photometry: Photometric Units of Measurement

The intensity of electric lights is commonly given as so many candlepower, i.e., so many times the intensity of a standard candle. Since an ordinary candle is not a sufficiently accurate standard, the unit of intensity has been defined in various ways. It was originally defined as the luminous intensity in a horizontal direction of a candle of specified size burning at a specified rate. Later the international candle was taken as a standard; not actually a candle, it is defined in terms of the luminous intensity of a specified array of carbon-filament lamps. In 1948 a new candle, about 1.9% smaller than the former unit, was adopted. It is defined as  1⁄60 of the intensity of one square centimeter of a blackbody radiator at the temperature at which platinum solidifies (2,046°K). This unit is sometimes called the new international candle; the official name given to it by the International Commission of Illumination (CIE) is candela.

Other quantities of importance in photometry include luminous flux, surface brightness (for a diffuse rather than point source), and surface illumination. Luminous flux is the radiation given off in the visible range of wavelengths by a radiating source. It is measured in lumens, one lumen being equal to the luminous flux per unit solid angle (steradian) emitted by a unit candle. Surface brightness is measured in lamberts, one lambert being equal to an average intensity of 1/π  candle per square centimeter of a radiating surface. The intensity of illumination, also called illuminance, is a measure of the degree to which a surface is illuminated and is thus distinguished from the intensity of the light source. Illumination is given in footcandles, i.e., so many times the illumination given by a standard candle at 1 ft. Another unit of illumination is the lux, one lux being equal to one lumen incident per square meter of illuminated surface. One lux equals 0.0929 footcandle.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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