zoom Lens. How do I know what is the aperture range?
    – Steph
    Nov 25 '16 at 10:33
  • 1
    @Steph That's the E PZ 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 OSS to give it it's full title. As you can see it's F3.5 at 16mm and F5.6 at 50mm. Any lens will have it's minimum aperture in it's full title.
    – Steve Ives
    Nov 25 '16 at 10:36
  • Oh I think I understand your 1st answer, that means that aperture is from f4 to f22 to f4. So the widest is f5.6. Thanks! I got it. But can you explain to me the other question that I ask?
    – Steph
    Nov 25 '16 at 10:36
  • @Steph F4 should be the minimum really 0 F5.6 is considered quite slow. F2.8 is in the range of fairly professional lenses - they will be bigger and heavier. F1.8 and below are getting quite specialised, especially for zoom lenses (yes there are exceptions - you can get a relatively cheap 50mm F1.8 for example).
    – Steve Ives
    Nov 25 '16 at 10:37

It means that the ratio of the focal-length to aperture is f/4 at the wide end of the zoom and f/5.6 at the telephoto end. This is commonly done to saved weight and costs compared to a constant aperture zoom lens which simply has one ratio, say 1:4.

These numbers say nothing about the focal-length, it is just a ratio which is how aperture is often expressed as a dimensionless f-number rather than the physical diameter of the entrance pupil. So if it is a 50-200mm lens for example, the maximum aperture at 50mm is f/4 which means the entrance pupil is 12.5mm wide. At 200mm, the maximum aperture is f/5.6 which makes it about 36mm across.


When we talk about lens, two key values stand out.

  1. Focal Length. This is a measurement, usually in millimeter units, that tells us about the size of the image the lens produces and the angle of view presented. A short focal length lens delivers a “wide-angle view”. A medium focal length yields what is termed a “normal” view. A long focal length magnifies, we call this view “telephoto”.

  2. Focal Ratio. We divide the focal length by the working diameter of the aperture. The result is a ratio that we shorten to “f-number”. Since a ratio is void of dimension, we can use this focal ratio to compare any lens with any other lens, regardless of focal lengths. The lower the focal ratio, the more light the lens is capable of gathering. In other words, a f/4 lens gathers more light than a f/5.6 lens.

We all desire to mount lenses what work well in feeble light. Thus we prefer “fast” lenses. By fast we mean lenses with f-number closer to 1. Now the f-number and the focal length are intertwined. As we zoom a lens to higher magnifications (longer focal length), the ability of the less to pass light is reduced. At elevate magnification, your lens functions at f/5.6.When you zoom into the range of “normal” and “wide-angle”, your lens gathers more light and functions at f/4. In other words, the light gathering ability is not constant throughout the entire range of the zoom. A constant aperture is a feature of a more expensive zoom lens. Don’t anguish, your lens is quite good, it is a “general purpose” zoom some call a “kit lens”.


My 2 cents.

f number, f stop, relative aperture, or N is a relationship between the focal length and the diaphragm.


  • f = Focal lenght

  • D = Diameter of entrance pupil.

It is relative. It varies if one of the two numbers change.

If the focal length gets smaller, N gets smaller, and if gets larger N also increases.

Remember if the N number gets larger, the image gets darker.

enter image description here

So 1:4-5.6 says that the aperture wide open on that zoom lens will change between thoose values acording to the focal length.

  • D is diameter of the entrance pupil, not the physical diameter of the diaphragm.
    – Michael C
    Nov 26 '16 at 7:46
  • For some zoom lenses, aperture remains constant. What is your opinion about those lenses? Are they better than variable maximum-aperture lenses? Oct 4 '17 at 8:46

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