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In photometry, luminous intensity is a measure of the wavelength-weighted power emitted by a light source in a particular direction, based on the luminosity function, a standardized model of the sensitivity of the human eye. The SI unit of luminous intensity is the candela (cd), an SI base unit.

Photometry deals with the measurement of visible light as perceived by human eyes. The human eye can only see light in the visible spectrum and has different sensitivities to light of different wavelengths within the spectrum. When adapted for bright conditions (photopic vision), the eye is most sensitive to greenish-yellow light at 555 nm. Light with the same radiant intensity at other wavelengths has a lower luminous intensity. The curve which measures the response of the human eye to light is a defined standard, known as the luminosity function. This curve, denoted V(\lambda) or \overline{y}(\lambda), is based on an average of widely differing experimental data from scientists using different measurement techniques. For instance, the measured responses of the eye to violet light varied by a factor of ten.

Luminous intensity should not be confused with another photometric unit, luminous flux, which is the total perceived power emitted in all directions. Luminous intensity is the perceived power per unit solid angle. Luminous intensity is also not the same as the radiant intensity, the corresponding objective physical quantity used in the measurement science of radiometry.


One candela is defined as the luminous intensity of a monochromatic 540 THz light source that has a radiant intensity of 1/683 watts per steradian, or about 1.464 mW/sr. The 540 THz frequency corresponds to a wavelength of about 555 nm, which is green light near the peak of the eye's response. Since there are about 12.6 steradians in a sphere, the total radiant intensity would be about 18.40 mW, if the source emitted uniformly in all directions. A typical candle produces very roughly one candela of luminous intensity.

In 1881, Jules Violle proposed the Violle as a unit of luminous intensity, and it was notable as the first unit of light intensity that did not depend on the properties of a particular lamp. It was superseded by the candela in 1946.


The luminous intensity for monochromatic light of a particular wavelength \lambda is given by

I_v= 683I\,\overline{y}(\lambda),


I_v is the luminous intensity in candelas,
I is the radiant intensity in W/sr,
\overline{y}(\lambda) is the standard luminosity function.

If more than one wavelength is present (as is usually the case), one must sum or integrate over the spectrum of wavelengths present to get the luminous intensity:

I_v= 683 \int^\infin_0 I(\lambda)\,\overline{y}(\lambda) d\lambda.

See alsoEdit

SI photometry units


Quantity Symbol SI unit Abbr. Notes
Luminous energy Qv lumen second lm·s units are sometimes called talbots
Luminous flux F lumen (= cd·sr) lm also called luminous power
Luminous intensity Iv candela (= lm/sr) cd an SI base unit
Luminance Lv candela per square metre cd/m2 units are sometimes called nits
Illuminance Ev lux (= lm/m2) lx Used for light incident on a surface
Luminous emittance Mv lux (= lm/m2) lx Used for light emitted from a surface
Luminous efficacy   lumen per watt lm/W ratio of luminous flux to radiant flux; maximum possible is 683.002

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