Lens Speed
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Lens Speed
A fast prime (fixed focal length) lens, the Canon 50mm f/1.4 (left), and a slower zoom lens, the Canon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 (right); this lens is faster at 18mm than it is at 55mm.

Lens speed refers to the maximum aperture diameter, or minimum f-number, of a photographic lens. A lens with a larger maximum aperture (that is, a smaller minimum f-number) is called a "fast lens" because it can achieve the same exposure with a faster shutter speed. Conversely, a smaller maximum aperture (larger minimum f-number) is "slow" because it delivers less light intensity and requires a slower (longer) shutter speed.

A fast lens speed is desirable in taking pictures in dim light, or with long telephoto lenses and for controlling depth of field and bokeh, especially in portrait photography,[1] and for sports photography and photojournalism.

Lenses may also be referred to as being "faster" or "slower" than one another; so an f/3.5 lens can be described as faster than an f/5.6.


Attaining maximum lens speed requires engineering tradeoffs, and as such, "prime" (fixed focal length) lenses are generally faster than zoom lenses.[2]

With 35mm film cameras and full-frame digital cameras, the fastest lenses are typically in the "normal lens" range near 50mm and there are several high-quality fast lenses available that are relatively inexpensive. For example, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II or Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D are very inexpensive, but quite fast and optically well-regarded. Old fast manual focus lenses, just as the Nikkor-S(C) or Nikkor AI-S 50mm f/1.4, were historically produced abundantly, and are thus sold relatively inexpensively on the used lens market.

Especially outside of the "normal lenses", lens speed also tends to correlate with the price and/or quality of the lens. This is because lenses with larger maximum apertures require greater care with regard to design, precision of manufacture, special coatings and quality of glass. At wide apertures, spherical aberration becomes more significant and must be corrected. Faster telephoto and wide-angle retrofocus designs tend to be much more expensive.

A telecompressor, also known as a speed booster, may be used to increase the speed of a lens with a corresponding reduction to its focal length. For example, the Metabones 0.58x BMPCC speed booster may be combined with a f/1.2 lens to produce f/0.74.[3]

Fast lenses

The fastest lenses in general production now are f/1.2 or f/1.4, with more at f/1.8 and f/2.0, and many at f/2.8 or slower. What is considered "fast" has evolved to lower f-numbers over the years, due to advances in lens design, optical manufacturing, quality of glass, optical coatings, and the move toward smaller imaging formats. For example, the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica states that "...[Lenses] are also sometimes classified according to their rapidity, as expressed by their effective apertures, into extra rapid, with apertures larger than f/6; rapid, with apertures from f/6 to f/8; slow, with apertures less than f/11."

For scale, note that f/0.5, f/0.7, f/1.0, f/1.4, and f/2.0 are each 1 f-stop apart (2× as fast), as an f-stop corresponds to a factor of square root of 2, about 1.4. Thus around f/1.0, a change of 0.1 corresponds to about 1/4 of an f-stop (by linear approximation): f/1.0 is about 50% faster than f/1.2, which is about 50% faster than f/1.4.

As of 2017, Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony all make an autofocus 50mm f/1.4 lens. These are not unusual lenses and are relatively inexpensive. Canon also makes autofocus 50mm and 85mm f/1.2 lenses, while Nikon makes a manual focus 58mm f/0.95 lens and an autofocus 85mm f/1.4; see Canon EF 50mm lenses and Canon EF 85mm lenses for details. Pentax makes a 50mm f/1.4 lens and 55mm f/1.4 lens for APS-C cameras; see Pentax lenses. Sony makes a 50mm f/1.4 lens which is a continuation of the Minolta AF 50mm f/1.4 lens, and two lenses with Carl Zeiss: a 50mm f/1.4 and 85mm f/1.4.

The maximum exposure time in free-hand photography can be enhanced even more also for fast lenses, if the camera is equipped with an image stabilisation system. In 2014 Panasonic introduced the fastest lens with in-built stabilisation, the Leica Nocticron 42.5 mm f/1.2, which in the meantime even can be operated with dual image stabilisation (Dual I.S.), provided that the camera body has an additional stabilising system at the image sensor, too.

In the mid 60s there was something of a fad for fast lenses among the major manufacturers.[4] In 1966 in response to the trend Carl Zeiss displayed a prop lens christened the Super-Q-Gigantar 40mm f/0.33 at photokina.[4] Made from various parts found around the factory (the lenses came from a darkroom condenser enlarger), the claimed speed and focal lengths were purely nominal and it wasn't usable for photography.[4][5]

Maximum possible speed

Theoretically, the smallest f-number is 0 (or numerical aperture of 1), corresponding to a lens with an infinite exit pupil diameter. In practice that cannot be reached due to mechanical constraints of the camera system (shutter or mirror clearance, mount diameter). Even for systems that can be designed without significant constraints on lens size and image plane distance (e.g. microscopy and photolithography systems), the cost of going beyond a numerical aperture of 0.95 (f/0.164) is usually prohibitive.

In SLR camera systems, typical mount diameters are in the range of 44-54 mm, with flange distances around 45 mm. This limits the maximum possible f number to f/1.0 to f/1.2, with rather strong vignetting towards the edges of the image. Flange distances are significantly smaller for rangefinder and mirrorless cameras (even below 20 mm), theoretically enabling designs down to something like f/0.7 or even faster. The chance of seeing these in practice will be slim, since their practical use is limited, and the cost and weight are likely not competitive with respect to equivalent imaging solutions employing larger sensors.

List of ultrafast lenses

Some of the fastest camera lenses in production as of 2021 were as follows:

  • Cosina Voigtländer Super Nokton 29mm f/0.8 Micro Four Thirds mount[6][7]
  • Handevision Ibelux 40mm f/0.85 (made for Micro Four Thirds and various APS camera mounts, including Sony E-Mount and Fujifilm X-Mount)
  • Fujinon 43mm f/0.85[]
  • Cosina Voigtländer Nokton 10.5mm, 17.5mm, 25mm, 42.5mm, 60mm f/0.95 for Micro Four Thirds mount [8]
  • Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH (announced on September 15, 2008, it is one of the fastest aspherical lens to have ever reached mass production, with a MSRP of £6290 or approximately US$10,000).[9]
  • Nikon Noct-Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95
  • SLR Magic 25mm T/0.95
  • SLR Magic 35mm T/0.95
  • Mitakon 50mm and 35mm f/0.95
  • Vantage One T1.0 Cine lenses from 17.5mm to 120mm (Super35mm Spherical Primes)

The following camera lenses are no longer in production as of 2021:

  • American Optical 81mm 3.259" f/0.38 Solid Schmidt Mirror lens (designed for aerial reconnaissance, documented in 1967, but most likely never built) [10]
  • GOI CV 20mm f/0.5 Mirror lens
  • Signal Corps Engineering 33mm f/0.6[11]
  • GOI Iskra-3 72mm f/0.65 Mirror lens
  • Fujinon-IDEAX 125mm f/0.67 or f/0.85 (X-ray lens, two speeds quoted on front ring)[12]
  • Zeiss Planar 50mm f/0.7 (Limited production lens built for the NASA space program, later used on 35mm movie cameras by Stanley Kubrick for some candlelit scenes in Barry Lyndon)[13]
  • Tokyo Kogaku Similar 50mm f/0.7 (8 elements in 4 groups, limited production in 1944 for Japanese Army. In 1951 another three were produced, two of which were used on a South Pole expedition)
  • Kinoptik Lynxar 60mm f/0.7 Reproduction lens, not for photography.
  • Wray 64mm f/0.71 Reproduction lens, not for photography.
  • LOMO 60mm f/0.75 Reproduction lens, not for photography.
  • Aerojet Delft Rayxar 105mm f/0.75 Full Frame aerial photography lens[]
  • Aerojet Delft Rayxar 150mm f/0.75 Medium Format aerial photography lens[]
  • Aerojet Delft Rayxar 250mm f/0.75 Large Format aerial photography lens[]
  • American Optical 43mm 1.715" f/0.8 (design documented in 1967, but likely never built)
  • JML Optical 64mm f/0.85
  • Leica Summar 75mm f/0.85 Reproduction lens, not for photography.
  • Leica Leitz-IR 150mm f/0.85 Reproduction lens, not for photography.
  • Farrand Super Farron 76mm f/0.87
  • Farrand Super Farron 150mm f/0.87 Medium Format aerial photography lens
  • Kiev -4 (Rekord-4) 52mm f/0.9 Prototype
  • Nikon TV-Nikkor 35mm f/0.9 (Fastest Nikon lens ever made; TV lens in M39 lens mount, 12.6 mm diameter image circle)[14]
  • Noktor 50mm f/0.95
  • SLR Magic HyperPrime CINE and LM 50mm f/0.92 T0.95
  • Canon 50mm f/0.95 (available in TV (C-Mount) and Canon 7 Rangefinder mount)
  • Astro Berlin 52mm f/0.95 Super35mm Cine lens
  • Perkin Elmer 114mm f/0.95 Medium Format aerial photography lens
  • Pacific Optical 25mm f/1.0 Medium Format Fish-eye lens. (Only 3 were ever made for the Canadian Government for aurora borealis research in the late 60s/early 70s. One of these lenses was used in the production of the IMAX movie Solarmax)
  • Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/1.0 (Leica M mount, 1976; discontinued and replaced 2008 with a new Noctilux, see above)
  • Canon EF 50mm f/1.0 L USM (for Canon autofocus SLRs, 1987)
  • Panavision 50mm f/1.0
  • Nikkor-O 50mm f/1.0 Prototype lens for Nikkor-S Rangefinder camera
  • Leica ELCAN 90mm f/1.0
  • Wild Heerbrugg Reconar 98mm f/1.0 Medium Format aerial photography lens
  • Kollmorgen 153mm f/1.0
  • Zeiss UR 250mm f/1.0
  • Canon 8.5-25.5mm f/1.0 zoom lens (made 1975-1983 for the 310XL Super 8mm silent and sound camera series, the fastest zoom lens ever made for Super8, originally advertised as facilitating "shooting at candlelight" in combination with 160-ASA films.)[15]

Many very fast lenses exist in C-mount (such as used by 16mm film cameras, CCTV, medical & scientific imaging systems), including:

  • Fujinon 50mm f/0.7
  • Canon 'TV-16' 25mm f/0.78
  • Apollo 25mm f/0.85
  • Ernitec 25mm f/0.85
  • Fujinon 25mm f/0.85
  • Tarcus 25mm f/0.85
  • Kern Switar 18mm f/0.9 (built for NASA for the Apollo Moon landing)[16]
  • Ampex 'LE610 Television Lens' 25mm f/0.95
  • Angenieux 25mm f/0.95 as Type 'M1' and 'M2' (M1 was the original, more common, consumer-grade product, while M2 was aimed at the professional cine market, with better correction for aberrations and distortions)
  • Angenieux 'M2' 28mm f/0.95 (for 16mm film)
  • Angenieux 35mm f/0.95
  • Angenieux 50mm f/0.95 as Type 'M1' and 'M2' (M1 was the original, more common, consumer-grade product, while M2 was aimed at the professional cine market, with better correction for aberrations and distortions)
  • AstroScope 25mm f/0.95
  • Avenir 25mm f/0.95
  • Century 'Nighthawk' 25mm f/0.95
  • Carl Meyer 25mm f/0.95
  • Cinetar 25mm f/0.95
  • Goyo Optical 17mm, 25mm, and 50mm f/0.95
  • JML 25mm and 50mm f/0.95
  • Navitar 25mm and 50mm f/0.95
  • Navitron 25mm and 50mm f/0.95
  • Schneider Kreuznach 'Xenon' 17mm, 25mm, and 50mm f/0.95
  • Senko 25mm and 50mm f/0.95
  • Soligor 'Super Elitar' 25mm f/0.95
  • Som Berthiot 'Cinor' 25mm and 50mm f/0.95
  • Tarcus 'I.T.V. Lens' 50mm f/0.95
  • Precise Optics 50mm f/0.95
  • Kowa 50mm f/0.95
  • Yakumo 25mm and 50mm f/0.95
  • Zeika 'Nominar' 25mm f/0.95
  • Kaligar 'Nominar' 25mm f/0.95
  • Dallmeyer 25mm f/0.99 (1930)
  • Astro Berlin 25mm f/1.0
  • Bausch & Lomb 29mm f/1.0
  • Astro Berlin 'Tachonar' 35mm and 75mm f/1.0
  • Carl Meyer Videostigmat 1.5" 38mm f/1.0 [17]
  • RTH (Rank/Taylor Hobson) Monital 130mm f/1.0 made by SOPELEM in France, Super35mm cine lens

Very fast lenses in D-mount for use in (Super-)8mm film and video (Hi)8 cameras:

  • Kern Switar 13mm f/0.9
  • Cinetor 'TELE-PHOTO' 37.5mm f/1.0
  • Walz 'TELEPHOTO' 37.5mm f/1.0
  • Amitar 'Telephoto' 38.1mm f/1.0
  • Rexer 'TELE' 38mm f/1.0
  • Manon 'Telephoto' 37.5mm f/1.0

Very fast lenses used in X-ray machines:


  1. ^ Waldren, Margaret (and others) Advanced Digital Photography 2004 Media Publishing
  2. ^ Long, Ben Complete Digital Photography 2004 Charles River Media
  3. ^ "F0.74 - new Metabones Speed Boosters break boundaries - EOSHD". EOSHD. Retrieved .
  4. ^ a b c Maiello, Agostino (January 2000). "L'OBIETTIVO PIU' LUMINOSO DEL MONDO". Nadir.it (in Italian). Nadir Magazine. Retrieved 2013.
  5. ^ Zhang, Michael (August 6, 2013). "Carl Zeiss Super-Q-Gigantar 40mm f/0.33: The Fastest Lens Ever Made?". Petapixel. Retrieved 2013.
  6. ^ "Cosina Voigtänder - Nokton 25mm F0.95". Cosina Voigtländer. 2010-08-26. Archived from the original on 2013-12-12. Retrieved .
  7. ^ 29 mm / 1:0,8 Super Nokton MFT
  8. ^ https://www.voigtlaender.de/lenses/mft/?lang=en
  9. ^ "Leica offers World's fastest Aspherical lens". Leica Camera. 2008-09-15. Retrieved .
  10. ^ "USAF Lens Datasheets - Type 1 Aerial Reconnaissance". archive.org. Retrieved 2013.
  11. ^ https://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/10169580_signal-corps-engineering-laboratories-33mm-f06-lens
  12. ^ http://forum.mflenses.com/fujinon-ideax-125mm-f0-67-f0-85-t49473.html
  13. ^ Two Special Lenses for "Barry Lyndon", by Ed DiGiulio (President, Cinema Products Corp.), American Cinematographer
  14. ^ "TV-Nikkor 35mm F0.9 Big First Super Light". Retrieved .
  15. ^ Lossau, Jürgen (2003). The Complete Catalogue Of Movie Cameras, Hamburg/Germany, atoll medien, p. 59, ISBN 3-9807235-3-4
  16. ^ "Science, Kern-Paillard advertisement" (PDF). 165. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  17. ^ http://forum.mflenses.com/carl-meyer-videostigmat-f1-0-1-5-38mm-t32564.html
  18. ^ https://vintagelens.nl/product/rodenstock-xr-heligon-68mm-f1-0-m42-mount/

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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